Thousands of people are set to step out this weekend across the globe, to Walk for Freedom.
Supporting international anti-human trafficking charity, the A21 Campaign, silent protesters will take to the streets in cities across the world marching in single file through areas filled with shoppers.
Last year I was one of more than 100 people taking part from Newcastle UK.
Just days after Prime Minister Theresa May spoke out on the “shocking” numbers associated with human trafficking, a crime she referred to as “modern day slavery,” I formed part of a group organised by members Hillsong Church, letting bustling consumer-filled shopping hot spots see that something more sinister could be going on behind the facade of fashion or in the back rooms of nail bars and massage parlours.
As part of this Saturday’s rally, involving more than 270 locations across the world, activists will be raising awareness of one of the world’s fastest growing and most profitable serious crimes.
In my city alone there have been scores of arrests over the last 12 months connected to human trafficking, forced labour, and people smuggling.
Organiser of the Newcastle walk, Rachel Jobes, 37, from Low Fell, Gateshead, said: “We plan the route around known trafficking hot spots in our city, where raids have taken place and victims found.
“We also wanted to highlight our city’s proud past of leading the way in abolition, but also drawing attention to the fact there are now more slaves in the world than at any time in the past.
“As many as 46 million people, according to latest statistics from the newly appointed anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland, are currently trapped in slavery, through human trafficking. As a church, we couldn’t stand back and not do something about this.”
Wearing all black, some with mouths taped shut in solidarity with those who are voiceless in captivity, activists will walk in single file and in silence through the city.
As a mum-of-two myself, and a keen social justice campaigner, taking part had a unique poignancy for me: “Just by walking through the city, it was clear that the information we were handing out was unbelievable to some people.
“‘That doesn’t happen anymore’ and ‘that’s disgusting’ were common replies when we explained the extent of what we are talking about.
“But it does still exist and it is disgusting. As a part of a rescue here in the UK, a baby was rescued; a baby.
“In another case, a girl was forced to service up to 150 men in a day. You can’t hear that and not respond.
"The challenge for me—and what caused me to make a decision to take part, was the fact I had been a journalist reporting on these crimes but not actually doing anything to see them eradicated. Walking past the places where I knew young women had been rescued was emotional, but caused an indignation. I can't just sit back any more. I must do something."
Looking at global issues of injustice and inequality can often feel disempowering when you consider the scale of such atrocities. But the message of A21 is clear: these issues can be combated.
If people want to help, I recommend signing up to regularly financially support institutions such as the A21 and Hope for Justice. Giving up your latte once a week can help organisations investigate and set victims free.
You can also look further into where your clothes come from; supply chains can be propigators of slave labour.
Speaking about the scale of slavery across Britain, PM Mrs May vowed not to ignore the pleas of those in need.
She said: “To the victims of modern slavery: We will not ignore your plight. We will not turn away. We will not shut our eyes and pretend your suffering does not exist.
“We will work tirelessly, relentlessly pursuing the perpetrators of these appalling crimes so that victims of slavery can go free. And my message to these criminals is simply this: We are coming after you.”
For more information and to find out how you can help, visit www.a21.org