STOP THE TRAFFIK Canterbury & Whitstable Group was set up in January 2017 out of St Mary Bredin Church in Canterbury. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength. The regular membership has grown to 25 in eight short months and the group’s geographic reach now includes the whole of Kent. For this reason, the group now goes by the name of the STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent Group.
Dr Cheryl Mvula is the group’s leader. She explains how the focus of the group has developed and why she thinks they’ve seen such growth:
“The issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery is now touching many people’s hearts. As more people understand that this crime is happening within their own communities, many feel compelled to do something about it. We decided our focus should be raising awareness of modern slavery in our local community. Through research, we discovered the most prevalent types of exploitation in Kent. They are: fruit farms and agriculture, car washes, the sex industry, nail bars, Indian and Chinese takeaways and restaurants, the construction industry, and domestic servitude. We share this information with people to engage them in conversation about how they could help.”
STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent have found a particularly imaginative way of sharing information.
The group organise monthly awareness-raising stunts in a busy shopping area in Kent. Kent police force supports their work by sending out uniformed police officers to accompany group members on the street. Group members attract attention by mimicking the vulnerable trade industries in Kent. Car washers hold sponges and a hose, fruit pickers hold baskets, and domestic servants hold mops and cleaning clothes. Some members tape over their mouths as an evocative representation of how victims of human trafficking are silenced and ignored. Others hold placards that demand to be seen, appealing to passers-by with a simple question: “Can you see me?”.
STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent tap into the curiosity of the shoppers they encounter as they walk around in costume. Their out-of-place get-up prompts questions from passers-by resulting in discussion and sharing information. Prior to these interactions, many people were unaware of the issue of modern slavery. More specifically, STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent sensitise people to the fact that human trafficking occurs within their own community, just like anywhere else. Consequently, awareness-raising in all communities is vital. STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent recognised this and have set a great example for community-based activism. Group members follow up conversations inspired by their presence on the street with advice and leaflets on how to spot the signs of human trafficking and where to report anything suspicious. Above all, this empowers and enables community members themselves to take action when they see or hear something that might be human trafficking.
Due to these stunts informing the community, one potentially exploitative car wash was reported to the police. This situation may well have gone undetected without the involvement of the police and the engagement of STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent. We hope their combined efforts will raise awareness of and prevent the exploitation of many individuals in the future.
Additionally, STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent is now part of the Kent & Essex Police Anti-Slavery Partnership Group. The group meet bi-monthly to share their current work and devise new initiatives with other organisations working in this area. The Partnership Group recognise that modern slavery and human trafficking often intersect with other crimes or incidents. These can include gang-related activity and missing persons. The Partnership Group emphasise the importance of being able to spot the signs of human trafficking and modern slavery. It is only through awareness raising and information sharing that more people will be able to identify these indicators. Consequently, STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent’s work is vital to our collaborative effort to disrupt networks of human trafficking.
What an incredible example of the power of community-lead activism, innovative awareness-raising, and bold action out on the streets! We cannot wait to see what STOP THE TRAFFIK Kent achieves next.
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Visit the SPOT THE SIGNS page to learn more about the indicators.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, you should always call 999.