Anyone who has lived in Newcastle will know the monument. In many ways it’s the epicentre of life in the city; it is the place all directions are given in relation to, it’s the place where people meet, and it’s the place where people gather. There, at the top of a 135ft column, is a statue of Earl Grey. (Yes, the chap they named the tea after.) Earl Grey was the Prime Minister who authored the great reform act and who led the government that passed the 1833 bill for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
On Saturday afternoon, at just after 1:30pm, I had the privilege of being one of around seventy men encircling Grey’s Monument in Newcastle to take a stand against modern day slavery. Men perpetrate the large proportion of the demand that leads to sex trafficking and slavery and so, as part of our church’s men’s conference, we wanted to take a public stand against it.
We walked en masse through the town wearing t-shirts with the slogan Real men don’t buy girls. As we neared the centre we marched single file and circled the monument before turning to face outwards and stand in silence, as still as Earl Grey atop his column. A group of bikers asked my pastor, Jon Cook, what we were protesting and were inspired to join us and make a stand too.
As we stood there a mixture of emotions came into my head. You feel quite exposed when you just stop and stand in such a public space. I wondered if people would read our slogan and understand our stand – many people are relatively unaware of slavery today. Then I remembered the news from recent months, the people paying to abuse children within our own country, scandals in Rotheram and Manchester, and felt proud to belong to a community of men who will take a stand.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu
As a society we must take a united and proactive stance on this issue; the option to glamorise the sale of sex while opposing sex trafficking is not there, the two are mutually dependent. While there is a market demand there are evil men who will make money from supply. This is not just a problem in far off Thailand or in the brothels of Vegas and Amsterdam, it’s a problem in seedy alleyways and suburban houses, in local massage parlours and back streets, it’s a problem here in our own backyard. (See links to reports below from the Evening Chronicle.)
Prostitution and private sex shows aren’t stag party fun if you’re the girl who has been trafficked across half a dozen international borders, raped into submission by your ‘owners’ and forced to service forty different men a day. There can be no moral, ethical or humane justification for purchasing other human beings.
As a writer one of the things that I love most is symbolism in narrative. There is a poetic beauty in Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes in Gatsby or the cross that towers above Kiev in Bulgakov’s White Guard, while ostensibly passive parts of the scenery they take greater significance due to the events that unfold around them.
One of the beautiful things about the protest on Saturday is that I genuinely believe, were he alive today, Earl Grey would have been standing shoulder to shoulder with us. He was a man committed to ending the evils of slavery. The monument was not a passive part of our demonstration because Earl Grey’s legacy to this country is that we fight against slavery. This generation faces a slavery problem larger than any other before it, but we face it with more potential than any before us to address it.
Why don’t you check out abolitionist organisations that work in your area and join with us taking a stand. Real men don’t buy girls.
Local news about Human Trafficking: