Human Trafficking: the Contemporary Form of Slavery

The demand for this slave labor derives from the search for commercial sex or cheap labor. So why isn't the current slave trade an issue of more concern?
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Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States of America. As such, 2015 provides an important opportunity for faculty engaged in teaching American history not only to highlight the wrongs perpetrated by many Americans, but to clarify how pivotal the elimination of slavery was to our democratic society. Educators may also use the sesquicentennial as a time to make students more aware of the scars the United States still bears as a result of the acts of bondage perpetrated against our African American countrymen and women. Like the rest of us in academe, most of our students will find it both unthinkable and revolting that any American ever believed he/she had the right to own another human being. As citizens of the 21st century, we consider ourselves to have the moral compass and social awareness that would propel us to action against such a violation of human rights. Yet we are allowing an equally heinous form of slavery to flourish today around the globe and in our own communities.

Human trafficking for sex and labor is the modern-day face of slavery, and according to published statistics, it has claimed 27 million victims worldwide. An estimated 800,000 new victims are added each year. This is a staggering number by any comparison, and yet reports show that fewer than 5,000 perpetrators have been convicted for these crimes. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world after the drug trade, generating an estimated $150 billion in profits each year for those engaged in trafficking the victims.

The demand for this slave labor derives from the search for commercial sex or cheap labor. So why isn't the current slave trade an issue of more concern? Until very recently, much of the media coverage and the discussions that were taking place likely strengthened the misconception that human trafficking was something that happened outside the U.S. That did not make it less offensive, but perhaps it made us feel somewhat insulated. The truth is that human trafficking is pervasive in the U.S. and is fast approaching drugs as the illicit trade of choice for those who use it for economic gain. It is primarily a crime against women and children. Nationwide, our students are both vulnerable as potential victims and largely unaware of the dangers that exist. Obviously, one of our roles as educators is to ensure the safety of our students. This can be done by informing them of the scourge of human trafficking.

Many groups around the country are working on this serious issue, and progress is being made. However, gaps still exist. I am engaged with the international nonprofit organization Human Rights First to develop an effective strategy to target some of the major gaps. Discussion of the issue is a first step, and this is the first of monthly blogs that I will be posting on this topic. I welcome your input as we proceed.

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