Jen Williams

Fighting modern slavery in Liverpool

We spoke to Jen Williams, a volunteer in the Diocese of Liverpool about her experience of fighting modern slavery and receiving The Josephine Butler Fellowship Award in recognition of her activism.

When did you first hear about the issue of modern slavery?

I first heard about the issue of modern slavery during my year as a Tsedaqah Community Member. Tsedaqah is an intentional community based at Liverpool Cathedral and centred around working for social justice.

There were two things that happened in a short space of time in October 2019 which drew me to modern slavery activism.

Firstly, modern slavery and human trafficking became headline news when 39 Vietnamese trafficking victims died in a lorry in Essex. That same month, the Tsedaqah Community were part of a Liverpool Diocese Clewer Initiative meeting. Before then, I had relatively little knowledge of the issues of modern slavery and human trafficking.

I then went to Manchester to visit a support group for male survivors and met an LGBTQ+ survivor. He had been made homeless after coming out to his parents in Bangladesh. He travelled to the UK hoping to find refuge and learn English. He gave £10,000 to an organised crime gang that claimed to be a 'University' where he could learn English. Instead, they took his identity documents, held him in debt bondage and he spent years in a cycle of abuse, trapped working long hours in a corner shop. He only managed to escape when his trafficker left a door open, and he was able to run away to safety.

He told us his story with openness and incredible vulnerability. I was saddened to hear him speak about his shame and pain. The conversation has never left me, and I continue to work to help raise awareness with his story in mind.

What have you done to join the fight against modern slavery? What is your volunteer role?

I volunteer with Liverpool Diocese's Anti-Trafficking Project. This work is led by the Director for Social Justice, the Anti-Trafficking Project Coordinator, and supported by Together Liverpool, Liverpool Cathedral and Liverpool Mothers’ Union. I took on the volunteer role in 2019 and started by networking and reaching out to local organisations already working in different areas of modern slavery activism.

I have a deep heart for social justice and over the last three years, my role has been extremely diverse, covering lots of different awareness-raising initiatives. Some of the highlights for me have included:

  • Organising the online 'We See You' vigil during the height of the Covid pandemic with speakers from The Clewer Initiative, Medaille Trust and Stop the Traffik Liverpool. The event was attended by our Police Crime Commissioner and helped raise the profile of modern slavery and human trafficking in Liverpool Diocese. It was a time of storytelling, prayer and reflection
  • Welcoming the Freedom Bus to Liverpool Cathedral. The Freedom Bus is an awareness-raising initiative in partnership with the Merseyside Police Crime Commissioner, Stop the Traffik Liverpool and Pan Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnership. The double decker bus raises awareness of the Modern Slavery Helpline and tours the city including some of its car washes and nail bars.
  • Getting involved in the organisation of this year's A21 Walk for Freedom for Anti-Slavery Day. The walk was attended by more than 50 people and we walked in single file in silence through the city centre to take a stand against modern slavery.
  • Praying for an end to modern slavery for Anti-Slavery Day on Friday 22nd October with prayer stations set up by Liverpool Mothers’ Union and music and prayer hosted by the team at St Brides Church Liverpool.
  • Taking part in the Hidden Voices course over five weeks in December 2020 with people from across the UK and across the world - in Canada! Seeing what we could all do in our own contexts to combat modern slavery.
  • Speaking at Liverpool Cathedral's Vigil for Peace under 21,000 paper doves which were installed by the artist Peter Walker, updating people about the situation in Liverpool and providing information about different forms of trafficking and offering my prayer for hope.

We understand you have recently received the Josephine Butler Award. Could you tell us more about that?

I am delighted to be the recipient of The Josephine Butler Fellowship Award. I have been awarded this by The Josephine Butler Memorial Trust in recognition of the interest I have shown in vital issues of concern to the Church like equality, modern slavery, domestic abuse, asylum seekers and refugees, plus my work with Tsedaqah.

I am incredibly humbled because the Award itself is a substantial amount of money, £1000, which I can spend on a visit or experience of my choice related to the work of the Josephine Butler Memorial Trust. It also honours the social justice work that has been done to help raise the profile of modern slavery and human trafficking in the Diocese, which has been achieved with the support of so many brilliant activists.

It also reminds me that our work is built on the legacy of activists that have gone before us, such as Josephine Butler who lived and campaigned in Liverpool in the 19th century and was an incredible Christian activist who devoted her life to campaigning against human trafficking, for the rights of sex workers and for an end to child prostitution.

What is the hardest thing about fighting modern slavery in your area?

Liverpool has large areas of poverty and deprivation. The demand for sex trafficking, county lines, criminal exploitation, domestic servitude, labour exploitation in car washes and nail bars... all of it comes out of a cycle of poverty and addiction which traffickers prey on.

I think the hardest part is just how vast and complicated the area of modern slavery is and knowing that we can only ever continue to chip away at, that we may never end it completely. It is important to maintain hope, to trust in God who sets all people free, and have faith in the little things you can do. It is especially important that we keep praying, keep raising awareness of ways to report our suspicions, keep informing people about ways of spotting the signs and using the Modern Slavery Helpline 08000 121 700.

How has The Clewer Initiative helped you with your role?

The Clewer Initiative regularly supports us and helps to keep us connected to what the bigger Church is doing. The Clewer Initiative’s resources are so useful. Churches that attended our Hidden Voices course, for example, put some of their posters up on notice boards to help people spot the signs and raise awareness. The material for the Hidden Voices course was so thorough and really moved people to take action. It helped attendees work out what they might be able to do in their own context. It has also been useful connecting with others at regional and national events.

This is my own prayer for hope -

Heavenly Father,
I pray for all who are caught up in slavery today.
The young boy, 14, from Liverpool who is selling drugs in Exeter.
The sex worker who is homeless and has no one else to support them and is being coerced.
The men at the car wash cleaning cars all day for cheap with their bare hands.
I pray for an end to the exploitation of human beings - made in your image and not for sale.
I ask for knowledge, to learn more about the signs of slavery and how I can help someone in danger in my community.
I ask for love, for community built on compassion and that looks out for one another.
I ask for hope where there is none; I ask for love where there is none; I ask for faith where there is none.
I ask for healing for survivors and I ask for healing for perpetrators of modern slavery.
I thank you for the police, for organisations and faith groups, for safe housing and support for modern slavery victims and survivors.
I ask for trust, that when my intuition tells me a situation at work, at home or in the community looks like slavery, that you give me the confidence to report it.
Lord, you set the captives free and I pray that all might live in a world that is free from slavery.
In your mercy,


Sign up for our newsletter

Get regular news and updates straight to your inbox

Sign up now