The 'Invisible People' exhibition by the National Crime Agency seeks to show that while victims are often hidden away, many are working in plain sight. For Hull's Freedom Festival 2018 the exhibition and its message was front and centre stage for all to see.
Scores of festival goers and visitors young and old stood frozen in front of the large cubes depicting different forms of modern slavery and human trafficking. Some didn't want to look, some upset, some confused, but all equally angry that this is a reality for so many people around the world.
For me the exhibition brought a renewed sense of purpose to this year's festival, which was originally born from commemorating the life and work of our very own William Wilberforce. The festival has now grown into one of the biggest arts events on the city's calendar over the last decade, reminding us what our predecessors fought so hard to abolish and how far we still have to go to in fighting many different forms of oppression, slavery, trafficking and abuse of our young and vulnerable.
Much like the festival itself, the exhibition wouldn't have found its way to Hull without outstanding partnership working. Effective partnerships that tackle modern slavery are currently the triumph of a brave few, but, they have the potential to be the saviour of many.
Working with vulnerable people for the last 9 years in the homeless sector I have only ever seen real results when partners come together and make success happen. It is rare that one person alone can achieve what a dedicated group of people can achieve together.
As John Donne, seventeenth century author said "No man is an island".
Modern slavery [Inc. exploitation and human trafficking] is a repugnant global virus; a virus that unchecked will continue to envelop more and more victims. Organised crime gangs, slave masters, puppeteers and third party exploiters use deception, coercion and the exploitation of people’s vulnerabilities such as homelessness, poverty, chaotic lifestyles, unemployment, substance abuse, poor mental health, and many forms of desperation to spread this virus, infecting and destroying lives without remorse to acquire their illicit gains.
I believe a community is only ever as good as the people in it, partnerships are much the same, our anti slavery partnerships are only ever as good as the partners they include. There is still much to do, Local authorities and statutory services must play their part by helping to identify and safeguard potential victims early, for some to avoid further exploitation and ensure others are not tempted by the puppeteers and organised crime gangs who aim to exploit them.
I am proud this is already happening in Humberside, local authorities are working closely with, and in our partnership to ensure there is an immediate and substantial accommodation offer for those identified as potential victims. We are working with third sector organisations who engage with vulnerable people to ensure they can spot the signs, properly manage needs and support positive pathways to escaping their exploiters. We are working closely with the business sector to raise awareness in industry and commerce. In the last 12 months to date we have seen a huge increase in reporting and intelligence from the public.
But what does success in tackling modern slavery looks like?
We are still in the early stages of developing UK anti slavery partnerships and at present partnerships structures, authority, accountability and leadership vary widely around the country. Some are fully funded and part of daily business, others are a small collective of concerned professionals coming together in an attempt to affect change. This is constantly improving, partnerships are growing and the network is developing. There are still questions to be asked however, protocols to be developed and strategies agreed.
In Humberside we have already integrated local authority and health into our partnership but we must push harder to promote this country wide to ensure all partnerships can work towards developing and maintaining the local authorities’ statutory duty towards the protection of victims. Together we must develop a clear reporting structure for leaders, defined ownership, and statutory funding streams to support partnerships in their longevity.
I would urge partnerships to work on an outcome based approach; we cannot work to firm benchmarks as these benchmarks simply do not exist. Different areas will have different outcomes given their location and population but certain outcomes should and must apply to all partnerships;
With national partners we are now coming together to develop strategies, working practice and methods of engagement among vulnerable communities and the wider public but we need the support of central government, local authorities and local politicians. Academically we say we understand vulnerability but socially we are still not equipped to deal with it.
We are sharing information, knowledge and experience, partners from all sectors across the UK are actively helping each other achieve great results, we have one agenda, a shared agenda, and it is energising, powerful and truly inspiring that we are united in our common goal.
I believe we can and we will beat slavery for good.
Chair and coordinator
Humber Modern Slavery Partnership