“Just the title, without further expansion, should be sufficient to shame anyone who can read it. What is it about the human male aside from animal stupidity that can account for such abhorent behavior? Insecurity? Inferiority? Ineffectuality? Diminutive genitals? What in God’s name is wrong with us?”
Slavery didn’t disappear when it was abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. It fell off our radar, went underground and changed its face.
Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receiving of human beings through use of force, fraud, coercion, threats or deception for the purpose of forced labor, violence, debt bondage, prostitution or other forms of exploitation. In many cases, human trafficking results in modern-day slavery. This business is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second-largest racket in the world, after drug dealing. There may be as many as 27 million people enslaved today—double the number taken from Africa during the three and a half centuries the trade thrived there—with approximately 800,000 new victims trafficked across international borders each year. At least 17,000 of those victims are brought annually into the United States and forced to work against their will, for nothing more than subsistence. But no one really knows how many victims there are, since so many are unseen.
This book is dedicated to them.
Taking a human being out of enslavement in a brothel, military compound, or strip bar brings the victim out of one kind of bondage to what can often feel like another prison—the rules and rigors of victim shelters or the struggle to make ends meet in a tough global economy. When slaves are freed, the battle to help them reintegrate into society begins. That might seem like a gargantuan task, but it’s one we’ve got to take on in this generation.
The human trafficking explosion is just one symptom of our much larger, more complex human dilemma. But we can’t let its complexity confound us. We can start informing ourselves today, and within a matter of days, weeks, months and years we’ll be dismantling the traffickers’ networks and shaming the consumers who buy or use the trafficking victims’ products and services. In the process, we’ll be reclaiming our freedom, our schools, our communities and our ability to care for each other.
Governments may take steps for us and with us, but we have to stop looking to politicians alone to change our world. Individuals need to ask more of our elected officials while making sure we do everything in our own power to protect, assist and empower the tired, the hungry, the poor and the trafficked. We need to form movements, join with the like-minded and shake up the skeptical until they, too, are walking along with us.
In many ways, it looks to me as though we are on the verge of the greatest enslavement of all time. The crisis in the financial markets and many other sectors draws inevitable comparisons to history, when widespread shortages of staple commodities led to lands being seized and masses of people being subjugated. Globalization and the Internet have made some of us freer, but have also made it easier for criminal networks to further exploit and victimize the youngest, weakest and the poorest members of our expanding global community.
So we’re left with the ultimate question: What can we do?
“Thirteen billion a year in slave-made products and services is a lot of money, but it is exactly what Americans spent on Valentine’s Day in 2005. If human trafficking generates $32 billion in profits annually, that is still a tiny drop in the ocean of the world economy.” –Kevin Bales, Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves
There are more slaves in the world today than at any time in history. That’s the bad news. The good news is that those 27 million people estimated to be in bondage represent only .0043% of the world’s population.
Most nations have passed legislation mirroring the U.S. Congress’s landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Governments have since signed more than a dozen international conventions banning the modern-day slave trade. Anti-trafficking task forces all over the world are still being trained in how to enforce those laws. But they have so far to go. Of the seventeen thousand people estimated to have been trafficked into the United States in 2006, approximately one hundred trafficking and slavery cases were brought to trial. We need to do better.
But bringing an end to modern-day slavery is within our reach. By scholar Kevin Bales’ calculation, the grassroots cost of bringing those 27 million people to freedom and helping them rebuild their lives (at a cost of five hundred dollars per slave) would amount to $13.5 billion. That’s less than 1 percent of the more than $700 billion Congress approved for last year’s historic Wall Street bailout—or just forty-seven dollars from the pocket of each American citizen. The income that slaves generate, while significant, is negligible compared to the size of the world economy.
But it is going to require a global mind shift to increase awareness of slavery and mobilize resources. One of the biggest obstacles we will face is ourselves. Human beings are political animals. Well-meaning activists, policy makers, and journalists have wasted time squabbling over the definition of human trafficking or slavery, choosing sides and allowing personal agendas to get in the way of collective progress. Politicians fight for resources to combat sex trafficking while ignoring the plight of the men, women and children trafficked into debt bondage in order to harvest American tomatoes and lettuce. Hungry for ratings, the media tend to single out sex slavery over its many less provocative forms—a huge disservice to the other slaves whose silent suffering is just as profound.
