Why does a society that believes it has advanced still practice forms of slavery?
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In the Academy Award-winning film “12 Years a Slave,” American Solomon Northrup, a free black violinist and carpenter in the 1800s, is introduced to two men who convince him to work with a traveling circus. They meet up in Washington, D.C., an area of the country that supported slavery at the time, and wine, dine and drug him. He wakes up in a slave pen in New Orleans, only to spend the next 12 years enslaved on various cotton plantations, enduring beatings that shred the skin on his back and threaten his will to live. Eventually, he befriends a Canadian carpenter who contacts his family and then is set free.
What makes Northrup’s story unique is that he was born free, but his status as a black man living in the pre-Civil War United States made him vulnerable to predators.
In this day and age, a repeat of Northrup’s story can seem far-fetched. More than 150 years after slavery has been abolished worldwide, society has moved past such barbaric practices as selling fellow citizens, keeping them in cells, and mutilating their bodies—right?
Flash-forward to Washington, D.C., in 2013. A report on human trafficking in the United States highlights the story of a South American woman who signs an employment contract to work as a nanny for a vice president of a multinational company. She is supposed to receive wages, but instead is forced to work long hours taking care of the house and family—without pay. She sleeps on a box spring in the basement, is prohibited from leaving the home, and her employer routinely threatens to deport her. Eventually a neighbor recognizes she is being exploited and helps her.
Remarkably, the kind of enslavement that Northrup and others like him endured in the 1800s does happen today. And for many, it is no less brutal. In fact, three out of every 1,000 people are enslaved through labor or sex trafficking, according to the Polaris Project, an organization fighting to end human trafficking.
In modern times, slavery “is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second-largest racket in the world, after drug-dealing,” Aaron Cohen stated in his book Slave Hunter: Freeing Victims of Human Trafficking. “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.”
Stories abound of those tricked into jobs by the promise of good money. Others are kidnapped and sold into forced labor because of a debt or because a family member peddles them into the sex trade. Still others are lured by those who appear friendly but then exploit that individual’s trust for nefarious purposes.
“The parallels to slavery today are striking,” Bradley Myles, CEO of the Polaris Project, wrote in a piece for CNN. “The control mechanisms used by [Northup’s] recruiters and captors are the same tactics and stories we hear about daily from the people who reach out to us for help on the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, which Polaris Project operates.”
The concept of someone placing a price tag on another human being paints a picture of one of the ultimate forms of evil. How can it be that in a society that believes it has advanced beyond the barbaric practices of the past, modern-day slavery still affects upwards of 27 million people?
Unlike early America when plantations were filled with dark-skinned men, women and children stooped over cotton plants, gingerly pulling fluffy fiber from between hostile thorns, slaves today are not as easily recognizable. Those who currently buy and sell them have been forced underground.
In her book Slavery, photographer Lisa Kristine documented those enslaved across the globe, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Escorted by local representatives from Free the Slaves, she found children in the Himalayas lugging slabs of slate heavier than themselves down the mountains, via crude harnesses attached to their foreheads made from sticks, rope and torn cloth.
“At a brick kiln in Nepal, she photographed workers in 130-degree heat and choking dust, stacking 18 bricks on their head at a time and walking the loads to waiting trucks…She saw trafficked children in tattered shirts reeling in 1,000-pound fishing nets on the shore of Lake Volta in Ghana, freezing in the early dawn after all-night fishing expeditions.”
The very people the world should most protect—children and the disadvantaged—are often subjected to the worst forms of bondage. Nowhere is this more evident than in the satellite nations that splintered after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Citizens who had relied on government aid for over 50 years were forced to fend for themselves as corruption and greed replaced law and order.
According to Victor Malarek in his book, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade, the once-impenetrable Iron Curtain became overrun with organized crime syndicates, which realized that they could make a large fortune—with little consequences—selling girls from the region as slaves.
“With the social structure in disarray, families broke down. Children were abandoned in the street. Husbands sought solace in the bottle and alcoholism became an epidemic. Violence against women and children soared. And through it all, the women were left to pick up the pieces…Even young girls with no families yet of their own went searching for jobs to feed younger siblings and parents…With the stench of desperation in the air, they made perfect targets.”
More than 30 percent of all sex trafficking victims are Eastern European women. Throughout the past 20 years, 400,000 Moldovans, 400,000 Ukrainians, and 15,000 Bulgarians have been taken from their homelands. The numbers are difficult to determine, however, as less than 5 percent of victims ever find their way back home.
