While this field is no stranger to celebrity support–Julia Ormond’s wonderful testimony before Congress and work as UNODC Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking, for example–I look forward to seeing the good work DNA may do in the coming years.
Katherine Chon, one of the Co-founders of the Polaris Project, has been nominated to receive the People’s Voice Award for her work. The Project is a good and successful anti-trafficking org running out of DC; they run the federal anti-trafficking hotline, train future leaders in the anti-trafficking community, and are all-around a very effective organization. (Google for more info.) The message from them follows.
With just a few clicks of your mouse you can help combat human trafficking! Katherine Chon, Co-Founder and President of Polaris Project, has been nominated to receive the “People’s Voice” Award, an honor given by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.
The DVF “People’s Voice” Award has been created to recognize and support women who are using their vision, resources, and commitment to transform lives. These are women who have had the courage to fight, the power to survive, and the leadership to inspire.
The winner of the “People’s Voice” Award will receive $50,000 toward her associated organization from The Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.
CAST YOUR VOTE TODAY! Voting ends on February 28 at 11:59 pm.
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 2010–Terry Lee Wright will speak at Georgetown Law this Thursday, January 21st, at noon, about modern human slavery and his experience writing River of Innocents.
“Slavery is everywhere today, even a few dozen blocks from the U.S. Capitol,” explains Wright. “Slavery is a living fact: thousands of people are enslaved for the first time every day, many of them teenagers in the United States. I wrote River of Innocents because we can end that slavery–because of the people who can and should be free. Each of us can help make that freedom a reality.”
The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Person’s Report indicates that human trafficking is a criminal enterprise with millions of victims annually but fewer than five thousand prosecutions world-wide each year.
The Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has called River of Innocents “A global call to arms in the fight against trafficking.”
Those of you in New York tomorrow evening might want to check out an event in Astoria Park–a forum showcasing the work of some modern-day abolitionists and activists.
ASTORIA, NY– August 14, 2009. Astoria Park in the summer usually bustles with the footfalls of toddlers on the playground and runners on its many trails. Sometimes, it just breathes with people looking out on the pool or the East River. On August 14, however, its serene visitors will be replaced with modern-day abolitionists, social activists, and anyone who might be passing by during the three-hour event from 6:30-9:30 pm.
Astoria Park will become the location of an outdoor film screening of “Not For Sale”– a documentary by Robert Marcarelli on modern-day human trafficking. Inspired by faith, civic responsibility and compassion, a group of volunteers– calling themselves “We Are Not For Sale”– have organized the movie screening which will run from 8:00-9:30, employing what can be called “open-source activism”. Groups like Invisible Children and ONE have come to the forefront of popular culture using this creative activism, partnering with actors and meeting target audiences where they sit. Rather than picket-protesting, open-source activism aims to bring social injustices not just into light but into the creative intellect and active lives of others. “We Are Not For Sale” is bringing the reality of modern-day slavery to Astoria Park through emails, letters, musicians, artists, writers, Facebook, WordPress, and with 11 partner organizations, to the citizens of New York and to anybody who might somehow learn of this activism and what it is for. It is for the 27 million slaves being trafficked worldwide at this very moment. An estimated 200,000 of who pass through the United States before reaching their destinations abroad. “We Are Not For Sale” will be sharing the personal stories of those slaves, our privilege in declaring, “We are not for sale”, and the work of modern-day abolitionists towards a universal declaration of such.
From 6:30-8:00, live musicians and artists will host pre-screening performances and sales to fundraise. Information booths will also be available for those interested. The movie runs from 8:00-9:30.
For additional information:
(We Are Not for Sale) http://wearenotforsale.wordpress.com/
(Not For Sale by Robert Marcarelli) http://www.notforsalefilm.com/index.html
Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter just came out with The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. If you are looking for an informative book about slavery in the United States, this is almost certain to be a good one. Kevin is a social scientist who’s been a huge resource and inspiration in the past for various people in the abolitionist movement and Ron is an historian who has written on slavery both ancient and modern. They’ve been working together to put out The Slave Next Door, and a blog entry by Ron is included below with permission.
Kevin Bales is a man who brings the tools of social science to the problem of slavery. Essentially, he learned one day that slavery–yes, actual slavery!–was a cause being agitated against by a few people at an event he happened to be attending, and he was horrified to learn slavery still continued.
