Slavery? Surely that ended about 150 years ago? I’m afraid not. It may look different in the twenty-first century, but the problem is actually greater today than it has ever been.
Human trafficking and modern slavery are the current terms used to describe both sex trafficking and compelled labor. Human trafficking has been defined as “the act of recruiting or transferring a person by means of coercion, abduction or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”
The Global Slavery Index defines it as “people subject to forced labor, debt bondage, trafficking, sexual exploitation for money and forced or servile marriage.” That definition results in an estimated forty-one million slaves in the world right now. That’s more than at any point in human history and more than the total number taken from Africa in the four hundred years of the transatlantic slave trade. Human trafficking is now the third-biggest criminal industry in the world (after illegal drugs and arms trafficking), with estimated profits of $150 billion a year.
Seventy-one percent of the victims are women and children, with children making up 25 percent of that number. Forced labor is the most common reason for trafficking people, involving twenty-five million people worldwide, with sex trafficking ensnaring a further 4.5 million people worldwide. The average entry age for children into the sex industry is twelve years old, and there are an estimated two hundred thousand prostituted children in the United States alone. Sex slaves earn their pimps about $250,000 a year and see an average of ten to fifteen “clients” a night.
The statistics are horrendous, but the stories of victims are even worse and barely repeatable. The physical and psychological suffering of modern slavery is indescribable and unimaginable. I could write page after page with story after story that would move you to tears. But what can we do?
Encourage Government Action
Over recent years, a number of helpful pieces of legislation have been passed in various national parliaments, with the Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom leading the way. The United States, for example, passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which has protected potential victims not just in the United States but worldwide. The U.S. Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons uses prevention, protection, and prosecution to combat worldwide human trafficking. Recently, both the U.S. House and Senate passed laws that have made it harder to use the internet for sex trafficking by enabling prosecution not just of the traffickers but of anyone who operates any website that they use. We can encourage our political representatives to continue legislative action on these issues.
We can get informed and inform others. The U.S. State Department publishes an annual Trafficking in Persons Report. For all the criticisms that are levelled against the United Nations, it has done well in this area, especially through its Office on Drugs and Crime and its Blue Heart Campaign. The Blue Heart is increasingly recognized as the international symbol against human trafficking, representing the sadness of those who are trafficked and the cold-heartedness of those who buy and sell fellow human beings. There are numerous online organizations, such as the Global Slavery Index, that provide updated information on their websites. Just be aware that some of these organizations have a political bias.