Many people believe slavery in the United States ended with the Thirteenth Amendment after a bloody Civil War. Sadly, they are sorely mistaken. Slavery still happens today, in the United States, and around the globe. The estimate of how many people are currently enslaved varies depending upon the source. The International Labour Organization estimates 21 million people worldwide are in some sort of forced labor.
This labor as defined by the ILO includes, “brick kiln workers trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, children trafficked for forced begging and domestic workers deceived about their conditions of work.”
The State Department goes further in their definition of a slave, “forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex trafficking.”
Other groups, such as The End It™ campaign, insist that there are an estimated 27 million people enslaved around the world and claim that slavery rakes in $32 billion annually.
To bring the issue of slavery closer to home, the State Department estimates, 14,500-17,500 persons, potentially higher, are trafficked into the U.S.
Trafficking appears to be the largest form of slavery the U.S. federal, state, and city law enforcement agencies focus upon and is defined by U.S. Federal law as, “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
Modern day slavery is a multifaceted and complex human rights violation, which plays a monumental aspect within the modern globalized world, causes lives to be ruined, and even challenges notions of free agency.
Over the last few years, modern day slavery has arisen to the surface as a human rights issue, which many argue must be addressed through legislative action. Once people awaken to the fact that slavery takes place within their country, state, and city, it often provokes people to action. President Obama, in September 2012, spoke about the issue, and stated, “The bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here. It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker… The teenage girl—beaten, forced to walk the streets. This should not be happening in the United States of America.”
When the President of the U.S. addressed the issue of modern day slavery it signaled a shift within the U.S. to combat slavery both globally and nationally.
Without explaining the reasons and foundations for abolition, which have existed for over three centuries, it can be implied that the same human rights violations exist today, as did in other historical forms of slavery. The slaves that are enslaved within labor contexts deserve a fair wage and full freedom within their respective countries. The crucial difference between modern slavery and the slavery of the past is globalization. Globalization has increased the interconnectedness of the world in more ways than simply philosophical economic markets. The transfer of people and goods has become easier than any other given time in history and, “The causes of human trafficking are rooted in a (global) economy in which lives are traded, used and abused.”
Majeed A. Rahman claims that in today’s globalized economy people are often seen as commodities and because of this view people are very often abused by traffickers or even companies in need of cheap labor. Rahman declares this about the current world economy, “The nature of globalization has also exacerbated the demand for human trafficking all over the world. Globalization with its inherent global technology has further contributed to the enslavement and total exploitation of people across the world.”
Siddharth Kara insists the only way to end sex trafficking is,
“an attack upon the industry’s immense profitability and a radical shift in the conduct of economic globalization.”
Globalization may be the single contributing factor to modern day slavery and because of this there are many layers. Billions of dollars are brought in annually because of human sex trafficking; the Summary of Global Slavery Profits for the year 2007 is an estimated 35.7 billion U.S. Dollars, (see Figure A). The amount brought in by forced labor, such as those who work in rock quarries, rice fields, factories, etc., was an estimated 34.2 billion in 2007.
Laura J. Lederer wrote in “Addressing Demand” about how human trafficking is like drug trafficking and consists of a triangle of supply, demand, and distribution.
Her argument states that, while going after the supply and distribution are necessary the ultimate way to stop trafficking remains by addressing the demand—the buyers. The buyers keep traffickers in business; fueling traffickers continual need to lure more potential victims. The buyers also line the pockets of individuals, crime-syndicates, and businesses that exploit others. Buyers are not only those who are buying sex, consuming exploitive material, etc., but the regular American consumer. Made In a Free World© brings to light how many slaves work for the average American by asking questions about what sort of electronics, clothes, toiletries, and food one consumes.
The initiative of this non-profit is to bring awareness of how often Americans contribute to the demand of slave labor and demand accountability from companies, which contribute to the distribution side. However, the economics strongly favor the continuation of slavery, because of its immense profitability and the relative ease of finding those to exploit.
The supply side of modern day slavery has many potential victims from a great array of demographics, crossing the boundaries of race, gender, and even class. Usually those who are economically desperate or simply looking for something better will find themselves enslaved. In poorer, (or third world) nations those who are trafficked often are within:
“Abject poverty, human deprivation, gender inequality, persistent unemployment, lack of education, large numbers of street children left homeless from parental deaths due to AIDS [and other factors], border corruption, rural-urban migration, and exploitation of traffickers who manipulate families to give up their children upon promises of jobs and an education.”
Arguably, economic troubles can be the contributing factor for those who are lured into trafficking within poorer nations. Those who are trafficked are either trafficked to another country or even domestically. Rahman points out that domestic trafficking are often within cultural, religious, child soldiers, pawning and debt bondage, agricultural and forced labor, cultism and forced marriages contexts.
