Our History: Part One
The RAT Network started in late 2008, at the instigation of a group of practitioners working in different agencies across the West Midlands who were each concerned about the issue of human trafficking and how it might be affecting the people they were working with. Methodist minister, the Rev Stephen Willey had been part of a group involved in a Methodist church funded action research project into human trafficking. He attended the UN.GIFT Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking in February 2008, which had gathered over 1,600 participants from 30 countries around the world. A dominant theme throughout the conference had been the suggestion of the need for a ‘fourth P’; in addition to the widely stated aims of the UN Protocol to focus anti-trafficking work around the three Ps (prevention, protection and prosecution), attendees were urged to ‘form Partnerships’ between statutory and non-statutory agencies which recognised differentiating roles but supported one another towards join aims.
Stephen had been attending the West Midlands Strategic Partnership on Migration Women’s Issues Group (WMSPM). He fed back his experiences in Vienna, and raised the issue of how member agencies perceived trafficking issues and whether the suggestion of collaboration and partnership working had merit. Trafficking became a regular item on the agenda at the meetings, with frontline practitioners raising concern about lack of knowledge amongst colleagues, lack of information on services available for victims, and a gap in awareness amongst frontline services most likely to initially encounter trafficked persons.
Interested practitioners began to meet separately to discuss matters further, quickly recognising that a multi-agency approach to the complex issue of human trafficking would be beneficial to a wide range of agencies. It quickly became evident that there was a need for greater awareness and training around human trafficking issues at a grassroots, local level. In partnership with West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership Women’s Issues Group (WMSMP) and Believing in Birmingham (Birmingham City Centre Churches Together) the newly formed RAT Network organised a multi-agency awareness raising day in December 2008. This was attended by 107 people: professionals from statutory and non-statutory agencies, students, and faith leaders. Feedback at the close of the conference indicated that although the vast majority of attendees found it useful, they wanted more information, more training and a way of staying linked up with other agencies so they could be aware of trends and new developments. The decision was made to start a regular multi –agency meeting, open to representatives from all agencies who may encounter trafficked persons through the work they did.