He decided to make a difference, so he brought his skill set to bear on the problem. The result was Disposable People, one of the most informative books one can read on the subject of trafficking. It garnered considerable praise and went on to inspire many modern-day abolitionists.
Julia Ormond, for example (the star of Sabrina and Guinevere in First Knight, among many other things, and a wonderful woman) learned a great deal about slavery from Kevin’s book when she was asked to become UNODC’s Goodwill Ambassador for Human Trafficking. Her testimony before Congress on the issue was both informative and inspiring, and Kevin (along with many others) had a part in inspiring her to that. He provides thoughtful analysis of a subject that most people are too discomforted to touch with a ten-yard-pole, and is president and co-founder of Free the Slaves.
–Terry Lee Wright
“A Blight on the Nation: Slavery in Today’s America”
The American humorist Will Rogers once said, “It ain’t that we’re so dumb; it’s just that what we know ain’t so.”
Certain things we know to be true. We know that the South kept slaves, and the North fought a righteous war of liberation. We know that the slave trade was legal right up to the Civil War. We know that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all the slaves, and that the United States has been slavery-free ever since. These things we know – and none of them are true.
On the other hand, most of us do not know that slavery not only exists throughout the world today; it flourishes. Slavery is legal nowhere, yet it is practiced everywhere. With an estimated 27 million people in bondage worldwide, this is twice as many people as were taken in chains from Africa during the entire 350 years of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. In seeking to place blame, we’re tempted to point to the “emerging nations” as the culprits, whereas in fact slavery exists in such “civilized” countries as England, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, China…and the United States. Most Americans are clueless that slavery is alive and flourishing right here, thriving in the dark, and practiced in many forms in places you’d least expect.
As a student of history, I’d always assumed that slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment. Some years back, I had written nearly an entire book on the pre-Civil War slave trade when I stumbled on an account of slavery – in present-day America! My first response – a common one, as it turns out – was denial: “No way. Slavery has had no place here since the time of Lincoln.”
Only after extensive research did I discover that slavery has always existed on this continent, from the days of its European discovery right up to the present day. Christopher Columbus enslaved the Taino Indians, setting a precedent that was followed by every European power to claim land in the New World. Slavery became the social and economic order. After the Civil War, and for decades right up to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, planters practiced a form of debt bondage known as peonage, binding workers and their families to the land in an unending cycle of slavery. For over sixty years, our own government has enabled worker abuse and slavery through the mismanagement of its “guest worker” program. And now, with the global population more than tripled since World War II, and with national borders collapsing around the world, people – in their desperate quest for a way to survive – have become easy targets for human traffickers. And once again, America is a prime destination.
So how many slaves are we talking about? According to a U.S. State Department study, some 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States from at least 35 countries and enslaved each year. Some victims are smuggled into the United States across the Mexican and Canadian borders; others arrive at our major airports daily, carrying either real or forged papers. The old slave ship of the 1800s has been replaced by the Jumbo Jet. Victims come here from Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, and the former Soviet Republic. Overwhelmingly, they come on the promise of a better life, with the opportunity to work and prosper in America. Many come in the hope of earning enough money to support or send for their families. In order to afford the journey, they fork over their life savings, and go into debt to people who make promises they have no intention of keeping, and instead of opportunity, when they arrive they find bondage. They can be found – or more accurately, not found – in all 50 states, working as farmhands, domestics, sweatshop and factory laborers, gardeners, restaurant and construction workers, and victims of sexual exploitation. These people do not represent a class of poorly paid employees, working at jobs they might not like. They exist specifically to work, they are unable to leave, and are forced to live under the constant threat and reality of violence. By definition, they are slaves. Today, we may call it human trafficking, but make no mistake: It is the slave trade.
Nor are native-born Americans immune from slavers; many are stolen or enticed from the streets of their own cities and towns. Some sources, including the federal government, estimate in the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens – primarily children – at risk of being caught in slavery annually. Although these figures may be uncertain, even inflated, the precise number of slaves in the United States, whether trafficked in from other countries or enslaved from our own population, is simply not known. The simple truth is, we’re looking at a crime that lives in the shadows; it’s hard to count what you can’t find.
