Human trafficking in UK cities – panel discussion
27th April 2012 by Natalie Burns
The Women of the Year Lecture 2012 – Sponsored by Barclays
More than 120 guests attended the fifth annual Women of the Year lecture at the Royal Institution last night (Monday 23 April), to hear Baroness Helena Kennedy and a distinguished panel discuss the problem of human trafficking in our cities.
The lecture brought Women of the Year alumni – women who have attended the Women of the Year annual Lunch – together to debate the following topic:
“Human trafficking is modern day slavery. It is a growing, organised and lucrative crime and above all else it is a gross violation of a person’s dignity and human rights. It is rooted in inequality, particularly global inequities and poverty”.
The evening began with an address from Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the human rights and civil liberties campaigner and Women of the Year President, who spoke of the debilitating levels of terror she has witnessed amongst the trafficked women she has worked with – fear induced and maintained by violence, threats and humiliation.
Baroness Kennedy called for a disintegration of the taboos of shame and dishonour that blight the investigation of sexual crime, emphasising the necessity of confronting deeply-held attitudes about women when confronting this problem. Asserting that human trafficking must be regarded as a question of human rights rather than immigration, Baroness Kennedy stressed the need for a public awareness campaign to incite a collective fight against it.
Baroness Kennedy then called on the panel to speak about their particular expertise and provide insights into the issue. The panel included:
- Juliet Singer, former consultant on human trafficking & missing persons issues at STOP UK;
- Ronke Phillips, Correspondent for ITV’s London Tonight. Ronke has worked on several high profile journalistic investigations involving children trafficked into the UK from Africa. These include the case of Victoria Climbie (who was murdered by the woman who trafficked her and passed her off as her daughter) and of the boy known as “Adam”, whose torso was found in the Thames in 2001. In March 2011 Ronke discovered that the torso belonged to a 6-year old boy, Ikpomwosa, who was trafficked from Nigeria;
- Martin Houghton-Brown, Chief Executive of Missing People, an independent charity focusing on the plight of the missing and their loved ones.
Baroness Kennedy also asked Sister Lynda Dearlove from Women at the Well (a community of sisters providing support and a place to stay for women who have been trafficked) and Phil Knight, musician and Ambassador of the Helen Bamber Foundation (a collective of human rights specialists who work with survivors of human rights abuses), to discuss their experiences. In July 2011 Phil spent two weeks locked in a box outside Euston station to raise awareness of child trafficking and the Helen Bamber Foundation.
The panel then opened up the debate to members of the audience, who shared their experiences of working with trafficked people and brought their own areas of specialism to bear on the topic. The discussion ranged from child begging and the impact of major sporting events (including the Olympics), to the role of health services and the vital importance of NGOs in winning the trust of trafficked people.
The Lecture concluded with a call from Martin Houghton-Brown for a “new feminism” to confront a culture where it is still acceptable to use and abuse women, followed by Baroness Kennedy’s reassertion that trafficking is ultimately an issue of human rights and should therefore be addressed with corresponding levels of gravity and urgency.
Baroness Kennedy and the panel were thanked by Women of the Year Chair, Teresa Graham.
The Lecture forms part of Women of the Year’s annual programme of talks and events in celebration of women’s achievements. The first Women of the Year Lecture, presented by former Irish President and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Mary Robinson, was held in February 2008. Subsequent speakers have included scientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, Shadow Olympics Minister The Rt Hon Tessa Jowell and world-renowned fertility and female reproduction scientist Professor Nava Dekel.
The Lecture unites the extraordinary women who make up the Women of the Year alumni in stimulating debate, providing the opportunity to raise awareness and highlight solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our time.
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