In 2010 The Anti-Slavery Day Bill was passed, declaring that each year, on the 18th of October, there would be an opportunity to raise awareness of modern slavery and inspire people to eliminate it. The Bill defined Modern Day Slavery as child trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude and trafficking for sexual exploitation. The first index on modern slavery, published by the Walk Free Foundation earlier this week, claims that there are currently over 29 million victims of this slavery worldwide, and some of them are here in Oxford, amongst out dreaming spires.
Earlier this year, in the Old Bailey, seven members of a sex grooming ring were convicted of abusing children from Oxford. The youngest victim was just 11 years old when the grooming started – and was beaten with a baseball bat and forced to have a back-room abortion at 12. The court was told that these girls were victims of physical and sexual violence including being suffocated, burnt, and being plied with hard drugs.
On Friday, Oxcat (Oxford Community Against Trafficking) staged a number of demonstrations in central Oxford, in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking and ensure that more people are informed so that we might avoid a repeat of the horrific cases mentioned above. Among the demonstrations were a powerful spoken word performance and a provocative dance routine depicting the plight of a woman trapped in sexual slavery – certainly designed to make people stop and think.
Oxcat’s Caroline Lennartson commented that ‘Friday’s Anti Slavery Day demonstration on Cornmarket street is what a community waking up to the reality of Human Trafficking looks like. And it is powerful.’
Oxcat have been playing a big role over the last few years in making the community aware of these issues, and they hope that this year’s demonstrations will be a further step towards a safer society. They are strongly encouraging people to look at their website to familiarize themselves with potential signs of human trafficking. ‘As we each become more aware of the Community around us, we can become more a part of it. Our vigilance could make a big difference in the life of a friend or a stranger.’
They seem to be making progress. Josh Berkley, a student at Jesus college, spotted the Oxcat demonstrations on Friday and praised the work that they were doing, saying that he had also come across them previously – ‘Oxcat enlightened me about the severity of the issue of slavery close to where we live.’
Some students have even started volunteering with OXCAT. Jenny Gwyther, a third year student at Worcester college, said that: ‘I couldn’t believe that something so horrific and disturbing was happening in the city I loved, amongst the streets that I have walked.’ Jenny is passionate about the issue and keen to see more people involved: ‘If we, as a society, cling to an ideal of freedom and democracy then surely it is in our interests as well as our sheer humanity that we rise up to take a stand and actively put a stop to the treatment of individuals, women, children and men, as commodities.’
As campaigns to fight Modern Day Slavery gain momentum, it is likely that we will hear more about Oxcat and the issue of human trafficking. Hopefully they will be successful in preventing further cases occurring here in Oxford.