In the first issue of the abolitionist newspaper ‘The Liberator’, published in 1831, William Lloyd Garrison articulated a notion that would colour anti-slavery discourse for generations to come: “Enslave the liberty of but one human being and the liberties of the world are put in peril”.
Almost 200 years after these poignant ruminations, however, the idea that we live the society sketched by Garrison, one free from institutionalised exploitation, is but a comforting façade. For many, slavery is not a distant historical tragedy or a meaningless abstraction, but rather a very real spectre that haunts their daily existence. Slavery may have changed its forms, but its actuality is undeniable. From forced labour and debt bondage to human trafficking and drug cartels, slavery in our modern age remains both rife and systematic. According to UN estimates from last year, 40 million people in the world are subjected to modern slavery, with almost a quarter of these being children and over 70% females.
And yet, however abstract and detached modern-day slavery may seem, this barbaric yet lucrative trade has in fact crossed into the streets of Cambridge. Indeed, last year’s National Crime Agency’s report show that in Cambridgeshire there were a total of 25 cases of modern-day slavery. The general categories were those of labour and sexual exploitation, with two of the victims being younger than 18. At the beginning of October local police safeguarded nine women and arrested four individuals after uncovering a case of exploitative sex work in the city.
The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are roughly 136,000 individuals experiencing a form of modern slavery in the UK at present, with roughly 1,600 cases being referred to the government between April and June of this year. International human trafficking, moreover, remains a harrowingly expansive trade. The US Department of State estimates that 600,000 to 820,000 individuals are trafficked across international borders each year.
“Modern slavery shows itself in a number of different forms including forced labour and sexual exploitation where women are taken and deceived, and abused”, says Kathy Betteridge, director of the Salvation Army’s anti-trafficking and modern slavery unit.
On October 20th, for the first time in recent history, Cambridge students will be participating in a ‘Walk for Freedom’. The city can expect to see the participants, clad in black, traverse the town centre, walking in single-file, holding posters and handing out flyers. It is part of an international campaign spearheaded by the global anti-trafficking organisation, A21, that mobilises tens of thousands each year for a fundraising and awareness. The organisers argue that by acting “locally, we will have an impact globally.”
Kathy Betteridge recognized that in the UK awareness and understanding of modern slavery are increasing leading to more active enforcement agencies.
“We are convinced that if we do this together, if we keep showing up, if we continue to be tenacious, if we continue to turn up with strength, numbers, and courage, then we can see slavery eradicated in our lifetime,” says Christine Caine, A21’s Founder.
“Phrases like ‘slavery’ and ‘human trafficking’ can still feel ambiguous. This is the reality: slavery is violence. It’s physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. It’s the illegal trade of human beings”