Given at the second international coordination meeting of Talitha Kum, Internation Network of Consecrated Life against Trafficking in Persons, in Rome on 30 January 2016.
It is a pleasure to be with you this morning and I am grateful to Sr Patricia for her invitation to attend your second international coordination meeting. Thank you also to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, our host who has shown such vision in carrying out the task assigned to the Academy by Pope Francis to tackle trafficking.
I want to begin, by expressing my admiration for the witness that you give in many different parts of the world by your forthright witness for justice and prophetic commitment to challenging the causes of trafficking and modern slavery. For many of you, I know, your service to those enslaved stretches over decades and I am here both to thank you, not least for what you do in my own country, but also to learn from your experiences.
It is remarkable that we are here together during this Year of Mercy, which has so caught the imagination of the Church, at least in my country, since your actions are themselves a supreme example of that quality. Courage, generosity and a vision of a world in which people live in freedom guide you as you face the challenges each day brings.
Talitha Kum embodies a wonderful gift of the Church: a unity of love and effort which, at the same time, does not diminish or extinguish individuality and difference. Each of you remains true to your particular charism, the wellspring of your vitality, but through a commitment to shared action you show that cooperation enriches personal and congregational identities. It seems to me that part of the treasure that Talitha Kum gives is to remind us that we are truest to ourselves when we reach beyond ourselves in service of those most in need.
As you know better than I, at the core of human trafficking is betrayal and the deliberate deception of vulnerable people. Every day you see at first-hand the price paid by children, women and men who believed and then were betrayed, sometimes even by members of their own family. A most profound casualty of that treachery is trust. Trust is destroyed, the ability to trust is corroded and you know too well how difficult it is to rebuild that trust. Yet ultimately only when a person learns to trust again will they ever regain their freedom. So much of what you do is about helping people to have the courage and wisdom to place their trust once again in another.
The truth of this was brought home to me when I met Sophie, a young English woman who came to our Bishops’ Conference four years ago. Sophie had been trafficked to Italy by her boyfriend, where she was abused. The story Sophie told of her struggle to free herself from that captivity and then the journey she underwent to recover and to trust, moved all of us who heard it and is a big part of the reason that I am with you today because I would like to tell you something of what has flowed from that moment.
I would like to speak first of the Santa Marta Group, an initiative against human trafficking which was founded here in this room two years ago. It is quite different to the grass roots character of Talitha Kum, but it is very complementary, I think.
Two years ago, on a day I remember so well, in April 2014, those of us who were here were graced not only by the presence of the Holy Father but also by three young women who came to share their experiences of slavery. Those witnesses inspired us, the bishops and police chiefs present, to commit ourselves to working in partnership to combat trafficking, wherever it takes place. It was one of those victims of trafficking, named Claudia, who set us on the road. She issued a challenge at the first Santa Marta Conference that still echoes. She told us that all she asked was that bishops be true to their vocation and that police officers be true to their responsibilities. Claudia’s insistence that we honour the promises we have made is what brings together law enforcement chiefs and bishops. Each of us has a role and a particular duty in fighting against the evil of organised transnational crime. But in this work we are trying to learn to trust each other, and to trust the religious sisters who work in this endeavour, as indeed you do. But this trust, too, is difficult to forge.
In the last two years, we have tried to live up to that commitment to work together, to build trust between us, religious women, police and bishops, always putting those enslaved at the heart of all that we do. We have done that in various ways, not least by bringing together at three separate meetings in Rome, London and Madrid, a wide range of law enforcement agencies together with my fellow bishops, women religious and laypeople all committed to stopping slavery. Those conferences have taught us much about the horror of the crime we confront but also about the remarkable response of so many people of good will within the Church and wider society. For example, I think of our growing work with the Apostleship of the Sea in countering slavery on fishing vessels in the North Atlantic or the partnership in my own diocese with the Congregation of the Adoratrices, or the work being done by the new UK Independent Anti–Slavery Commissioner and our Home Secretary. Each time we nurture relationships of trust we grow, not only in our ability to counter the traffickers, but also in our sense of ecclesial communion. It is clear that a crime as complex and transnational as trafficking needs a coordinated response in which no one group is sufficient but each has its responsibility.
I would like now to be just a little bit more specific.
The Santa Marta group is now touching over 20 different countries. But let me speak of one where we are making substantial progress.
A new initiative is taking shape in the Edu State in Nigeria, the area from which so many people, especially women, are trafficked into Britain. At present the British Government is allocating millions of pounds in in three pronged effort against trafficking:
- Strengthening and training for local police
- Training for the judiciary in processing and judging cases
- Investment in awareness and social development in the communities, primarily through the Catholic Church (NB role of the Sisters of Charity).