The above scenarios almost always correlate with desperate economic situations of families that have many outstanding debts and selling their children is a way out or at least in a lessoning of the debt. The U.S. is not excluded from some of the same economic and family life challenges those around the world face.
The U.S. sees varying demographics dependent upon the sort of slavery that takes place. Rachel Lloyd states, girls and women who fall victim to trafficking often feel invisible in their early and formative years.
As many as 70% of those who are trafficked come from low-economic backgrounds and according to a study done by the University of Pennsylvania an estimated 200,000-300,000 are at risk every year for commercial exploitation.
Lloyd, a survivor of trafficking as well as the founder of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), offers the following description of girls who are lured into trafficking and their journey to overcoming it:
“Themes are common: the lack of family support; the need for love and attention, the early stages that felt almost good, the pain that kept us trapped; and the long slow journey back to life, feeling all the while that we would never be quite normal, that we would never fit in—a message reiterated through family, through loved ones, through society’s view of us.”
Lloyd insists that sexual abuse, neglect, and abandonment often lead to employment in the sex industry.
Young girls often find themselves lured into the industry because of abuse and neglect at home—often there is one or more parents missing in their life, particularly the lack of a father figure. For whatever reason, these girls/women do not feel valued as an individual and often are subject to violent and high-risk lifestyles. There are also many examples of girls simply being hungry and easily becoming prey to a pimp, who will feed them and pay attention to them. Girls often find themselves easily swayed by a man who pays attention to them, buys them little trinkets, and/or tells the girl he loves them. There are other factors, which contribute to young women becoming a victim of trafficking both within the U.S. and around the world. A major contribution to victimization maybe an over emphasis upon sex and ones identity within their sexuality, plus, the media play major roles in contributing to the continuation of trafficking. Often the messages media proclaims tells young girls that their value and worth exists within their sexuality.
Arguments may be made declaring the girls who become trafficked are not victims at all, because they chose this sort of life. To consider these girls as free agents could arguably be a mistake. First, they are not of the proper age of being capable of the appropriate responsibility for their choices.
To assume an active agency for the girls who become trafficked is to make assumptions about their childhood, where they have often been victims of abuse and/or neglect. It is important to ask, why they would choose these lives—one where such a negative stigma is attached. Lloyd recounts testimonies of girls who insist that they accepted their fate because they believed that their lives were not going to be good anyways.
The stigma attached to “teen prostitution” or trafficking here in the U.S. usually only goes against the females involved. Pimps are often glorified by society, such as P[imp] Diddy. The music/lyrics of many rappers continually earn them a place at the Grammy’s. These songs often contain degrading comments about women, as well as physical violence. To conclude on the demographics of those who are trafficked, one finds a picture painted of greater cultural problems than just the exploitation; the exploitation and victimization of young women occurs as a surface indication of deeper larger issues racking every aspect of society. Recently, the issue has grown into a concern about how modern day slavery is portrayed through media and how historical connections can help those in the present day understand how abolitionist causes are advanced and fought for within legislation.
Within the United States a sort of ignorance exists as to how large of an issue this is. The common way to shed light about slavery remains the historical connection to slavery. Specifically within the U.S., where the Trans-Atlantic Slave-Trade narrative is continually utilized, evidenced by the Polaris Project©, which draws upon the stories of the North Star and the Underground Railroad.
Early abolitionist arguments are also utilized, such as when George W. Bush addressed the U.N.,
“Moral law tells us slavery is wrong.”
Also, within Christian groups the song, “Amazing Grace” and a retelling of Wilbur Wilberforce’s abolitionism connects the past with the present.
The United States in 2000 passed a piece of legislation known as, “The Trafficking Victims Protection Act,” which has contributed to a tougher legislative standard for hunting traffickers and exploiters of children within the United States. The legislation became an achievement, but abolitionists argue, only a beginning to combatting trafficking in this country and around the world. Lederer recommends within, “Addressing Demand” a four point strategy for combatting trafficking: 1) Penalize patrons of commercial sex, 2) offer first-offender programs and rehabilitation, 3) sting operations and reverse-sting operations, and 4) social marketing campaigns.
The ideas from this article, published in 2011, are being implemented around the U.S—social marketing has exponentially grown since the publishing of this article. Examples of this include, the End It Movement™, which engages the culture by using Twitter™, Facebook™, Youtube™, and other forms of social media to bring public awareness to modern day slavery.
Non-profits have taken the lead in fighting human trafficking. They serve various purposes within the different stages of trafficking. For example, in Georgia, there are groups like Wellspring Living©—they help restore life and a sense of normality to young women who are rescued from trafficking.
