How many years a slave?

26th February 2014

Beyond Pan

The film world is agog with the success of 12 Years A Slave, rightly so as it is rare for mainstream cinema really to examine the institutionalised barbarism of cruelty that “we” (the civilised western world) perpetrated. It is uncomfortable, even if it all happened a long time ago and far away.

The director, Steve McQueen, is of course aware of this and reminded us in his BAFTA acceptance speech that 21 million people are in slavery today. That may strike horror into us but we sense that it is not in our yard – it is somewhere else.

So let’s get real.

If you live in a major UK city there is a strong probability that, in the last week, you have walked past a building in which someone is held as a slave. Yes you. Behind a window, in a basement, on an industrial estate or a luxury mansion people are held as slaves. They are there against their will with no means to escape or with the “invisible handcuffs” which mentally terrorise them into staying.

Trafficked into the cities, mostly from other countries but some from inside the UK, these slaves are now in the sex industry, in forced domestic work, growing marijuana in illicit indoor farms or a number of other abusive positions.

And let’s not forget that they are slaves because someone here wants them. This slavery is market-driven: Someone wants a certain type of woman to sexually abuse – she is supplied; someone wants a woman to clean and cook for no pay – she is supplied.

These UK slaves are not fleeing from wars or droughts and relying on our humanity (and legal obligation) to give them shelter. They are supplied through shady and unscrupulous networks and live in fear and in a process of annihilation of their sense of self worth. Slavery through trafficking is torture, and results in the same trauma and post traumatic symptoms.

5 Years a slave. “My parents sold me and in a ceremony I was told that spirits would torture me if I complained or tried to escape. I was drugged, brought here, and used, and used and used again until I feel there is nothing left of me. I lived those years in fear and in disgust. I was powerless. I could do nothing for myself. I was not human- it was not human. I wanted to die”

3 Years a slave. “I was so in love with him and he told me we would run away together and start a new life. We went to Italy and after 3 days he sold me to a ‘friend’. The friend sold me to others. We moved every few weeks. I didn’t know where I was and didn’t speak the language of the men who came to me. When I got to London I met the first man again. He took my child away from me….”

9 Years a slave. “Locked in a room without daylight all through the day. At night I had to clean and wash and prepare food, but never taste it myself. My food was stale leftovers. It was a big place and hard work and nobody to talk to. If anything was wrong I was beaten. I have children but I would not even recognise them if I saw them today.”

The shameful abuse of our power to purchase and use these people is as extreme and severe as anywhere else. It is just not publicly acknowledged, it is all underhand.

The figures are difficult to establish but few would doubt the “guesstimate” of 10,000 trafficked women living in the UK, with at least a thousand added each year.

What can we do about these thousands of years of slavery? At Pan we see two ways:

Firstly of course we have to support the attempts to stop the trafficking.  This is carried out by the authorities but will only be successful if awareness grows of the problem. The traffickers and the users must be shamed and be aware that we are on their trail, that their actions are unacceptable. Everyone has to be aware of the problem so that possible cases are reported. Victims of trafficking have to know that they will not suffer if they escape, that the invisible handcuffs are imaginary, that a better life is available to them.

Secondly, and here Pan has strength and experience, the women who escape or who are rescued from trafficking, need support and care to overcome the trauma. Pan’s Amies project helps victims by rekindling their sense of self worth, by rebuilding trust in others which has been so destroyed, by giving them a secure place to meet others and to start to imagine how they might rebuild their lives. Pan’s methods use simple games, role plays, creation of songs, exercises in imagination to allow victims to move beyond the trauma into playing a useful role in their new community. The government only allows them 45 days Recovery and Reflection. Pan commits to at least a year of engagement to give back lives to those who have been so ruined by people in our midst.

Slavery must stop and the victims of slavery must be helped.

What can you do about it?

“Before there was no colour in my life. Now the future is full of colour”

An Amies participant at the end of a year with us.

For further reading on this topic please take a look at the below links:

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