Prime Minister acknowledges the work of Religious Sisters in combatting modern slavery


The Prime Minister sent her best wishes to the Arise Foundation as it brought together a large audience in London to highlight the work of Religious in anti-trafficking. In the message, sent to John Studzinski CBE,  the co-founder and chair of Arise,  Theresa May referred to the “extraordinary global contribution of Religious Sisters to the anti-slavery movement” and said the work that Arise is doing to tackle the issue is key.

The evening was the official launch of a report by Arise which has revealed that nearly a quarter of Catholic Religious Congregations in England & Wales are battling modern slavery. It’s the first ever such mapping exercise and it has discovered that 172 members of Religious Institutes  – 144 women and 28 men  - are providing frontline services to people who have fallen prey to traffickers.


The launch was hosted by ITN Presenter Julie Etchingham who spoke with three Sisters involved in helping victims – Sr Lynda Dearlove RSM MBE, who’s based in Kings Cross, Sr Cecilia Espenilla OP from the Philippines and Sr Arpan Carvalho BS from India. Cardinal Turkson, who is visiting London, spoke of the vital role of Sisters in anti-trafficking.  He recalled a gathering of Police Chiefs from around the world who came to the Vatican to discuss the issue – a valuable dialogue :  “but we realised we weren’t talking to the infantry!”

Seventy-three Congregations responded to a survey sent out by Arise and their answers revealed  that 40 Institutes are involved in a wide range of ministries, in both antislavery and prevention work; others, not involved in active ministries, are doing something in their own way, such as making financial contributions. The details of the findings were presented by the CoR Vice-President, Sr Jane Maltby, RSCJ:


PROPERTY:  In addition to offering personnel, 16 Religious Congregations have provided 29 properties at a book price of nearly sixteen-point-four million pounds.   But this is the BOOK rather than market value, so is highly likely to be an underestimate of the value of these buildings. Some of these properties are used as safe houses where victims of modern slavery, including women with children,  can find refuge and start to rebuild their lives.

MONEY:  CoRew members have donated more than £10 million pounds to anti-trafficking in the last five years.

WORKING WITH POLICE:  A hidden aspect of the involvement of Religious in anti-trafficking is when they accompany police during rescue operations.  The survey has discovered that a total of 23 Congregations work with the Police and NGOs.  They also assist in managing referrals from the police, joint outreach and  providing training. Notably, one Congregation donated a property for a local police constabulary where victims of trafficking could be interviewed  in a less formal environment and provided with safe accommodation. 

LENGTH OF SERVICE:  A question was also asked about length of service – the amount of time people have been doing this for.   Adding the cumulative total, it’s possible to quantify it as 643 years of combined antislavery service with a couple of people having spent nearly a quarter of a century in the struggle.

FINANCIAL REWARD: And it’s all predominantly voluntary work, in line with their vocation. 144 Religious receive no financial remuneration for their ministries;  only 9 members hold paid roles.   

PIONEERS:  22 Religious have been involved in founding antislavery organisations. They represent the full range of antislavery service provision: from prevention work to rescue, shelter and on-going accompaniment.

Sister Dominica Popach OP (left) with Sr Sheila Barrett DMJ

Sister Dominica Popach OP (left) with Sr Sheila Barrett DMJ

The research, which was conducted by Sister Dominica Popach OP, who was seconded for the task for much of this year, shows that Religious Congregations have not allowed their changing demographic to prevent them from contributing in important ways to the antislavery movement.  The Conference of Religious of England and Wales has announced that it will now set up a UK Network of Religious involved in anti-trafficking work, to provide a platform for enhanced collaboration. It will be affiliated to similar international groupings. 

Image from the property gifted by the RSCJ Congregation to the Medaille Trust

Image from the property gifted by the RSCJ Congregation to the Medaille Trust

Sr Jane Maltby RSCJ  thanked Arise for the research project: “Speaking from a personal perspective, my Congregation owns a property that we no longer need, and, rather than sell this commercially, we undertook extensive research and consultation in order to make the best decision we could, that would be in line with our priorities for mission. In the past, we ran schools and projects around the welfare of women and children, with others collaborating with us. Today, we are delighted to be able to turn that around, and we collaborate with others. In gifting the property and enabling women and children survivors to be cared for in a safe environment, we have entered a partnership which expresses the gospel values of tenderness and mercy, so much a part of our charism, or special spiritual character. The property currently houses 26 women and ten children and babies, a result that touches us deeply.

