Confronting Tough Truths – Brussels Church Conference

The first ever diocesan one-day training conference on combatting human trafficking took place at Holy Trinity Church, Brussels, at the end of January. It follows last year’s diocesan survey which identified a pool of potential volunteers in Belgium willing to take action against human trafficking given appropriate training and local service opportunities. Other conferences will follow across the diocese. In the event twice as many people (40) came to this conference as had been identified as willing in the survey. Although three-quarters of them only registered in the last week before the conference!

The event was jointly organised by Grace West, the Anglican prison chaplain in Brussels, who meets both victims and perpetrators of trafficking in the course of her work and David Fieldsend, Lay Minister at Holy Trinity Brussels and Bishop Robert’s Attaché for EU Affairs. It was also generously funded by the Anglican Council for Belgium.

In the morning detailed training on the legal definition of human trafficking (and its distinction from people smuggling), case studies in how to identify victims and actions that could be taken to give assistance was given by Annie Morris from the responsible UN Agency for counter-trafficking activity – the International Organization for Migration.

There were presentations from local projects in Belgium active in identifying and rescuing human trafficking victims and follow-up rehabilitation activities. Three organisations sent speakers to make presentations, two others sent written material. All of them stressed the importance of regarding trafficking victims as individuals of unique worth, made in the image of God. They recounted personal human stories of the stresses and trauma experienced by those who had been trafficked. Because of this often a very slow process of building up trust was necessary before they had the courage to escape from their traffickers to a safe house.

Question times after each speaker were very lively and a solid buzz continued over the lunch break. As well as expressing support for what is being already done there was some concern that it seemed so little in comparison to the scale of the problem (21,000 trafficking victims in the sex industry alone in Belgium according to police estimates). Now it depends on people being willing to make use of what they have learnt and get stuck into these local projects.

Information from David Fieldsend