Human Trafficking

10 January 2024

Human trafficking is a crime, which involves the recruitment or movement of people for exploitation through threat, force, deception or the abuse of vulnerability.

Trafficking can take place across international borders - some people are trafficked across multiple geographic and legal boundaries. But trafficking can also take place within a country, or even a local area. It is the intent to exploit, not the distance travelled, which makes trafficking a crime.

People (adults and children) may be trafficked for a wide range of purposes. They include labour sectors (for example, agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, services), domestic servitude, forced begging or involvement in criminal activity and sexual exploitation. These forms of exploitation are legally termed ‘modern slavery.’ Others may be trafficked from a place where they are in danger to a place where they are supposedly safer; but the gangs who are arranging transportation do so not for altruistic purposes but with the intent to financially exploit their victims.

I first became aware of the reality of human trafficking in the UK some 20 years ago, when volunteering with a migrant support project in the Northeast of England. Some of those accessing support were survivors of trafficking.

I spoke about the stories I was hearing with my tutor at theological college, wondering how we as Methodists should best respond to this issue, which at the time, was just beginning to become more widely recognised. I was subsequently asked to be part of a Methodist working group (Open Horizons), tasked with exploring the issue and how Methodists in Britain might best respond.

As we began to meet with law enforcement agencies and support projects both in the UK and led by partner agencies in other countries, we quickly realized there were no easy solutions to seeking justice and transformation in response to such a complex, and ever changing, crime.

Someone in the group described trafficking as a ‘many tentacled monster’; insidious, pervasive, constantly moving or slipping out of grasp. Traffickers, whether as part of an organised criminal gang, or operating as opportunistic individuals, saw those who they coerced or threatened into exploitation as secondary to the money they made as a result; rather than recognising them as human beings, created by God whose intention is for all to flourish.

And yet whilst this mindset seemed so alien to us, we realized that the systems and structures which allowed them to operate were all around us. We too, were caught up in a culture of individualism, consumerism, and aspiration. There was no easy fix – no easy route ‘upstream’ to tackle the issues at root cause because the roots of historic injustice, inequality and poverty were so deeply enmeshed.

When the Open Horizons group ended, each of us used our learning in different ways. I had just finished initial ministerial training and my first appointment in the Birmingham District allowed me to stay in contact with another group member, the Rev Stephen Willey. Having heard that multi agency working was key to addressing the issue of human trafficking, he was trying to persuade existing multi agency meetings in the West Midlands to add trafficking to their agenda but was meeting some resistance. So, the Regional Anti Trafficking Network was started by Stephen and a few others who agreed that the issue needed to be addressed.

The initials, RAT were an intentional nod to the fact that only something resourceful, agile and resilient could stand a chance against the many tentacled monster. The RAT Network was one of the first to bring together statutory and non-statutory sector agencies round the same table to talk about their insights on the issue and how to tackle it so the voices of those directly impacted could be heard by those with the power to initiate policy change. Whilst Stephen chaired the meetings, my role was to act as coordinator- keeping notes, ensuring actions were followed up, bringing new people in. It’s a model that subsequently spread across the UK and beyond. We should be proud of the part Methodism played in its beginning.

One thing that had stayed on my mind were the words spoken to me by a survivor of trafficking now living in Sicily. She had asked me what I thought God wanted me to do in response to trafficking, what was mine, as an individual- to do. All of us who had been part of the Open Horizons project were very wary of doing anything which perpetuated a ‘white saviour’ style of response- thinking that we could swoop in and rescue or fix things without recognising the limitations of our understanding or acknowledging the gifts, skills and wisdom of those with lived experience. We knew that just focusing on ‘rescue’ was not the answer. She shared her story of how she had managed to get away from her traffickers and rebuild a new life with the support of the local churches. Why couldn’t I do that, where I lived, she said? Why couldn’t we journey with survivors, helping them figure out how to take next steps?

And so, the idea for Adavu emerged. At the time, there were no long term survivor’s support agencies working in the West Midlands; ‘Snowdrop’ in Sheffield was possibly the only one, and they were very helpful to us as we discerned how to begin. Adavu was, and is, needed because the many tentacled monster doesn’t disappear after ‘rescue’. Those tentacles continue to reach out to all who are vulnerable, ready to enmesh them again. Survivor’s stories and wisdom are lost when we focus on a ‘rescue’ model or harsh enforcement measures as the solution.

So, how can we help? What is ours to do?

• You may have survivors of trafficking, slavery or exploitation in your church or community. Many will not wish to disclose what has happened and may find it very hard to trust other people, particularly church leaders, if their traffickers had claimed to be part of a faith organisation which is sometimes the case. They may not want to talk about their country of origin, family, or friends. Some still live in fear that those connected to the gangs that trafficked them will come and get them, even years after the event. This is not an unfounded fear and should not be dismissed or minimized if shared with you. Be attentive to that in your pastoral care.

• Think about how you might indicate that your church/community space is a safe space for survivors of trafficking or those seeking help and support. You may want to ensure that you share numbers for support helplines- ideally in a variety of languages as appropriate, your regional anti-slavery network may be able to help with this. These posters for example, focus on recognising the signs of labour exploitation (Adavu and the RAT network were involved in helping to design earlier versions of these posters) Know the signs poster - GLAA If planning awareness raising events, do not use images which depict victims of trafficking in chains - for most individuals, their experience is that they were controlled through threats, violence and isolation, not through physical chains. Avoid sensationalist and prurient language such a ‘sex trafficking’ – instead speak of ‘trafficking for exploitation / sexual exploitation.’

• Consider supporting charities which walk alongside survivors and which attend carefully to survivor voices and wisdom to guide their practice. They often struggle to compete for funding against bigger national charities, but have often worked hard to gain trust on the ground. Adavu supports survivors in the West Midlands.

• Consider hosting a survivor of trafficking through Hope at Home. Hope at Home - Safe homes for survivors of slavery. Many survivors particularly struggle because their traffickers took them away from their own community and feel incredible isolated and alone. A welcoming home environment is something many survivors have said has really helped them to thrive and settle into a new life in a very unfamiliar culture.


Creator God
Through the pervasive, insidious sin of human trafficking
Your precious children are exploited and harmed
Denied the opportunity for freedom and flourishing
In horror, we recognize that we are unknowingly complicit
In the systems and structures which enable trafficking to exist
We confess that we feel overwhelmed at the scale and complexity of trafficking,
In the UK, and across the globe
Hear our prayers, loving God,
For all victims and survivors
For those who walk alongside them, seeking change and transformation
And for ourselves, as we seek your guidance as to how we might respond
And how we might, together, take small steps
To enable others to find freedom and flourishing.