It has been a strange and hard Year for everyone, including me. All my travel and speaking plans were cancelled and it was time to be still and reflect on how to go forward and what's important in life. I realised to me my family and having a safe place is so important and many people in the world don't have that. In these covid times human trafficking and forced prostitution are still happening but are forced more out of sight and underground. It made me more determined to do my part in the fight against this horrible and evil crime.
I am a first responder for the Salvation army, working with the home office UK to do National referrals (NRM) and initial assessments of potential victims of slavery and trafficking. This Year I have seen a steep increase in the number of victims that have been brought into the UK or coerced from the UK, due to the covid crisis. I've done interviews with potential victims in prison and victims who are hiding in the UK, scared out of their minds. The stories I have heard have been heartbreaking and stomach churning. Richard, the director of Serve the City UK, helped me with a traumatised victim of trafficking. He found a translator for her language and went to her hiding place and helped her get medical supplies and clothes and things she urgently needed while waiting to be referred to a safe house. More first responders are needed to get victims to safety and out of the prisons, hotels and hiding places they are in now, waiting sometimes for months for a new start.
I worked as a youth worker the whole Year, up until the middle of December, and could only meet outside for walks and drinks and via zoom to stay connected with them. Many have anxiety due to being forced to isolate at home and miss a lot of school and social life and the fear of this virus. It is a time to be kind and compassionate to one another.
I am also on the board of a brilliant organisation in the USA called Twentyfourseven.org, which fights against human trafficking and raises awareness (http://twentyfour-seven.org/). Tsvetelina Thompson is the managing director of Twentyfour-seven and a former victim herself. She designed a sticker with QR codes to help victims of human trafficking. She says that it is something that would have helped her when she was trafficked. I have been trying to put their QR codes all over Europe on my travels and tell others about these codes and get them to spread them also. Due to the covid crisis it is now not possible to distribute them of course, but hopefully we can soon start it up again. The codes are for the entire world. The sticker simply asks if you feel abused, forced, coerced or tricked (in four languages) and scan the code. Once scanned, it asks what language you want and many are listed. From there it asks where you are in the world and it takes you to the applicable hotline. Many victims of trafficking travel through different countries and use toilets in different transport places, like airports and trains and toilets in petrol stations, so it's a good place to put the stickers in the ladies toilets in these places. Many victims don't speak English and the codes direct you to the language of choice and give valuable information to the victim to get to a help line immediately and they can be a tool in saving lives and getting victims free. I will soon have a meeting with Tsvetelina and the security department from the USA home office to discuss her work. The home office USA is helping her with this project and a UK organisation called Unseen are also considering to help. The aim is to spread the codes even further and get more funds for the translation in many languages for these QR codes.
I have worked together with professor Alison Fiander, a consultant Gynaecologist and obstertrician. She is an independent consultant in Global Women’s Health and she teaches medical students. Alison was filming consultants and other medical doctors and making an online lecture for the students and she asked me to make a film and a document to teach the students about slavery and trafficking and raise awareness. Also help them to know what to do if they have a victim of slavery in their hospital/surgery/clinic, and what signs to look out for. Most medical students never learn about human trafficking or slavery and don't know the signs or what to do. 80% of victims of trafficking and slavery end up in a hopsital emergency room or surgery, dentist or clinic and only 20 % of doctors would know what to do and only 10% would really be able to spot if someone is a victim. So it's time to change this in the fight against trafficking !!!
In December 2020 I was asked to join "Serve the City UK" as a National Coordinator for victims of abuse and Human Trafficking. It is an honour to be asked and join this wonderful team. See more about Serve the City(STC) on their website: https://www.servethecity.net/. It is not a paid position but it is something that I have a passion for. I have done a few online conferences for Serve the City in 2020 and talked to students and people in different countries who are interested in starting a team up where they live.
In 2021 I have more exciting news about an international position I have been given, but I'm not allowed to talk about it at the moment. So watch this space in 2021 for more news.