Pause for a moment. These women were daughters, mothers and sisters trying to provide for their families. Many were lured by promising jobs as waitresses, nannies, housekeepers and models, only to be seized by traffickers who brought them to countries where, in some cases, prostitution is legal. Throughout the infamous Red Light District in Amsterdam, the dialects of women sex workers reveal that they are not from the Netherlands, but from Moldova, Bulgaria, Russia and Ukraine, among others—with many brought under false pretenses.
In an effort to highlight this fact, the nonprofit Stop the Traffik organized a choreographed display at one of the Red Light District hot spots in which scantily clad women danced in the windows of a supposed brothel. At the end of the spectacle, a sign appeared that read: “Every year, thousands of women are promised a dance career in Western Europe. Sadly, they end up here.”
While men who had stopped to watch at first started dancing and videotaping the event on their cellphones, they walked away miffed after realizing they had been had—perhaps knowing their attitudes have played a part in such statistics.
“Germany and the Netherlands purport that [legalizing prostitution] is an ideal way to deal with trafficking. They maintain that legalization will better protect the rights of the women entering the trade—an argument that is nothing short of specious. The only tangible effect of such legalization is that the state effectively becomes another pimp, living off the avails of the women in prostitution through taxation, and reaping huge benefits from increased foreign sex tourism,” Mr. Malarek wrote.
He later stated: “Virtually every city, town and village in Eastern and Central Europe has seen some of its girls and women disappear. Incredibly, they weren’t lost to illness or war or to the tragedy of famine or natural disaster. On the contrary, they have become expendable pawns in the burgeoning business of money, lust and sex. What is most disturbing is that trafficking is a manmade disaster that can be prevented. Yet the world continues to ignore the plight of these women and girls.”
Well-off Western countries, such as Britain, are not immune to modern-day slavery. Consider the case of Mende Nazer: after being taken from her home in war-torn Sudan by marauders and shipped to Khartoum to work as a servant for a wealthy Arab family for eight years, she was sent to a suburban London brickstone home where she was physically and sexually abused as a domestic slave. And she was just one of 5,000 others being held against her will in Britain, according to the nonprofit organization Unseen(uk).
Even in the U.S., the treatment of modern-day slaves is often no less brutal than it was in the 1800s.
“I was involved in [sex] trafficking for more than six months,” a survivor recounted on the NY Anti-trafficking State Coalition website. “I compare that time to being held hostage in a timeless existence where my mind engaged itself in disassociation with my soul. This mental state was the only way in which I could keep any sanity. Repeatedly, I witnessed the beatings, rapes and murders of innocent women.”
In another instance, a 14-year-old foster child in a precarious family situation was forced into prostitution after a 24-year-old she met promised he would take care of her. Since she was so young, she did not realize she would become one of his pawns. He brought her to Cleveland, Ohio, where she thought she would meet his family, but instead he forced her into prostitution. When she did not make enough money, he beat her and broke her arm with a baseball bat. She escaped after a few years and now runs a house for victims of sex slavery.
Such stories are hard to believe. Slavery still occurring in the United States and Britain? Yet even in nations typically considered well-off, the threat of enslavement is just a few steps away.
“Human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs, and rural areas in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C.,” the Polaris Project stated. “They are forced to work or provide commercial sex against their will in legal and legitimate business settings as well as underground markets. Some victims are hidden behind locked doors in brothels and factories. In other cases, victims are in plain view and may interact with community members…”
Today, the danger is even greater. Predators can go online through social media sites and know exactly how to target their young victims, who may be upset about a parent grounding them and voice it on Facebook, or see a naive teenager eyeing a particular item at a busy mall, gain her trust by buying it for her, and later use his power over her to enslave her.
Brianna was a friendly 17-year-old who worked at a diner in a small Washington town. Unknown to her, a middle-aged man who often came in with a woman he called his wife was actually a veteran sex-trafficker. While there, the two would casually ask about her family, what kinds of boys she liked, and her dreams for the future. One day, the man came in, declared he was divorced, and asked her to hang out with him. Alarmed that an older man would want to spend time with a high school student, she said no.
