I recently attended a day-conference in Rome entitled “Encountering Modern Day Slavery”. This event, run by The Clewer Initiative, had gathered young adults from various parts of the world, with the aim of highlighting and raising awareness of the issues around modern day slavery. I was there in my role as Partnership Coordinator for Europe, accompanying the current youth president of the Methodist Church in Britain.
(Trigger warning – the following contains some general details of rape and sexual violence.)
We heard two very powerful and moving testimonies from a young man and a young woman from different countries in Africa, as they shared how they were deceived and exploited by people near and dear to them.
The young man was betrayed by a close friend, who had offered to help him find a hopeful future in Europe, but in reality was sending him into forced labour, without pay, in Italy. This very moving story was tragic in and of itself, but it was the story of the young woman that touched and disturbed me even more deeply.
This young lady was deceived and betrayed by her own (female) pastor in Africa – a lady who was very close to her family and who had helped them on many occasions. The young lady was sold into the sex trade and ended up working as a prostitute in Italy.
But it was an incident before she arrived in Italy that moved and disturbed me the most. A 13 year old girl, named Grace, was also being trafficked into Europe. The lady shared how she had taken Grace under her wing and tried to protect her from the horrors of the camp and the dangers of the journey. But one day she could not protect Grace. Nor herself. The guards came and took them and violated them.
Two days later, Grace died of her injures. She was just 13 years old.