It cannot be ignored that the contribution outlined in this report is overwhelmingly female. This may reflect the fact that, until recently, the issue was framed almost always in terms of human trafficking, which for many reasons has been understood as a problem predominantly affecting women. 

John Studzinski CBE, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

John Studzinski CBE, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

Finally, going beyond numbers and statistics, it is abundantly evident from the different categories of giving, in terms of human resources, property and money, that the commitment of religious is long-term, is inspired by traditions of service to those in need, and is an integral part of their spirituality. There is an important section in the report which I recommend that you read which speaks about the intangible aspects of anti-slavery accompaniment. Aspects like love and trust which are so critical to this work, and yet feature so rarely in policy conversations on this subject. Love and trust takes time to build and to make manifest. It is the core strength of the work of religious in this area. “


The Director of the Arise Foundation, Luke de Pulford added:   “Women religious are the unsung heroines of the anti slavery movement. They are active in the worst-affected parts of the world - preventing, rescuing, and offering accompaniment over decades. But they are also active in countries of destination like the U.K. where they continue to make a huge contribution, giving their houses to be used as shelters, and so much more. Arise is privileged to have produced this research, documenting the scale of the contribution of religious in England and Wales. We are conscious that these numbers do not do justice to the special character of the work of religious, which is less about numbers and more about the quality of long-term, loving commitment to those on the margins. Their voice is sorely needed in this movement, and I hope this report enables them to be heard.”


Sr Patricia Mulhall CSB:

“The moment I stepped into Bakhita House, I felt the atmosphere of a home. Along with being a safe environment, there is genuine caring and welcoming. The administration provides stability and - from what I observe -  a ‘light touch’ to the rules of the house. The fact that the women take turns to cook their ‘home’ dishes for all to enjoy each evening is indicative of that ‘home’ atmosphere. All credit to the management team and support workers for creating and providing a place of companionship for vulnerable women (and babies)! Of course there is much more by way of support, guidance and rehabilitation that is provided so that the women can live a full and ‘normal’ life. None of this happens without the love, skills and expertise of the team who work for and on behalf of them.  I enjoy my visits to Bakhita.”

Anna Ringler, a member of a Religious Austrian Institute:

In my role as House Manager at Caritas Bakhita House I look after the wellbeing of our guests more from the background, be it the shopping or maintaining the house in a good standard or coordinating the guests’ activities. There are some more obvious tasks such as sharing lunch with volunteers or baking a cake for a birthday or looking after visitors coming from a wide range within the antitrafficking network.  

Apart from widening my knowledge about Modern Day Slavery through each individual story and the tailored support our key workers offer, it is something very simple I draw meaning from: the daily presence. In sharing the space, the dinner table, fears and joys I allow guests to become part of my life and in this I become part of theirs. Seeing the women grow and unfolding their inner beauty is the most rewarding aspect of working at Caritas Bakhita House.”

Karen Anstiss, Service Manager:

“Working at Caritas Bakhita House has personally been a massive learning curve for me in so many different ways. The two things that have touched my heart the most are seeing the guests overcoming their previous neglect and abuse and so beginning their new lives and the power of the work by our many communities of Sisters.

Simply put, they make a difference - by bringing  love, knowledge and respect. All of which are delivered in a very unassuming way so from the outside you can’t see it happening but it is. Languages, therapies, skills, all shared with guests - giving a new sense of hope, physically and mentally, preparing them for a better life. 

They give each guest individual time, something that is often short in today’s very busy society, but is the most important thing you can give anyone who is trying to recover from a trauma. They make guests feel wanted for themselves as a person not as a commodity.

Our  sisters with  all their varying missions come together at Caritas Bakhita House  and help our guests to grow enough to not only want a new life but to be able to function in a new life. They are quiet and  unassuming but they are the foundation upon which lives here are changed.”

A joyful reunion for Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa with Cardinal Turkson whom they knew for many years in Africa

A joyful reunion for Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa with Cardinal Turkson whom they knew for many years in Africa