"A crime against humanity" is how Pope Francis has described modern-day slavery – and Liverpool Archdiocese has joined forces with a Catholic charity to help provide a local response to the problem of human trafficking here in the north-west.
The Medaille Trust, founded in 2006 by Catholic religious congregations, provides eight safe houses across England for men and women who have been trafficked – and dependent children – and the charity has now agreed to work together with the Archdiocese of Liverpool to establish another safe house by converting disused facilities at a former parish church.
The 2015 figures for cases of slavery in this country underline the scale of the problem: 3,266 people were identified as potential victims, which was a 40% increase on 2014. Of this number, 982 were children. There were potential victims reported from 103 different countries of origin, though the top six nations were Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania, the UK and Poland.
The Medaille Trust works with colleagues in the police service and National Crime Agency to tackle slavery, and it believes in creating a supportive environment which is more likely to lead to prosecutions of perpetrators. Its supporters include TRAC (Trafficking – Raising Awareness and Campaigning group), the Brothers of St John of God, Caritas Salford and many female religious orders in the UK.
In 2014 Pope Francis headed a conference at the Vatican to combat 21st-century slavery, which he spoke of as "an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ". This bore fruit with the formation of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world led by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
The Catholic Church's response nationally was the Bakhita Initiative, named after St Bakhita. A Sudanese slave girl who eventually became a Canossian Sister in Italy, she was canonised in 2000 and her feast is 8 February. Her name lives on too in Caritas Bakhita House, owned by the Archdiocese of Westminster, which handles the emergency placement of women escaping human trafficking.