Beyond the GIFT Box: A Volunteer’s Perspective

Recently, STOP THE TRAFFIK UK hosted ‘Beyond the GIFT box’ – an event to say a big thank you to all the amazing volunteers who helped make our GIFT box project such a success over the summer.

One volunteer, freelance journalist Lizzy Millar, was inspired to write about her experience.

The Glamour-less Reality of Slavery

Heads turn as she swathes through the casino in a sexy long black dress, flanked by body guards. She is beautiful and bejewelled. She is the latest Bond girl who is about to fall for the secret agent in hit movie Skyfall.

Severine also happens to be a Chinese sex slave who belongs to a megalomaniac cyber terrorist.

So sex slaves become like Severine the latest Bond girl in Skyfall, right? Not quite.

According to Stop the Traffik, a UN partner organisation dedicated to raising awareness about the trafficking of humans, whether or not you’re swathed in designer garb, by definition slavery, irrespective of the service provided, involves being deceived or taken against your will, bought, sold and transported. This could either be for sexual exploitation, forced begging, sacrificial worship or removal of human organs, as child brides or into sweat shops, circuses, farm labour and domestic servitude.

There’s nothing glamorous about that. So it was with some degree of alarm and fascination that I heard of real-life cases of people being exploited and treated as mere commodities from a handful of the 361 volunteers for the Stop the Traffik campaign.

I learnt that some of the people at risk of being ‘bought’ managed to escape the hands of their traffickers. However an unknown number clearly have not.

Over a course of 48 days, during the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, five gift boxes, in the shape of super-sized street installations, were taken to 24 different locations. At these sites, volunteers talked with members of the public about how they can identify and prevent cases of human trafficking.

During the campaign some 10,000 signatures were collected and 25 cases of suspected human trafficking, based on volunteers’ research, were handed to police forces for further investigation.

Bex Keer, of STOP THE TRAFFIK gave examples of owners of multiple-occupied rented homes making checks at their premises to ensure they weren’t being used to house illegal immigrants doing forced labour. She also said neighbours could look out for domestic properties or rural homes being used as undercover cannabis farms, as these were often manned by ‘slaves’. She also encouraged catering staff to watch out for colleagues working exceptionally long hours doing menial work, possibly for little or no pay.

Bex says: “People are trafficked from community to community therefore the community can work together to prevent it from happening.”

At this I started to wonder whether the definition of modern-day slavery was becoming all the more blurred with so many people out of work. I myself had learnt of many jobs in the UK where pay was exceptionally low in return for the offer of board and accommodation or simply for ‘training and experience’.

I myself had found a job on a well-known social media site as a portrait artist on a unknown cruise ship in the Caribbean whereby I would receive absolutely no pay but was told I would benefit from ‘my own bedroom’, three meals a day, and the chance to claim a percentage of takings from the charges for each drawing I did. I was told by a man I met in a cafe that if I accepted the offer, I would have to give a minimum commitment of nine months but would be allowed onshore breaks during this time. Needless to say, I didn’t take the job. I did, however, begin to wonder how many other people, keen to put a roof over their head and food in their belly, might have otherwise readily accepted the offer.

I shuddered at the thought.

By Lizzy Millar

Lizzy is a London-based freelance journalist who covered human-interest stories for 2K Plus, a faith-based news and sports agency, during the 2012 London Olympic Games. She has also served as press officer for the Evangelical Alliance and worked in the UAE where she reported on the repatriation of child camel jockeys from the Gulf under a UNICEF-led campaign as well as other humanitarian stories.

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