Modern slavery: ‘Dynamic and flexible’ traffickers adapting to new situations

Dr. Carole Murphy, the head of London’s Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse, says campaigners “have to become as dynamic and flexible as human traffickers.”

By Joseph Tulloch

Born in Sudan sometime around the year 1869, St. Josephine Bakhita was sold into slavery at an early age. After being taken to Italy, she eventually gained her freedom with the help of the Canossian Sisters. She went on to become a nun, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000.

Today, she gives her name to London’s Bakhita Centre.

Based at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, the centre is a hub for research on slavery, exploitation, and abuse.

Its director, Dr. Carole Murphy, was in Rome recently, and spoke to Vatican News about her work, and the plight of the many victims of human trafficking today.

Listen to the full interview with Dr Murphy

Research and pratice

The Bakhita Centre, Dr. Murphy explained, was set up in 2015, with the aim of conducting research that “would have an impact on policy and practice.”

It is staffed by “pracademics”, academics with a background as practitioners in fields ranging from human trafficking to refugee services.

It also offers education to those who work to prevent modern slavery, as well as to survivors.  

Scale of the problem

Asked about the extent of human trafficking today, Dr. Murphy stressed that “it’s really, really hard to answer because there are people being trafficked within most countries in the world.”

These include both people who are native to the country – one of the Bakhita Centre’s most recent research projects concerned British nationals being trafficked in the UK – and individuals who have been trafficked across borders.

Contrary to widespread belief, Dr. Murphy said, British nationals make up the majority of those in situations of modern slavery within the UK. There are, however, also a very large number of foreign citizens.

“We run a kind of education programme for surivivors,” she said, “and in the last few years we have had people from Angola, Guyana, Albania, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Nigeria, China. I mean, you name a nationality, and we have supported them.”

Some of those the centre has worked with, Dr. Murphy said, had been forced to work on fishing boats, never allowed to set foot on land, while others were abused at work but unable to report it because their visas were linked to their employers.

Counter-measures

Addressing these problems, she added, is “really complex”, because “you have a mixture of organised crime groups who are doing it, but you’ve also got very disorganised groups who just take advantage of people who are in vulnerable situations.”

Unfortunately, she noted, “traffickers are very good at adapting to situations. It evolves all the time. So I think in order to tackle it, we have to become as dynamic and flexible as they’re able to be.”

Panel discussion in Rome

Dr. Murphy was in Rome to speak at a panel discussion on education and modern slavery, jointly organised by Talitha Kum – an anti-trafficking network run by Catholic sisters – and the British Embassy to the Holy See.

Other speakers at the event included Sr. Angela Nemilaki and Sr. Adina Bălan from Talitha Kum, and Dr. Annabel Inge, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy to the Holy See.

Srs. Nemilaki and Bălan discussed their work combatting modern slavery on the ground, in Africa and Europe respectively, while Dr. Inge stressed that international partnerships – including faith-based networks like Talitha Kum – have a “crucial” role to play in defeating it.

Panel discussion: "Education to tackle modern slavery and empower survivors"

Panel discussion: “Education to tackle modern slavery and empower survivors”