Then, in England, the Group is helping to effect outreach to vulnerable communities in a number of places:
• In East Anglia, to the Portuguese communities
• In Lincolnshire, to the Poles
• In North London to the Brazilians
All these are large communities, all subject to slavery and trafficking. Awareness is often led by the clergy.
It is also prompting awareness raising/education initiatives in cooperation with local police forces
- In Plymouth Diocese in a number of area days
- In Middlesbrough Diocese in conjunction with a charity called ‘Unchosen’.
The Santa Marta Initiative has also led to the establishment of Bakhita House in London as a centre for our work and a place of recovery for women being brought out of slavery. There are, of course, many places where such work is done. I like to think that in Bakhita House we embody the fundamental thrust of our vision of this work: that of rebuilding trust. You see, Bakhita House is a joint venture of the Diocese of Westminster, the Adoratrices, and the Metropolitan police. As you can imagine, we are not always natural allies, but in this work we are learning to trust each other profoundly. And such trust can transform our effort against trafficking.
In the six months since its opening 24 guests have been received in Bakhita House.
They have come via police initiatives, some after a brothel raid or visit of one from the streets where she was working; some for emergency accommodation requested by the police for victims or witnesses.
They have come with the police, if being housed outside London but need to be brought to London for interviews, identification of premises or people, and supported by Bakhita House staff.
They have come via other NGO/Agencies, either by the referral form and then a meeting with the guest, followed by a decision if the guest is accepted, or by a referral form and acceptance over the telephone, giving immediate access. The British Red Cross, Kalayaan, Eaves, Hestia HA, Helen Bamber Foundation and the Salvation Army have all referred to us in this way.
We have also met/spoken to women who others think need our help but have not completed any referral form. Priests at local parishes sometimes take this initiative.
The length of stay of the guests is, on average, three months, which is twice the length supported by the British Government. However there has been a range of stay of between 24 hours (moved because police felt her safer outside London) and five months because she has given birth and needed more support.
Guests of Bakhita House have moved on in these ways: three have gone home, assisted by police here and in their home country, and social services and NGOs in countries of origin; some have gone to move into accommodation especially for trafficked victims but with longer term than Bakhita House; one has gained public social benefits and rents her own room; some have moved to National Asylum Seekers Accommodation housing.
An important aspect of this initiative is its cooperation with the police, striving to help in the process of evidence gathering and therefore in the prospect of prosecution of criminals. At Bakhita House we encourage, but do not force, the women to speak with the police. It is not a condition of their stay nor of the help we give. The police feel, as do we, that the relaxed environment of the house helps the women to speak with police. Evidence can be gathered quickly and any new information passed directly to our police partners.
There are interviewing facilities within the house (technology provided by the police); these will transfer to the parish office when it is ready for occupation.
There is also developing a strong pattern of cooperation with the parish and neighbourhood. Trust is also being built there, too. The local police and community safety teams are aware of our presence; the local council and councillors are aware of our presence and supportive; the local health service and counselling agencies are providing services to the women; neighbours know about the house but have no dealings at the house for issues of safety/confidentiality both for them and for the guests; the local parish priests are very supportive, collecting baby clothes; local schools are aware of the work and supportive of it too. In fact, the network of Catholic schools is most helpful in raising awareness. Finally, there are thirteen different religious sisters/groups helping at the house, bringing remarkable professional experience and great richness!
Finally, I would like to add a further development coming from within the Santa Marta Group. This is the establishment, in partnership with St Mary's University, London, of an academic centre for study of the patterns, causes and consequences of human trafficking. But there is not time for that today.
So this is my brief presentation of the work we have begun. It is under the dual patronage of St Martha who cared for Jesus in such practical ways and St Josephine Bakhita whose story is so well known to you all. Our efforts are all about building trust, for trafficking destroys trust in such a radical and brutal manner. Rebuilding the trust in the life of a victim is, as you know, difficult and demanding. In this Santa Marta process and in Bakhita House we are also trying to build trust between other parties too: the police and law enforcement agencies with bishops and with religious communities, especially religious women. These are often not easy relationships, with mutual suspicion and traditional distances. But I believe that the trust built between these parties, between us, adds credibility and effectiveness in our desire to rebuild trust in the lives of the victims of this awful and monstrous trade.
We need your prayers and your wisdom as we build this trust.
I know that Santa Marta has much to learn from you and I hope there is much that we can do together. Thank you for the opportunity, and the privilege, of being part of your gathering.