An OBE-winning campaigner has travelled the world fighting against human trafficking – but she warns the unpalatable truth is that it’s right here on our doorstep too.
Over the last decade trafficking has become the fastest growing global crime.
It takes many forms, it can be found in sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, cannabis cultivation, forced labour, forced street crime and grooming and pimping.
And these things exist in our country as well as across the world.
And Ruth Dearnley, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List for her work as boss of Stop The Traffik, wants everyone to be more aware of the signs and signals that trafficking is happening underneath our noses.
Speaking from her home in Dobbins Lane, Wendover, she said: “Traffickers have very elaborate systems to get people from A to B. All of that can appear to be very legitimate, many people come here because they are being promised jobs. But they are also smuggled in.”
“Being aware makes you look at things differently, on the bus, on the train, at an airport.
“Frontline professionals are in the perfect position to see things. Teachers can see the number of children constantly truenting, or a child with a new mobile phone from her boyfriend. Professionals in accident and emergency units can see a young girl who doesn’t speak the language who is escorted in by others who speak for her. All of us can be observant, the more we learn, the more questions we can ask ourselves.”
As an example, some people are trafficked specifically to cultivate cannabis. Houses where cannabis is grown have windows permanently covered from the inside and there may be a vent protruding through the roof or a rear window.
Ruth, who is married to Wendover parish vicar The Reverend Mark Dearnley, and has two children, Esther and Charlie, has travelled all over the world to promote the work of her charity.
It was founded by Steve Chalke, a friend of hers, at the time of the 200th anniversary in 2007 of the parliamentary abolition of transatlantic slavery, and Ruth initially worked as a volunteer.
She said: “The anniversary was coming up and we thought there would be much discussion celebrating the progress made and the work of William Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery. But we needed to draw attention to the fact that is hasn’t stopped and is in fact growing in the form of modern day slavery, the trafficking of people.”
Ruth said trafficking often begins with trickery, coercion and deception. Kidnapping does happen, but tracfficking more usually starts with the selling of lies, telling people their worl d will be better if they go with the perpetrator.
Usually there is some form of dislocation from their environment, be that moving to another street, another town or across the world. And then there is exploitation, using people in ways they could never have anticipated.
Ruth recently visited a factory in Southern India where young girls as young as 12 are taken from their villages and live and work for three years in a guarded compound hoping to earn enough for a dowry, but many leave with nothing.
She said: “They sleep in crowded conditions, some have been given hormone treatment to prevent their monthly cycle, many do not have protective equipment. I asked the young women I met what they would like us to do. Not one of them said they wanted the money owed to them. They said they wanted us to tell their story, to stop this happening to others.
“We can’t do this alone. We work with society, business and government and we must all play a part to make change.”
> www.stopthetraffik.org has lots of information including warning signs to look out for.