What is particularly infuriating is the fact that this is a crime that, as a rule, goes unpunished. For the moment, let’s accept the government’s estimate of about 17,000 foreign nationals trafficked into slavery in the United States per year. Coincidentally there are also about 17,000 people murdered in the US each year. The national success rate in solving murder cases is about 70%; around 11,000 murders are “cleared” annually. But according to the US government’s own numbers, the annual percentage of trafficking and slavery cases solved is less than 1%. In 2007, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division obtained 103 convictions for human trafficking, with an average sentence of 9 years.
And to further complicate matters, when they are rescued, slavery survivors often deny their situation. There are several reasons for this: the language barrier, a deep sense of shame, fear for their lives and those of their families in their country of origin, and a sense of obligation to pay their debt. In addition, the traffickers work to brainwash them to fear the police and immigration officials. And in some instances, they come to identify with their keepers.
We don’t yet know how President Obama will respond to the human trafficking crisis; it’s too soon to tell. But we do know that the response under the Bush Administration was inadequate on any number of levels. In a speech on trafficking, Bush once stated, “We’re beginning to make good, substantial progress. The message is getting out: We’re serious. And when we catch you, you’ll find out we’re serious. We’re staying on the hunt.” Strong words. But the unvarnished truth is, with less than 1% of the bad guys apprehended, and less than 1% of the victims freed, the flow of human “product” into America continues practically unchecked.
Finding out about the slave next door is the kind of knowledge you can’t “unlearn”; the only question is, what do you do with the information once you have it? It’s a question we must all answer for ourselves. We tend to think of our America as the country where slavery has no place; the dire truth is, we are pretty far from freedom, and it will take a lot of work and dedication – by the government, and by us – to make it so.
Majlinda, in River of Innocents, is a fictional character. It’s hard for us to read her story even though we know she’s fictional, because it’s a hard story–but its message is profoundly hopeful, and she is valiant. She’s a heroine. She’s someone who shows us the strength we can find in ourselves when others need us, someone who acts as a surrogate mother to the stolen children around her because they need her to, someone who is broken but also forges herself into someone incredibly strong. We are proud of her, and feel terrible sorrow for what she endured even when we see the dream of a world without slaves that her suffering is for. And we know, fundamentally, that she is a fiction–a realistic one, one we can believe in, and someone who is real to us, but still a fiction and a character whose sorrows are meant to do good. She suffers to show us the reality. It wounds us to see it, but it also makes us stronger. It gives us the hope of truly building that world without slaves, it gives us the hope of moving beyond a place where we buy and sell our kindred spirits for tuppence and a stiff drink.
But Majlinda’s name comes from someplace simple. The month of May. Springtime. A taurus. A name with a feminine ending so it doesn’t sound masculine to an American ear, but a name that sounds strong when it needs to be, like the summer wind. An Albanian name, because she’s an Albanian character.
I came across this today. A story from the guardian about another Majlinda. An Albanian girl, thirteen instead of seventeen, trafficked to Greece, brought back to Albania and taken to Italy by speedboat, a year in Florence, moved by car to Amsterdam. Trapped sometimes physically, sometimes psychologically, and enduring the things we don’t like to talk about. Dark things, like Majlinda. Beating. The first rapes, the twenty clients a night.
After having a baby, she went to a group of Catholic nuns who reach out to prostitutes. They helped her back to Albania, but her family was ashamed and told her she was dead to them. She was in a shelter in Tirana when the article was written. She was also seventeen years old after four years of being a slave. That’s as old as River’s Majlinda was when she began her story.
The truth is, every victim is River’s Majlinda. Every survivor, every person who goes through this terrible crime. We let this continue, and we don’t have to. Ask yourself what you can do, and you’ll find an answer. It’s not nothing. It’s something. Even if it’s something small.
These stories make me sick. They make us all sick. These young women and men are our kin, born in a slightly different life and walking down a slightly different road, and then…
The rest is not silence.
So make a difference. Stand up, and make a difference. Talk, shout, scream, do, volunteer, donate, teach, ask, believe–even believing we can end slavery is a step–believe you can make a difference and then do. Even a small one. Isn’t the chance of freeing a slave worth a little effort?
Colorado just passed a law requiring massage therapists to register with the state, in the hope of making it easier to investigate trafficking with massage parlors as fronts. The idea is that it’s easier for police to go in and ask to see licenses and relevant paperwork than it is to gather evidence and conduct a sting operation.
