It’s a Penalty – Help prevent abuse, exploitation and trafficking

21st July 2022

The 2022 Commonwealth Games offers Birmingham and the wider West Midlands with an unparalleled opportunity to showcase and witness the power of sport in helping to transform lives, families, communities and societies. For a week and a half, hundreds of thousands of members of the Commonwealth will converge on Birmingham to celebrate life, health, opportunities and hope for the future.

However, there will be some, outside of the public eye and on the edges of society, who will not be able to share in these celebrations; in fact, as you read this, they will be experiencing quite the opposite of what these Games represent.

Whilst it is clear that major sporting events bring many positives to a host city or region, it is also known that such events, characterised by mass flows of people, are also spaces where the risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation is increased. The UN defines human trafficking as:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit’. [1]

In essence, trafficking is the movement of people from one place to another against their will and against their best interests. It is a horrific form of abuse and is a crime with long-lasting, traumatic impacts on survivors.

Anyone can become a victim of trafficking, but we know at children, young people and vulnerable adults are at particular risk. We also know that trafficking can take place from one country to another, as the heart-breaking recent testimony of Sir Mo Farah has so powerfully shown, but can also take place from one street to another, one house to another, even one room to another. Trafficking and exploitation could be happening near you, affecting people who grew up in the neighbourhoods of Birmingham and the West Midlands, as well as those born overseas.

One form of human trafficking which is sadly widespread in the West Midlands, with tragic consequences, is called ‘County Lines’. The National Crime Agency describes County Lines as:

‘where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively), usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs. The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs. Importing areas (areas where the drugs are taken to) are reporting increased levels of violence and weapons-related crimes as a result of this trend’.  [2]

The West Midlands Violence Reduction Partnership (WMVRP), part of the Office of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, exists to prevent young people and vulnerable adults becoming either victims or perpetrators of exploitation and violence. Crimes such as these, arising from deeply entrenched and multi-generational social issues and exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic, need to be tackled at the level of root causes. This is not a task for policing alone.

Rather, police and local authorities must work hand-in-hand with communities to cut off the possibility of trafficking before it even emerges. As well as enacting significant changes in how organisations work together and support people affected by trauma and adversity, local citizens who know their neighbourhoods the best, also need to be equipped to spot the signs which may indicate that someone is being trafficked or exploited. They must also know how to report what they see or hear, so that trafficking and exploitation is not given an opportunity to take root in their communities.

The WMVRP has joined forces with the charity ‘It’s a Penalty’ to raise awareness of human trafficking, exploitation and abuse in the run-up to and during the Commonwealth Games this summer. We encourage churches and other faith communities, as key voices in communities, to help take the lead in sharing resources that will raise awareness among local people.

There are a number of ways you can help promote the campaign and help prevent abuse, exploitation and trafficking.

  • Publicity resources, including posters and business cards, are available as paper copies for display in places of worship and for sharing with congregation members. Please contact vrp@westmidlands.police.uk to arrange a delivery.
  • Posters and other resources are also available in digital form for sharing on social media. You can find the resources (also available in other languages) here.
  • Show the campaign short film at your Sunday service or promote the campaign resources during the notices. Share the resources at church events and festivals.
  • Hold a workshop for church members to discuss how you can help tackle exploitation and violence in your community, in partnership with local authorities and police. You can find more ideas on our Faith Alliance website.

To close, let us reflect on the words of Jesus Christ. In Luke 4:18, Jesus declared:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free’.  [3]

Worried? Not sure what to do?

The Church of England Birmingham is committed to promoting a safer church for everyone including those who are survivors of abuse.

If you have any concerns about a child, young person or adult who may be vunerable, or someone who works/volunteers for the Church of England Birmingham, please contact:  

Bishop's Safeguarding Adviser 

Call 07342 993 844 or complete our online referral form here.


[3] Luke 4:18 (NIV)