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No More Hidden in Plain Sight

God has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.

Luke 4:18(NLT)

Regional Development Manager Ursula Kopp highlights how Mothers’ Union members are mobilising their communities by raising awareness and tackling modern slavery

23 May 2019

More than 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade there are still an estimated 40.3 million men, women and children trapped in modern slavery. An estimated 136,000 potential victims are in the UK, with the National Crime Agency recording 1,608 potential victims in London alone in 2017. Often hidden in plain sight in cities, towns, villages, they are exploited because of mental illness, drug or alcohol dependence, debt, homelessness or immigration status. Controlled through violence, victims are being forced to work in nail bars, car washes, on traveller and building sites – and women are also being forced into prostitution. 

Since the establishment of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 the police has more backing and resources to investigate suspects and bring them to prosecution, but are also reliant on the public to report potential crimes.

Individuals, communities, churches and other organisations are very aware this is happening and often feel compelled to get involved, but might not necessarily be aware what signs to look out for and what the correct response mechanisms would be.  


The Church’s response 

The Archbishop of Canterbury launched the Clewer Initiative in October 2017. Justin Welby is enabling Church of England dioceses and their wider networks to develop strategies to detect modern-day slavery in their communities and help provide victim support and care. This involves working with local churches to identify resources already available to be utilised, developing partnerships with others and thus creating a wider network of advocates seeking to end modern slavery. On a national level the initiative is developing a network of practitioners committed to sharing models of best practice and providing evidence-based data to resource the Church’s national engagement with government, statutory and non-statutory bodies.

One of the newly established partnerships that has recently been formed is between Mothers’ Union and the Clewer Initiative (read more). Both organisations believe that the Church, which is present at the heart of communities, has a primary responsibility in leading this effort and that the tools to end modern day slavery by 2030 already exist within local communities. The main focus of the collaboration will be through raising awareness, identifying victims and providing support to the survivors. 

As part of our partnership a co-branded “business card” highlighting the signs of Modern Slavery has been produced. This is available for Mothers’ Union members to use to raise awareness – in your local branch and when talking to your local church or the general public.


Online reporting

Although law enforcement and Government are clear this problem exists, there is no reliable data on just how widespread it is. This lack of information means that victims could be falling through the net; those trapped do rely on our help, as they often have little means of making themselves known.

I was reminded of this earlier this year after attending an information session in the Diocese of London, which introduced the 2019 Hidden in Plain Sight Lent Appeal. Based on resources from the Clewer Initiative, this session included signs to look out for and also mechanisms for reporting suspected forms of modern slavery. Little did I know that when I was visiting a friend in a coastal town in Kent some days later I would become suspicious of a hand car wash that I kept passing while staying for the weekend. Without the training session days before I am certain I would have not paid attention, but with my mind still focused I was called upon to put the learning into practice when certain signs popped up that I could not ignore. I made a mental note where the car wash was located and upon my return home visited the Modern Slavery Helpline website to report my observations. By doing it through the website I kept myself safe. Also the location could be checked out without raising suspicions (which could have resulted in the car wash being closed down only to reopen in another area without any trace).

As an alternative method of reporting my suspicions, I could have also used The Safe Car Wash app designed by Clewer; a new tool enabling the largest community intelligence-gathering exercise ever attempted in the UK. It is based on conversations between Clewer, the police, the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority about how working together can bring these hidden victims into the light.

The app can be downloaded for free and then, while using a hand car wash, a short survey can be completed regarding the working conditions of the car wash. If there is a high likelihood that modern slavery is occurring, you will also be asked to report concerns to the Modern Slavery Helpline. “Through the Safe Car Wash app we now have a chance to help tackle this scourge which is damaging so many people’s lives," says Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Find out more at 


Small acts of restoration 

Among the many groups of members preparing to get trained and tackle the issue nationwide is the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Manchester, which met with representatives of the Chaplaincy at Manchester Airport and the Medaille Trust, ( an organisation helping victims of human Trafficking in the UK. Diocesan President Christine Sharp visited safe houses for trafficked men and members have been invited to help provide language lessons and to take part in walks that take place on Saturdays. They have also arranged a low-key social afternoon and helped provide clothing and toiletries. 

In other dioceses members prepare ‘emergency bags’ that contain clothes but no food, to keep in their houses in case a victim that has been found nearby will need immediate support.   

The way we help as Mothers’ Union members, churches, communities or individuals can never be too big or small, but ultimately a united response is required to ensure that everyone who is a victim can be brought back into the light. You might want to think about what you can do yourself, but also what your local Mothers’ Union group can do together to help tackle modern-day slavery.

Conversation Starter:

You could discuss the issues raised in this article in your Mothers’ Union group:

  • What does the term ‘Modern Slavery’ mean to you?
  • What are the signs of Modern Slavery to look out for?
  • What are the reasons someone might find himself or herself being a victim of human trafficking?
  • Reading the article, do you see areas where local churches, groups and/or individuals could help to counteract modern slavery – either directly or indirectly?
  • Where do you think this problem can most likely be found? 



We pray for all who are trapped 

in the chains of modern slavery.

May they know hope in the midst of despair 

and a practical way out of their plight.


We give thanks for all initiatives to rescue

victims of exploitation, and pray for their success

in ending many schemes for human trafficking.


Increase our awareness of evidence of wrongdoing 

and boldness to uncover the deeds of darkness.

May we show our compassion for the victims

in tangible ways of provision and care. 


We pray in the name of Christ 

who came to set captives free. Amen.


Written by Ursula Kopp and first published in Mothers' Union's Families First magazine Summer Edition 2019 (p 8-11)