Also in Georgia is the group Street Grace©, which annually lobbies local politicians to pass various pieces of legislation against trafficking, provides education to school-children about trafficking, feeds at-risk children, and their newest initiative that involves educating, mentoring, and discipleship of men.
Moving away from Georgia to a more national scale, The Polaris Project© integrates itself comprehensively within the legislative process, provides a national sex trafficking hotline, and trains future leaders to be part of the abolition movement.
Finally, for an international non-profit, which finds itself dealing with the supply, demand, and distribution ends of all forms of modern day slavery is the International Justice Mission©. IJM often finds victims of slavery, rescues them by working with local law enforcement, starts the victim on the path to recovery, and then prosecutes the person(s) and/or companies responsible.
Obviously, there are too many non-profits making a difference in our world to name them all, but the ultimate goal is for slavery to end and usually that takes a government or international mandate to do so.
In 2000, the United Nations issued the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons with the hope to end trafficking of women and children around the world.
Marie Segrave, in Sex Trafficking: International Context and Response, contends that the current response to international trafficking is an extension of the criminal justice system, “to curtail and the movement of people and goods deemed undesirable to the ‘inside.’”
This assessment of the international response focuses upon the advancement of a police sort of force to end trafficking. One of the most common problems with this sort of response that law enforcement agents often do not respect those who are trafficked. Law enforcement agents often engage within the trafficking of women on the demand side, clearly problematic, as they are the ones supposed to be protecting these victims.
Lloyd records the treatment and devaluing of the girls here in the U.S. and the same treatment remains true within international contexts. Segrave presses the issue further, “research indicates that initiatives located within the law and order framework can further expose trafficked women to various forms of abuse and ill-treatment by those who are supposed to protect them.”
If an extension of the criminal justice system internationally and within the U.S. are not conducive to securing freedom for millions around the world the question remains, what is to be done to ensure a prosperous and life of liberty for the millions currently enslaved?
The question of how to combat modern day slavery specifically trafficking has catapulted to some states legislative agendas. Often though, the legislation focuses upon the criminal justice system and are enforced by law enforcement agencies. Safe Harbor laws, which have only passed in a limited number of states, wish to decriminalize women, who are rescued from trafficking, and hopes to begin healing and a better situation.
The exploration of modern slavery contains stories of shock, heartbreak, and anger that such an evil, as trafficking, can persist in an often considered, civil and enlightened world. Questions of agency, of whether people choose this lifestyle, and are willing participants (at times) as an advancement of a better life or are they true victims of traffickers and a globalized economy, will remain in discussions over how to address this evil. This broad overview of today’s largest human rights issue illustrates the influence of media in both contributing to the problem and fighting to end it, the affect of globalization by the easier transport of goods and people, and approaches by non-profits and governments to help eradicate demand for this inhumane practice.
1 International Labour Organization, “ILO: Tougher measures needed to curb forced labour,” International Labour Organization, http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_204399/lang–en/index.htm (accessed March 21, 2013)
2 ILO, “Tougher Measures,” http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_204399/lang–en/index.htm (accessed March 21, 2013).
3 U.S. Department of State, “Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons,” http://www.state.gov/j/tip/ (accessed March 21, 2013).
4 End It Movement, “Slavery Still Exists,” http://enditmovement.com/ (accessed March 21, 2013); also see the State Department.
5 Elizabeth Flock, “President Obama Unveils Landmark Actions to Fight Human Trafficking,” Web article of U.S. News, entry posted September 25, 2012, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/09/25/president-obama-unveils-major-actions-to-fight-human-trafficking (accessed March 21, 2013).
6 U.S. House Code, 22 USC § 7102; 8 CFR § 214.11(a).
7 26 End It Movement is a coalition of various non-profits who fight slavery in many different ways: the coalition covers the supply, demand, and distribution aspects of trafficking, as well as various other forms of slavery. Partners include: Made in a Free World™, International Justice Mission©, Free The Slaves, Not For Sale, Polaris Project©, The A 21 Campaign, and Love 146. It was begun in January of 2013 after the four day Passion Conference at the Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia.
8 Wellspring Living©, Atlanta, Georgia, 2013, https://wellspringliving.org/ (accessed March 25, 2013).
9 Street Grace©, Atlanta, Georgia, 2013, http://streetgrace.org/what-we-do/ (accessed March 25, 2013).
10 The Polaris Project©, Washington D.C., 2013, http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do (accessed March 25, 2013).
11 International Justice Mission©, Washington D.C., 2013, http://www.ijm.org/ (accessed March 25, 2013).