A short time later, a man matching the description of her “perfect” boyfriend visited the diner. She was smitten. He invited her to visit him in Seattle, where he convinced her to work a few days in a strip club for extra cash, painting it as harmless. He also asked her to take a trip with him to Arizona (where she would have likely been sold), but she refused, saying she had to go home to return her parents’ car. During the ordeal, a friend recognized the situation and contacted her parents. She could not believe she had almost been duped.
“There is no stereotype of a girl in sex trafficking,” she told MSN Causes. “It doesn’t matter how rich or poor, if she’s white or black, fat or thin, a pimp can look at any girl and find a vulnerability that he can exploit. He might tell a girl that he will hurt her family if she runs. Or he might rape her and videotape it, and threaten to show it to her whole school.”
Even in Nevada, where operating brothels is legal, slavery can be found. One woman working in a legal bordello said she was sold into the trade by her mother when she was 16.
Remarkably, Brianna and many of the other women mentioned escaped. But most of those pulled into the dark underworld of pimps, prostitution and forced servitude never do. How is it that human beings can commit such atrocities?
The answer is simple: the almighty dollar.
The United Nation’s International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics place the number of human trafficking victims at almost 21 million. About 11.4 million, or 55 percent, of those victims are women and girls. Men and boys make up the remaining 45 percent at 9.5 million. The private sector, either individuals or enterprises, exploit 90 percent of the victims, 22 percent of whom are forced to work in the sex trade. Sixty-eight percent are forced to work in agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing, and the remaining 10 percent are in “state-imposed forms” of forced labor such as prisons or rebel armies.
The ILO estimates that illegal profits from forced labor equate to more than $44 billion, with individual slaves costing anywhere from $100 to $10,000.
“According to the international police organization Interpol, a [sexually] trafficked woman can bring in anywhere from $75,000 to $250,000 a year,” Mr. Malarek stated. “From a profit-making perspective, it’s the perfect business. Returns are incredible. The goods are plentiful and cheap. And once a woman is spent or no longer in demand, she’s discarded and replaced by a younger, fresher face.”
The number of enslaved people is spread across the globe. The Middle East has the least amount of forced laborers at an estimated 600,000, or 3 percent of the 21 million. The U.S. accounts for 1.5 million, the EU for 1.6 million, and South America for 1.8 million. The number of victims nearly doubles at 3.7 million in Africa. Yet it is the Asia-Pacific region that accounts for more than half the total number of forced laborers at 11.7 million. It is there, in places like Cambodia, where people are so desperate that they sell their own daughters into the sex trade.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the picture is that those who should know better are willing participants in the system. Across the world, people who understand they are contributing to human trafficking still frequent bars, brothels and “Red Light” districts. Professors, businessmen and so-called family men willingly visit countries where prostitution is rampant, knowing that the young girls they seek for “companionship,” whose ages are masked by makeup and who are often drugged, could be as young as 8 years old. Well-off diplomats exploit people from other countries and force them to serve in their homes for no pay.
“With few exceptions, most governments and police forces view trafficking in human beings as a far less serious crime than trafficking in guns or drugs,” Mr. Malarek stated. “Most approach it primarily as an illegal immigration issue…Better someone else’s daughters, the thinking goes; at least whoever’s frequenting them isn’t out raping our own…How can we ever expect to stem this odious trade if we think it’s acceptable to buy, sell and rape any human being?”
Slavery did not start in the Americas, nor did it end there. The use and abuse of human chattel started long before the transatlantic slave trade. It has been around as long as civilization, when cheap and free labor helped build burgeoning empires. And the cruelty with which it was carried out was not unique to America.
During the Roman Empire, slavery was common. Unlike early American slavery, however, it was not based on race. Slaves blended into society so well that the Roman Senate once considered a plan to make slaves wear special clothing to tell them apart from the rest of the citizenry, according to the PBS feature presentation “The Roman Empire: In the First Century.”
Romans acquired slaves through the spoils of war, by buying captured sailors from pirates, or bringing them from outside Roman territory. Much like their counterparts in early America, slave owners relished the power they held over the weak and vulnerable. They were routinely whipped and branded, and reminded that their owners could kill them at any time.
