Happy birthday, Love146 Europe! It has been one year since Love146 launched our European presence to a London gathering of old and new Love146 friends. What better way to celebrate than with a children’s party for grown ups? We celebrated with a spread of party treats on one side of the room and an art exhibition on the other side. The art depicted child trafficking, highlighting the reality that childhood, as we experienced it, is a very different experience for others.
Love146 Europe Launch Celebration
We knew this was going to be an important first year as we built on existing work we had been doing with other groups in the UK. We sought to identify what our contribution would be in European child slavery issues. ESCAPE magazine proved a great starting point to address issues of supply in Eastern Europe. We distributed six editions to at risk youth in over 80 Schools in Moldova! Most recently, we distributed a pilot edition to youth in the modern day slave port of Odessa. This Ukrainian city is the site from where so many begin their journeys into sexual exploitation.
When we discovered that there was an 80% increase in trafficking of Romanian girls to Greece and Austria, we took action. The increase resulted from targeted recruiting by traffickers. In the words of one of the victims identification teams, ‘One in every two new girls are Romanian, please do whatever you can to stop them coming as it is so terribly difficult to help them once they are here.’ Love146 spent the last eight months working with organisations and government agencies in mainland Europe to develop a national prevention campaign called “Open Your Eyes” or “Deschide Ochii” in Romanian. We are just about to launch a web site with stories, international help lines, multiple radio adverts as well as posters for schools and colleges that undermine bogus job adverts. Love146 partners will underpin this with localised impact teams working in the most targeted communities, identified through consultation with recent victims. It has been incredibly encouraging to work with others, to respond to fresh intelligence and to address an immediate issue with practical responses.
In June of last year, we decided as a UK team to spend 2011 identifying what our response might be to issues specific to England. We planned to pace ourselves and be very British about things. Little did we know that we were about to be drawn into the political arena with a visit to the Love146 Round Home of Peter Bone, a member of the UK government. According to Peter Bone MP (Co-chair of the All Party Coalition on Human Trafficking), recent research shows that there is still no specialised care for child victims. Peter said, “In England an adult trafficking survivor (who has been found to have experienced the most horrific daily sexual abuse) is afforded a government supported safe haven where they are given therapeutic support towards recovery. I cannot imagine how terrible it has been for a child to experience the same abuse. It is a travesty of the highest order than no such care provision is afforded children in our country.
"Child victims of trafficking in the UK are currently placed in foster care and care homes where many go missing, presumably re-trafficked. In Solihull, for example, one child was in care placement for only an hour before his trafficker walked in and reclaimed his merchandise. In another instance, six children were rescued from Solihull Airport on route to forced prostitution in Canada. Within one year of their rescue, all but one child went missing from UK care.
Left to Right: Christian Elliott, Gaz Kishere and Steve Martin outside the Houses of Parliament
This is clearly unacceptable! In the presence of 12 MP’s, dignitaries and organisations in the Houses of Parliament, Love146 Europe launched a period of research towards better working practices and interagency collaboration on this matter. This is not an insurmountable problem; we are convinced that this is one gap in the system that can and will be resolved. At our March 2nd Parliament gathering , we also publicly launched our UK Prevention and Aftercare Fund. This fund enables us to continue focusing on UK issues as well as those in Europe. We also began development of a UK version of the prevention magazine, ESCAPE, for at risk youth in the UK care system. We plan to pilot this in communities where youth have recently been targeted for sexual exploitation by gangs.
I think you will agree that this has been an extraordinary first year -- one worth celebrating with a loud cheer. We celebrate, not to applaud the efforts of those involved with Love146 Europe, but because we have taken confident steps to protect even more children from exploitation and sex slavery.