Slavery in any form is a crime against humanity, and it’s going to take all of us working together instead of against each other to make it disappear. Some critics complain that slave liberators offer a shortsighted solution to a complex problem. They claim that buying human freedom creates a slave market, rewarding the traffickers and middlemen for their efforts and serving merely to decrease the length of an individual slave’s bondage while ignoring the big picture. In an ideal world, the intrinsic value of a human being is not negotiable. But try looking in the face of a slave child condemned to a brutal life in a brothel, carpet factory or slave master’s home and telling her that buying her freedom would make the problem worse. She doesn’t have time to wait for a diplomatic solution.
Freeing slaves one at a time will not solve the problem, but a slave that is freed, and given a chance to go to school may become a liberator herself. She then becomes part of the solution, an agent working to change the fabric of the society that created the conditions for slavery in the first place. “The example and influence of a single rehabilitated slave can dramatically alter a whole village,” says Kevin Bales. Human trafficking, modern-day slavery and the crimes that accompany them are a complex web to unravel. Until we as a people address the root causes of this human trade, men, women and children will continue to be sold into slavery. Working to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty is an important first step to ending slavery. The second step is holding ourselves responsible for the role we play, however small or unconscious, in allowing slavery to persist. If we decrease our demand for the products and services slaves provide, the slave economy will collapse.
The responsibility falls upon everyone from the U.N. peacekeeper not wanting to know that the “prostitutes” at the brothel he likes to frequent are actually minors being held against their will, to the American consumer buying an exotic carpet that might well be made by a child slave in India. Turning a blind eye to slavery is as easy as saying, “it’s ubiquitous,” or, “it’s been around since the beginning of time.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof makes this point about sex slavery: “Governments accept it partly because it seems to defy solution. Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. It exists in all countries, and if some teenage girls are imprisoned in brothels until they die of AIDS, that is seen as tragic but inevitable… If we defeated slavery in the nineteenth century, we can beat it in the twenty-first century.”
Believing in a Utopia without slavery, poverty and oppression is not naïve—as long as we are not alone. Please volunteer, donate, get informed and write letters putting pressure on foreign governments to crack down on brothel owners who ex-ploit children or traffic women. Call on the president and U.N. secretary general to act in Darfur, where the slave raiding of a decade ago has become the genocide of today. Use your freedom to help others. Pass it on. Here are some good places to start:
Abolish Slavery: The abolish slavery coalition is a registered charity founded by Aaron Cohen and dedicated to combating human trafficking and restoring dignity to victims worldwide. They organize and coordinate investigations and field opera-tions, find, identify and retrieve men, women and children from slavery—and then provide for their safe aftercare and re-habilitation.
Abolish Slavery Coalition
P.O. BOX 5000
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
AFESIP Cambodia: AFESIP Cambodia exists to combat trafficking women and children for sex slavery, to care for and rehabilitate those rescued from sex slavery, to provide them occupational skills training, and to reintegrate them into the communities where they can live in a sustainable and innovative manner.
Administration, Human Resource and Communication Department
#62CEO Street 598, Boeung Kak 2
Toul Kork Penh
Causecast: Causecast is a “one-stop philanthropy shop” – a platform where media, philanthropy, social networking, entertainment and education converge to serve a greater purpose. People want to do good, to be inspired and inspire others to join them in giving back. Causecast makes this easy by providing users with the means to connect with people, leaders, charities, nonprofit organizations and brands that inspire them.
CSI: CSI is a Christian human rights organization that helps victims of religious repression, victimized children and victims of disaster.
Christian Solidarity International
870 Hampshire Rd. Suite T
Westlake Village, CA 91361
Free the Slaves: Free the slaves liberates slaves around the world, helps them rebuild their lives, and researches real world solutions to eradicate slavery forever.
Free the Slaves
514 10th St. NW 7TH FL
Washington, D.C. 20004