Hopefully the idea works and a few people are helped by it. I don’t like to make it even incrementally harder for legitimate businesspeople to do their work, particularly with times as difficult as they are–but on the other hand, if the new rule can help even one victim of human trafficking then it’s something we should try. So I applaud Colorado for trying it, and I hope it proves useful.
Also in recent trafficking news, two Salt Lake City residents were indicted on trafficking charges. They arranged massage therapy sessions through Craigslist using pictures of underaged girls, allegedly ending in sex acts at various hotels. “Allegedly,” though they were charged last year with running a prostitution ring including a 15-year-old girl. In case you were curious, one of them isn’t being held on custody pending trial, but is allowed to go about his business.
The Sri Lanka daily news reports on some interrelated human trafficking cases in Sri Lanka involving forged visas, employment recruitment agents from foreign countries, and people begging on the streets of Baghdad. There’s scant information, but the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) is concerned about the country’s vulnerability to human trafficking and is looking at revising policies it has had in place since 1985, policies which apparently have unfortunate loop holes. “According to local authorities the situation is not that alarming like in some Asian countries, but effective measures are needed before the issue gets out of hand.” Three Sri Lankan Athletes, including at least one Olympian, also pled guilty to human trafficking charges recently.
Uganda has approved the death penalty for human traffickers. You may understandably have strong feelings about this in either direction.
“In a debate overshadowed by memories of sacrificed children and Ugandans trafficked to countries like China, Egypt, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation, legislators unanimously resolved that a death penalty should apply for human traffickers.”
While the realities of human trafficking are always harsh on a personal level, it is important to look beyond our own revulsion at the practive of slavery and to see the causes of that slavery. We can call it an economic problem or a social one and phrase it in terms of opposing forces of morality and immorality or we can examine it in the framework of violence against women; today, it’s important to remember its economic roots.
We’re in the middle of a global economic recession that started because of a bubble in the U.S. housing market (effectively, the extension of credit by financial agencies without any evaluation of the applicant’s ability to repay, plus bundling these mortgages together and trading them) and a new kind of contract called a CDS (effectively, an insurance policy against something that you don’t have to own being worth less than an agreed upon amount; they all became due at the same time when the economy went downhill) and a few other factors. How does that affect human trafficking?
The good news is there’s a lot less disposable income, which means both (1) fewer people are able to spend money on prostitution and (2) the gap between the rich and the poor for the most part decreases, at least in absolute terms. That gap (look up the Gini coefficient) contributes to the supply and demand of trafficked women because of its connections with disposable income and standard of living.
But the bad news is worse for many. Simply put, if you have less money–particularly little enough that you or your family are in what you see as desperate straits–it’s a lot easier to be exploited, to not ask so many questions when given the promise of a new life, to want to believe the friend of a friend who promises you a new life with him in America or Germany or Canada.
It’s also bad because criminals will feel it in their pocketbooks, which means they will increasingly turn to low-risk high-return investments like human trafficking in order to buoy their profits. People who aren’t involved will want to get involved, and because there are fewer people with the money to buy prices will go down in established settings, and women in those settings will be more disposable than ever.
Remember, today slaves cost far less than they did when slavery was legal in the United States, and the slaveowner doesn’t have even the tiny legal responsibility toward his slaves he did back then. Economically speaking–though the practice of slavery has always been abhorrent–slaves were very expensive once. Now that they’re relatively cheap, they’re worth a lot less to the criminals who buy them, and so are more disposable and more vulnerable to abuse.
And they die of HIV in their mid twenties. It’s not a pretty picture. Help us end it: talk to your friends about it, talk to your family, spread the word about slavery. It’s one of the worst human rights abuses in the history of man, but we can make a difference in the fight against it.
Terry Lee Wright
The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution today highlighting the threat posed by the global financial and economic crises on the realization of human rights and development goals.
Tom Ashbrook of the On Point radio show just did a show on human trafficking with Nicholas Kristof, a 2-time pulitzer winner who has done some good work on slavery in the past, Ruchira Gupta, president and founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an organization in India which helps women out of prostitution Rep. Carolyn Maloney [ny], Co-Chair of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus.