Norwich call for justice on human trafficking
Budding opera singer Ben Cooley was working backstage in a theatre when he first heard the frightening statistics associated with current day human trafficking across the world, including in the UK. Keith Morris reports.
Ben was so impacted by the message that he gave up his singing dream to personally try to do something about the issue, as he told a Norwich audience recently at the Glitz and Glamour Ball held Sprowston Manor in aid of the Christian charity Hope For Justice.
Some 1.2 million children, with an average age of just 14, are trafficked every year across the world. In the UK today, the Home Office estimates that there are some 4,000 people in forced labour at any one time.
Human trafficking is defined as the sale, transport and profit from people who are forced to work for others against their will. This trade in human life is taking place on a vast global scale and is the world’s fastest growing crime.
It is big business and $9.5 billion is made through human trafficking annually with United Nations estimates that 80% of people trafficked are taken for sexual exploitation.
These are the sort of statistics which motivated a Norwich-based local Act for Justice group to stage the fund-raising Ball in Norwich recently and raised £7,500 for the cause.
It was also what motivated Ben (pictured above), who grew up in a church environment in Yarm in the North East, where he was a worship leader. He moved to Manchester at the age of 18 to train as a bass-baritone opera singer at the Royal Northern College of Music.
It was there that Ben had his epiphany moment: “I went to an event run by Marion White in Manchester Town Hall about human trafficking,” said Ben. “I though that slavery had ended in this country when William Wilberforce took his legislation through Parliament. I could not believe it still existed in the mass market it is today.
“Jesus said: ‘I have called you to seek the lost and broken and hurting and to use your freedom for others.’
“I got passionate about the issue and just went ahead and booked the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham and that was the start of Hope for Justice.
“After the event we launched the first ever multi-disciplinary unit in the UK and set about actually rescuing human victims of trafficking in our nation. Other organisations in this country were focusing on advocacy and awareness, so we decided we would focus on rescuing the victims.
“We started recruiting ex Policemen, lawyers and social workers to join our team. We have seen countless people who have come from a place of abuse and violent oppression.
“We have rescued girls who were literally held under lock and key and systematically abused. We have rescued families with children as young as four from sex trafficking and forced labour.
“We work in partnership with local law enforcement and social services and follow it up with prosecutions through our lawyers to help give the message that this country will no longer tolerate this crime and form of exploitation,” said Ben.
Today Hope for Justice has a dozen staff and in the last year rescued 78 people from slavery.
“Our long term vision is to help bring about a complete end – we want to stamp it out for good,” said Ben. “We also believe that the church can be part of the solution to the UK problem of human trafficking.”
Over 100 local Act for Justice groups are set up across the UK to campaign, fundraise and pray about the issue. You can contact the Norwich group via Sharon Hollinger