The region that has the most slaves today has deep roots in the practice. In Asia, slavery can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty in 18th to 12th century BC China. Up through the 20th century, China practiced self-sale into slavery, selling women and children to satisfy debts, and peddling relatives of executed criminals, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Today’s brand of slavery is hidden behind the name human trafficking. Nowadays, slaves can be farmworkers, factory workers, nannies or even street children trying to sell trinkets to passersby. In California, migrant workers from Mexico, often making meager wages, harvest fruits and vegetables. Asian immigrants make about 24 cents a garment in sweatshops that slip under the radar of the U.S. Department of Labor. The half-clothed woman serving a drink at a strip club may not be there of her own will.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that there is a demand worldwide—either for cheap labor or a way to fulfill sexual desires. Whether realizing it or not, those participating in such behavior are part of the demand that fuels the kind of slavery that occurs globally.
And if there is demand, there are always those willing to force others to supply it.
“Many government leaders choose instead to blame the sending countries, as if it’s their fault that these ‘loose women’ are staining their reputations. But the trade is driven by the lust of their men; it is fueled by the bars, brothels and bordellos dotting their streets; and it thrives because of their complacency and inaction,” Mr. Malarek said.
In certain areas, such as in Bangladesh and India, paying for sex with 10- and 11-year-old girls is even considered a cure for boredom. How could child rape become a mere distraction?
Knowingly or unknowingly, many from the general public help perpetuate the trade. Bachelor parties frequently take place at seedy strip clubs, men are busted for using the services of escorts, and college students throw money away at clubs that are fronts for drug trafficking rings, which often employ child labor to produce their products.
Then there are others who glamorize the concept of prostitution through hip-hop songs, promoting a promiscuous lifestyle, or talking about how they are going to “act like a pimp” as though it is a good thing to be. Recall the stories of the women in just this article: how could “being a pimp” ever be something to be admired?
In addition, Hollywood routinely glorifies overt sexual excess. Celebrities do not help, flaunting themselves and pushing the envelope through barely there outfits and videos filled with eroticized images, which lead many to think that acting and dressing a certain way is acceptable—and at ever younger ages.
Yet any open-minded person can see through this “glamour.” The majority of the women who enter the trade or are trafficked into it usually have a history of sexual abuse, starting as children, or often are trafficked because they are runaways. It is rare that one chooses this life without being incredibly desperate.
Ask: why are panic buttons required near the beds in the Netherlands Red Light District? The answer is that nearly 80 percent of sex workers there have experienced some form of violence at the hands of their “johns.”
Additionally, who are the men who seek out those kinds of experiences instead of a loving relationship in which they do not pay for such services? Why do they not respect their wives, girlfriends or children enough to refrain from such entertainment?
Then there are the slave owners who thrive on the mental and physical dominance of others. This power trip leads to a disregard for fellow human beings, which allows them to enslave someone who may be at a vulnerable place in his or her life.
Tragically, history demonstrates that such trends are poised to grow.
“In many ways, it looks to me as though we are on the verge of the greatest enslavement of all time,” Mr. Cohen warned in his book. “The crisis in the financial markets and many other sectors draws inevitable comparisons to history, when widespread shortage 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.”
In short, the whole system is broken—from the roles of men and women—to views on sex—to the concept of marriage and the family—to the meaning of true happiness—to the understanding about the incredible potential of every human being born on this Earth!
Man cannot fix the problem of human bondage because he does not know how he is supposed to live. He fails to understand that he cannot because he himself is held captive in a world that is not his own.
This concept is expanded on in the booklet A World in Captivity, in which David C. Pack writes, “Advances in knowledge have brought awesome progress, while immorality and human degeneration have never been worse. WHY? An unseen KIDNAPPER holds humanity hostage and has convinced his captives that he is a benefactor. Yet, events of staggering magnitude will soon shock the world—changing everything! Happiness, abundance, world peace—and DELIVERANCE—lie just ahead.”
Only at that time will 10-year-old boys no longer be forced to carry backbreaking loads, or generations of families be servants to a cruel master for an $18 debt. No more will an 8-year-old-child cry for her mother after being raped by a man four times her age, or a 16-year-old runaway abused by a family member sell her body when she needs food and shelter. Instead, men and women will learn the right way to live and to treat all humans with the same respect with which they would want to be treated.
A time is coming when every man, woman and child will have the opportunity to live a life filled with the kind of happy memories of which they had always dreamed—in a world where the real cause behind humans enslaving one another for millennia—is revealed and addressed.
No more will any human being be subject to hurt, pain and suffering. At this time, every man, woman and child will be able to live freely as they were intended—and mankind will finally be able to put a stop to the evils of human slavery once and for all.