A Salvation Army major who has stepped in to help the fight against modern day slavery in North Wales by providing refuges for its victims has been recognised with a top award.
Church leader Major Chris Davidson, who organises safe temporary accommodation for victims, was honoured by the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones.
He was declared an Anti-Slavery Champion at the commissioner’s Community Awards during a presentation ceremony at Theatr Clwyd, Mold.
Mr Jones described slavery as an ‘ancient evil’ which needs to be eradicated from modern communities.
He said Major Davidson had significantly helped push forward the crackdown on modern day slavery in North Wales where police have investigated 72 reports of cases such as forced labour and people trafficking over the last year.
Major Davidson, who is also the Salvation Army church pastor at its Windsor Street church in Rhyl, said it is deeply disturbing that slavery is still an issue in modern society.
He said: “There are incidences of slavery related in the Bible and it’s a sad reflection on our society that it’s still with us today.
“It’s often described as a hidden crime because victims of slavery are so afraid to come forward. They either fear for their own personal safety or that their families are under threat of violence so their hands are almost literally tied.
“I would urge everyone to help detect situations where they suspect individuals or groups of people may be subject to entrapment and to alert the appropriate authorities.”
Major Davidson, a Salvation Army officer for 29 years who trained for the ministry with them, was glad to help when North Wales Police asked if he could provide a short-term safe haven for slavery victims.
He said he was ‘extremely humbled’ that being able to offer Salvation Army help in this way had led to him being presented with the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner’s Anti-Slavery Champion award.
He said: “All I did was open some doors and allow in some people in desperate need. This accolade is warmly welcomed but it is as much a tribute to the campaigning work of the Salvation Army organisation as it is to me personally.”
The Salvation Army nationally has taken on a number of responsibilities in relation to modern slavery and is listed as a First Responder organisation by the Home Office.
Major Davidson has also helped transport slavery victims and other vulnerable people to refuges and safe houses around the country during his time in Rhyl and during other Salvation Army postings.
He said: “It’s something I willingly volunteer to do as a way to help fight this evil which has received much more prevalence in the media of late.
“But no matter how many victims I encounter it’s impossible to become immune to their suffering, the traumas they’ve endured, their ill treatment, horrific living conditions, physical and mental abuse.
“Some are so badly traumatised they cannot talk about it. Every single one is an individual with a different history, a different set of circumstances which has led them to this terrible situation and as a society we must do all we can to prevent this from happening time and again.”
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones said Major Davidson’s provision of a temporary haven for slavery victims was invaluable to the police task force.
He said: “A long term problem for the Force has been where and how to accommodate multiple victims of modern slavery at suitable premises while we assess their needs, provide care, support and protection, while obtaining best evidence.
“Major Davidson has made premises available to deal with such a demand. The flexibility he has offered with this resource has really made a difference because having such a facility available with little or no notice is hugely important.
“Victims need to feel safe in appropriate surroundings and through his help he has without doubt helped push forward the anti-slavery agenda in North Wales.”
Commissioner Jones added that tackling modern slavery was a complex issue involving migrant victims, British citizens forced into non-paid labour or to work for gangs, and children and adults who fell into the hands of slave-masters when they felt they had nowhere else to turn.
Many victims are treated by their oppressors as objects to be moved around the country and are often bought and sold on as if they were property.
He said: “Modern slavery is abhorrent and takes many forms. It’s one of the most insidious and damaging crimes known to us.
“It’s only in recent years that it has been fully understood and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 legislation created to help us tackle it. Nonetheless, this is a crime that often slips under the radar.
“With victims who are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable and terrified to come forward, awareness can remain low especially in rural and coastal towns like ours and that is why it has been set as a key policing goal and will remain a top priority in my Police and Crime Plan.”
The Salvation Army provides specialist support for all adult victims of modern slavery and runs a confidential referral helpline 0300 303 8151, available 24/7 while the number for the Modern Slavery Helpline is 0800 012 1700.