The other week at the event I helped to organise at the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s training centre at Uckfield with Sussex Police, we had many interesting and challenging speakers.
It was encouraging for me to watch delegates making connections between organisations which will hopefully lead on to new initiatives.
We heard about the awful scams that are being perpetrated and about a brilliant resource the police have, The Little Book of Big Scams; free to all who want one. We heard about street pastors and the work they can do in any community that experiences anti-social behaviour. We heard about the signs to watch out for that houses may be being used for trafficking of people or immoral purposes in our community. It can happen anywhere! It is believed that the average age for starting as a prostitute is just 12.
There is quite a process of education needed for people to be truly alert to what is going on around. As an experiment a police officer with us did an internet search for brothels in Hailsham. He found five!
The other hidden horror we dealt with was domestic abuse. One in four women at some time in their lives will be subject to abuse, which does not have to be physical. Around 80 per cent of murders have resulted from domestic abuse. The police will take incidents reported to them seriously. Non action is not an option.
We all have responsibility. Each of us lives in community and are surrounded by people and yet increasingly in our neighbourhoods we are becoming alienated from one another.
People’s privacy is held sacrosanct and what goes on behind closed doors is none of our business – unless you observe an endless string of strange men going to one house, or the woman at Number Three who always seems to have a bruise. Can we, should we turn a blind eye? Not if somewhere there is a vulnerable victim.
Our churches have an important role as gathered communities which can help to reinforce essential messages. For example, where street pastors operate there is a noticeable reduction in crime. That has got to be worth it!
There also has to be a realistic appreciation that not only may there be victims in our congregations, but perpetrators as well. We were told that we have a duty to declare zero tolerance for those who abuse. There is no place for declared forgiveness for a perpetrator as an excuse not to act. The bullet has to be bitten and if a crime has been committed then their penance is to face the full weight of the law. Their victims deserve no less. These are tough times!