Dr Mike Emberson, CEO of Medaille Trust (CSAN Member Charity)
I first became aware of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK around the year 2000. I later started to believe what I was hearing was true in about 2002. In 2003 I had the opportunity to tentatively begin some work on the problem with the Salvation Army and then with Migrant Helpline. In 2011 I was fortunate to be asked to join the Medaille Trust and become part of their, now ten year long, fight against this evil. It’s been quite a journey and it will continue, hopefully for a few more years before I pass the baton to those younger than me. Younger and less cynical perhaps. Let me explain.
A long, long time ago I was in the Army and was trained to be part of a Field Interrogation Team. We spend much time studying what was known as the ‘dislocation of expectations’ or how disconcerting and bewildering it can be for events to unfold in a manner one was not prepared for. Having read a little on the subject of trafficking and having met a few practitioners in the field I knew what to expect and what needed to be done. It would be a great crusade, a great mission etched in black and white terms, the forces of good all unified together to struggle with the forces of evil, with ultimately, of course, the power of Christ prevailing.
Of course it was not, and still is not, like that. It never was and it will never be a simplistic, ethically clear issue. First of all victims are human beings not stereotypical examples of an homogenous whole. They are, in short, not what we want them to be – they are not all beautiful young East European women chained to beds in London brothels, grateful to be rescued and compliant to how we feel they should approach their recovery and sharing our dreams for their futures. Victims are also aggressive male Poles with alcohol issues, feisty Thai women trying to pay for the education of their children through engaging in prostitution, they are timid Vietnamese boys entangled in criminal gangs who grow cannabis in the house next door to you and whose degree of agency or complicity in the drug trade is hard to establish.
Nor is the environment we operate in what we would like it to be. There’s much talk of partnership, collaboration, shared values and joint working. In reality it is an ugly world of competition and hidden agendas where the focus is often far from a victim’s needs. There is much to disgust. There is a real feeling that the fight against trafficking with its Government support and funding has attracted some unwelcome additions – the foreign charities arriving with inappropriate models of operation that do not transfer well to the UK setting, the international NGOs who spend the money we given on the bloated salaries of the staff so that they can do more fundraising. The individuals and agencies posturing for personal or organisational aggrandisement, the neo-vigilante groups and those with hidden agendas around proselytising to the weak and vulnerable or changing laws that have only a tangential connection to trafficking. The rush to the bottom with some anti- trafficking activities has been inexorable and some of us hunger for the early days when a handful of charities, like the Medaille Trust, worked in the field. The response then may have been inadequate but it was at least a response of doing things, practical, effective things not posturing. If only we had the money then that is available now. What we could have done! I doubt it would have been investing in solving the problem through interpretive dance companies or dinner parties for corporate financiers who might just pay your CEO’s next pay rise if you are obsequious enough.
Why then persist with helping in the anti-trafficking fight?
Because despite everything that has been done the staff of Medaille still hear and see, on a daily basis, the pain and the suffering of victims. The shame and the broken lives. The despair and the fear. The tears and the sobs. The unbelievable inhumanity of men and women to their brothers and sisters. ‘The horror, the horror’ of a modern heart of darkness.
So we continue because Christ has given us our instructions in Matthew 25, in James 2 and in the two great commandments to love God and love others. Because, as 1Corinthians tells us, love is patient, kind, protective, trustworthy, hopeful and persevering. It never fails and is not envious, boastful, proud, dishonourable, self-seeking, easily angered nor does it bear grudges. And it will never be redundant while victims are stretched on their Christ like cross.
And so I plod on with a wry smile in the ‘sure and certain hope’ that somehow, someway, someday I may do a very little good. Bring a ‘little touch of Harry in the night’. Be able to live with myself, knowing that I could not do so if I did nothing. Deus Vult.
This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 03.03.17.