Dozens of children screaming “help me” were participating in a demonstration to raise awareness of human trafficking in the UK. Having been manacled together by three sinister-looking men, the group was forced along the street by a man dressed as the fictional Child Catcher from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The flash mob was organised by Oxford Community Against Trafficking (Oxcat) for Anti-Slavery Day and involved children from local schools St Gregory the Great and St Edward’s.
Oxcat member Andy Dipper told The Oxford Student: “The kids involved today were in a role where they were chained together, caught by the Child Catcher and screaming for help because they wanted to tell everybody else in Oxford that this is a massive issue – we must not allow this to keep going must open our eyes.
“The purpose of this protest is to shock us all as we walk along the street and open our eyes to what is happening around us. We’re very concerned that slavery happens today. There are millions of children and adults who are trapped because they are being trafficked from one country to another.”
He added: “We assume this happens a long way away but the truth is it happens right here, right now. Here in Oxford there are situations where women and children are in extremely vulnerable positions.”
Earlier this year nine men were charged as part of Operation Bullfinch which exposed an alleged sex trafficking ring involving 50 girls in Oxford. According to Oxcat, in 2011 over 2,000 potential victims of human trafficking were identified in the UK.
Oxcat was founded four years ago “to raise awareness, support victims and engage with communities and professionals to create a hostile environment for trafficking”. This is the group’s second Anti-Slavery Day protest.
Mr Dipper explained: “Last year we had pretty girls in cages. The really shocking thing last year was that two guys walked up and seriously said: ‘Can I buy one of them, how much are they?’”
This year’s protest was on a bigger scale with a large group marching from the Mitre pub on the High Street, along Cornmarket before stopping on Broad Street. One girl could be seen shouting: “Help me, I don’t know who these people are” at a bemused pedestrian.
Mr Dipper said that the aim was “to shock but not to paralyse”. He wants people to be on the lookout for suspicious situations such as teenagers only occasionally leaving a house without a guardian or unrelated men.
He urged residents witnessing similar activities to call Crimestoppers.
He believes that the next step for Oxcat is “to tackle the preventative side” of trafficking. He said: “We’re going to be working with taxi and private hire drivers, hotel staff, schools and pupils to help them to understand what the issues are, what they look like to equip them with the eyes to see and the channels to respond.”
The organisation currently provides 90-minute awareness training sessions for taxi drivers at the Asian Cultural Centre in Manzil Way.
Oxcat is also looking to expand to the University – while there are “a number of students involved” Mr Dipper said that the organisation is looking for more.
Tom Christmas, a second year PPEist at Lincoln who volunteered at today’s demonstration, said: “I was shocked when I first heard that there were thousands of people in this country and millions worldwide who are used for various kinds of slavery, from forced prostitution to organ harvesting.
“Today was a great opportunity to raise awareness about an issue that deserves to get a lot more coverage, and hopefully as a result movements against slavery and human trafficking will gain some momentum.”
If you see something suspicious, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
PHOTOS/ Jonny Dower