The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has given his backing to a charity set up to support women involved in the “sex industry”. Charis Tiwala works to “give people in the sex industry the opportunity for choice again; a choice to exit if they wish, and a choice to rebuild a new life as they would choose to live it,” the Archbishop’s office said in a statement.
The charity’s workers build relationships with the women through baking courses, Bible studies, Pilates classes and assistance with sexual health. Staff and volunteers visit establishments such as saunas to offer chaplaincy and befriending services and to “engage at whatever the point of need is with the utmost care and respect for each person.”
The charity began its work in 2008 and became a registered charity in 2014. The following year Archbishop Justin made his first visit to the organisation and has become a keen advocate. He has now agreed to become patron of the charity.
“If you want to see the kind of things Jesus Christ is doing in the world, take notice of Charis,” he said. “If you want to experience the hope this Jesus Christ brings, meet the women of Charis. If you want to weigh up the cost of serving in Jesus Christ’s name, consider the faith of the women who began Charis. If you want to show your love for Jesus Christ and the transformation he brings, support his work through the ministry of Charis.”
Archbishop Justin Welby with a mug sporting the Charis Tiwala logo.
Photo: Lambeth Palace
Because of the potentially dangerous nature of its work, the charity regulator for England and Wales has exempted the trustees from having to publicly disclose their identities. Its founder and director welcomed Archbishop Justin’s involvement. “For those who work at Charis, Jesus has totally changed our lives,” the director said. “We want the women to know Jesus loves them, and can change their lives too if they want that. Some of the women have been very open to faith and God. It’s been an incredible journey for us as a team.
“We have seen some of the women leave the industry and get new jobs. Some have become Christians. The other side is that we’ve seen women being horrifically exploited, and one woman who was murdered. But it is a privilege to do this work and see the difference that God can make in people’s lives.”
In a statement, the charity said: “It’s an honour to have Archbishop Justin as a patron of Charis. We hope it will encourage church leaders to engage with some of the issues that women who are sex workers face, and to advocate for them. Women in the sex industry often feel isolated, unseen and unvalued, our hope is that this will give them a sense of being seen and valued.”
Many women involved in the sex industry are there by force. The Archbishop’s involvement comes at a time when the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said that modern slavery was now “prevalent” across the UK, affecting “every large town and city in the country”.
It revealed that there were more than 300 live police operations across the UK targeting those involved in modern slavery; and highlighted recent operations including the arrests of three men in north east England with suspected links to a Romanian organised crime group using the internet to advertise the services of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. The victims were then forced to launder the proceeds through criminally controlled bank accounts. The NCA said that 10 women were safeguarded as a result of the case.
In a two-month “surge in operational activity” earlier this year focused on forced labour and sexual exploitation, the NCA-led Operation Aidant led to 111 arrests and the identification of “some 130 people … who may be considered as victims,” the NCA said.
“We need communities that have their eyes open, who are aware enough of their surroundings that they can say when something doesn’t look right,” the chaplain to the Bishop of Derby, Philippa Rowen, said in a blog posted on the C of E’s Facebook page. “When the man cleaning their car has no safety equipment, and looks underfed and tired. When their neighbours live-in nanny never seems to leave the house, and is too frightened to talk to them. When the holiday let at the end of the road is being visited by different men all through the day and night.
“The Church of England, with a presence in every parish, is uniquely placed to be those eyes and ears, and to spread this message further. We believe that the tools to end modern slavery already exist within the local community, and that the Church has a primary responsibility in leading these efforts.”
In October, the C of E will launch the Clewer Initiative, a three year project to help dioceses respond to modern slavery in their communities. “We have already seen examples of this with churches running English classes for survivors, or joining with other denominations to raise awareness of the issue,” Miss Rowen said. “Work in the dioceses of Derby, Portsmouth, Southwell and Nottingham, and Southwark is already underway, with each diocese committing to develop strategies that are tailored to their area.”
The initiative will be launched on 15th October – Freedom Sunday – when churches are being encouraged to use their acts of worship to raise awareness of modern slavery.
“The victims of modern slavery are hidden in plain sight,” Rowen said, “but together we can find them and bring light to this darkness.”