“Open Your Eyes” was the slogan of a recent protest urging shoppers on the streets of Oxford to stop and think about the reality of sex trafï¬cking.
The demonstration, organised by the Oxford Community Against Trafï¬cking (OXCAT), was held on Cornmarket street to mark Anti-Slavery Day (18th October). It aimed to raise awareness about the ordeals faced by the victims of sex trafï¬cking through a variety of music, drama and dance performances.
OXCAT is a community group of volunteers which was set up by various Oxfordshire churches. It aims to offer support to victims and make more people aware of human trafï¬cking by engaging with the wider community through education and the arts.
This protest hit to the heart of the city which was shocked by the discovery of a sex trafï¬cking ring in 2012. Earlier this year, the ‘Bullï¬nch trial’ saw seven men convicted of the abuse of six young victims and sentenced to a total of 95 years in jail.
Danny Scott, an OXCAT spokesman, professional performer, and Artistic Director of PointZero Physical Theatre, said: “The details surrounding the Operation Bullï¬nch case have been horrifying.
“But it has been going on right under our noses; in our streets, outside our schools and behind closed doors in Oxford homes and hotels.
“This is not an isolated case, more and more incidents are being uncovered across the country. We cannot just sit back and accept this kind of abuse in modern day Britain… we encourage everyone to Open Your Eyes.”
Supporting the protest was Oxfordshire MEP and Patron of OXCAT Catherine Bearder, who has launched a campaign for an anti-trafï¬cking commissioner. She has worked with OXCAT at many events and says “…they’re getting bigger and better each year.
“Events like this are so important because human trafï¬cking is still a crime that the majority of people know nothing about.
“These events do make a real difference because they arm the local communities with the tools to ï¬ght trafï¬cking. I always say, human trafï¬cking is happening in our communities and it can be tackled by our communities.”
She notes that it is important to educate people about how to recognise the signs of trafï¬cking: “Whether it be children in the streets when they should be in school, unusual movements from properties at odd hours or shops that continue to stay open with apparently no business. If there is anything that seems suspicious to you then please let Crimestoppers know.”
Moreover she says that preventing this crime is up to everyone: “Students, like everyone have a role to play in Opening their Eyes to the signs of human trafï¬cking”
Oxford student Claire Paulus, who brieï¬‚y saw the protest, said that the impact was not that effective: “I wasn’t even aware they were acting out trafï¬cking, it just looked like lots of people in pink. It’s probably not the most appropriate way to campaign about it”.
Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed to an extent with Paulus. He told Cherwell, “The dancing was very erotic. It was a semi-naked man weaving around some barbed-wire, and he looked a bit like he might have done time in the past. However, he clearly had very strong views against sex-trafficking and for that I respect him.”
OXCAT are currently working on another project in conjunction with a theatre company and in Summer will be running a ï¬lm campaign with the anti-trafï¬cking charity ‘Unchosen’.