The truth isn’t sexy

No one was born to be a slave or a beggar. No one.
Dom Helder Camera

March offers us a moment of reflection. It tells the story of a persistent, stubborn, creative, and smart old man who wouldn’t rest until he got a certain bill of freedom through the House of Commons. This legislation would finally see an end to the injustice that was the transatlantic slave trade. On the 25th March 1807 he succeeded.

Sadly, today we have no William Wilberforce but rather a slave trade that’s multiplied in scale x3. I’ve spent the last few years living with the statistics of an evil that is careering across our globalised world making misery of the lives of millions. And yet out of all the numbers and stories, one young girl in this darkened underworld is the most important statistic. She is advertised as a mail-order bride; she is the ‘Kid as Industry’ moved next door whose body is put out for hourly rent; she is someone’s daughter; she is our sister.

Her story, if she told you whilst looking into your eyes, would have you do for her what you’d want done for yourself. Her pain might have you rise at night from the comfort of your own bed and weep. Or still further, it may well have you sell all your possessions and give your money to the poor. Wilberforce wasn’t content with cap-tipping at the injustice, he was a creative loud mouth who stood against the odds in opposition to systemic dehumanising evil.

At a recent event I took part in, someone suggested we hold a conversation entitled ‘Is the Emerging Church middle class white boy intellectualism and mac computers or does it have a genuine concern for the poor and justice?’. Perhaps surprisingly it was a well attended conversation which apparently continues to have unexpected implications for those who attended. Similarly, a couple of years ago, whilst he was preparing the manuscript for ‘Conversant with the Emerging Church’, I ended up parked beside Don Carson on a short-haul flight. During our now documented tete-a-tete, he levelled the criticism that the Emerging Church has too little theological substance and lacks sufficient enough organisation to bring about any social change of the sort catalysed by William Wilberforce and his Clapham Sect associates.

Carson wasn’t to know that only months earlier a collection of people who would identify themselves as belonging to emerging church communities across England, gathered to learn more about modern day slavery. It was here that Protest4 began and subsequently the Truth Isn’t Sexy Campaign. In saying that, ‘meeting’ doesn’t constitute ‘acting’ and we’re at a moment in time when the words of Jesus as recorded by Luke have a particular resonance for us in our world:

“The Spirit is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”

Wilberforce, surprised by the lack of support from fellow Christians concluded that they were culturally deluded as to what it meant to be a Christian. Jesus offers us a statement that seeks adoption into all our faith families and it needs to be primary, not just an archaic tag line in our polity. It’s these words that are tugging on the imagination and passion of the new abolitionist movement that rises in our day and which will prevent us believing and behaving ‘un-Christianly’. This movement is beyond ‘events’ but like a siren, echoes the words of Jesus to those who would be ‘activists’ against injustice.

We therefore invite you to be part of The Truth Isn’t Sexy Campaign. This campaign will raise awareness of the realities of sex trafficking. The cross-party parliamentary launch of the campaign will take place on 20 March 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. The launch is being sponsored by Lord Roberts (Lib Dem) and Louise Ellman MP (Lab) and supported by the Centre for Social Justice, a Conservative think-tank. We have partnered with the NUS to reach young people across the UK. Shockingly, there are more people traded in forms of modern-day slavery than at the height of the slave-trade. Between 600,000 and 800,000 people worldwide are trafficked every year, many of those into the UK.

In contrast to other agencies whose work is directed towards the victims or the supply side of the industry, The Truth Isn’t Sexy is addressing the ‘demand’ part of the sex market. We are starting conversations in an atmosphere that is neither judgmental nor moralising, but highlights the harsh realities at work within the global sex trade.

TTIS challenges increasingly prevalent attitudes that both normalise ending up in a lap-dancing club, brothel or massage parlour and even attach a certain social cachet to these activities. We are asking those who use these services to think about the wider impact of their choices; to consider that women may have been forced, manipulated or coerced into such work. When this is the case ‘The Truth Isn’t Sexy’.

To that end Protest4 is launching The Truth Isn’t Sexy beer mat campaign to coincide with the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Designed to catch the viewers’ attention by imitating telephone box calling cards, one side portrays an enticing image but the flipside shocks and highlights the brutal reality of the lives of trafficked women. In partnership with the NUS, the themed beer mats will be placed in Student Unions nationwide. This will build on the strong political, media and public interest generated by the bicentenary.

Here’s where you and/or your community can play a role. It is going to cost £2,500 per city/location to place 200,000 mats in 40 pubs for a month. Given that Protest4 operates with no expenses/salaries/funding, all of the efforts so far will amount to little should we not raise that figure per hosting city. This is not live music entertainment for a cause, it will involve commitment, sacrifice, and creativity. If you would like your town or city to join the campaign, please contact campaign director Aimie Littler from the link on The Truth Isn’t Sexy website. We will list contributing churches, communities, businesses, schools, universities on the website:

No one deserves to be a slave!

Si Johnston is the designer of Protest4 and The Truth Isn’t Sexy Campaign