Last week global leaders in law enforcement and senior Bishops in the Catholic Church came together for the Santa Marta Group, an annual conference focusing on combating modern slavery. The event was held in the Vatican with expert guests from around the world. As the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and a founding member of the group, I was delighted to see the progress made and I am determined to see it move forward.
The Santa Marta Group is a collection of police and faith leaders who are committed to counter the crime of slavery, partnering together to protect the vulnerable. Attendees representing their country shared updates on what has been achieved, including training and workshops in the Middle East, victim rescues in Argentina, successful investigations in the United States, new victim safe houses in the UK, organ harvesting prevention in Mozambique, awareness raising in the Amazon and a national plan in Lithuania.
Updates were vast in variety but equal in value, with multitudes rescued from the evil that is slavery. All those present have successfully managed to build strong relationships that are evidently bearing fruit. The potentially unlikely partnership between faith groups and law enforcement has shown to bring the best out of both parties; by combining pastoral care with targeted operational activity, victims are continually rescued and restored while criminals face the full force of justice.
The group had the privilege of hearing from three survivors of modern slavery: the first was an adult female, sexually exploited in Europe, who has gone on to start a charity for other survivors; the group then heard from a woman who was enslaved in a UK home but has since been reunited with her own family; and finally a male survivor told the story of how he was trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation as a young boy. All three testimonies gripped colleagues in the room. They were both inspiring and insightful and remind us all why we work so hard to fight this brutal crime.
Having previously operated in separate spheres, the partnership between the church and law enforcement is for some surprising, but its potential for success is immeasurable. Moving forward I hope to see increased responsibility locally for prevention measures while strengthening unity and working across borders to tackle criminal networks. If we ignore the injustice of modern slavery, we become complicit in its practice. But if we collaborate, communicate and cooperate, maintaining the very values at the core of the Santa Marta Group, together we will see the eradication of this evil.
To see the full Santa Marta Group progress report for 2016, please click here.