Modern-Day Slavery 101: Losing Control All over the World

What most people don't know is that there are about 27 million slaves -- real slaves -- in the world today. That's more than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1700's.
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I felt embarrassed about falling to the rank of slave until I took a look around. Now that I've found out the truth about slavery, I should be relieved to suffer as a metaphor.

What most people don't know is that there are about 27 million slaves -- real slaves -- in the world today (see the UN website). That's more than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1700's. I'm talking about men, women, and children in forced labor for zero pay who are beaten, raped or murdered if they try to escape.

The US government is starting to do something about it. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed three bills on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 that could put human traffickers in jail for life. Among the crowd watching was Tina Frundt who was forced into prostitution at the age of 14. At the time, she blamed herself for not listening to the man she thought loved her when he told her to have sex with his friend and for being raped. Tina has since founded Courtney's House -- a nonprofit safe haven for child sex trafficking victims.

Not everyone is ignoring modern-day slavery. Hillary Clinton takes a stance on it in the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, and the UN has set up the Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons to combat this hell on earth.

Now that you are aware of the slaves, you will start to see them everywhere and on every level. What kind of personality does it take to want to control someone else? I'm sure you know some. Maybe you are a control freak yourself: Would you want to have a slave? It's sad. We have bought into a slave culture. Nietzsche had it right in Beyond Good and Evil:

The collective impression of such future Europeans will probably be that of numerous, talkative, weak-willed, and very handy workmen who REQUIRE a master, a commander, as they require their daily bread; while, therefore, the democratising of Europe will tend to the production of a type prepared for SLAVERY in the most subtle sense of the term.

If only it were just subtle. Control. Betrayal begets jealousy. The impetus for writing Travelling Light, my novel about modern-day slavery, was a murder case on a Mediterranean island in which the authorities immediately declared that no foul play was suspected without an investigation. No one was interested in the case because the victim was a prostitute. Most of the men on the island cheated and betrayed their wives, but we couldn't leave without our children. Instead of banding together with other women, we played right into it being jealous of each other -- this is how you get sucked into a slave mentality. I remember thinking, Why not write about women who fight back? Or about Friendship between a man and woman? Maybe if I wrote about it, it would happen. It started on Styxos...

Writing a novel is therapeutic. Now looking back, I wonder, What was I jealous over? Someone without a soul? Because it must be some kind of soullessness that keeps betrayers from seeing any innate value in having unless they can make other people feel the lack. A profound disinterest in people and things. A blind spot, only being able to see yourself in terms of someone else's pain. It makes my blood boil just thinking about those wasted tears.

Now it's time to put energy into something useful. Most of today's slaves toil under debt bondage incurred by 'lenders' often for generations. Today, slaves are forced to destroy coastal ecosystems and to mine profitable metals for industry spreading mercury into the environments of Ghana and Congo. Slave laborers raze entire forests in Western Africa and the Amazon. There is a direct correlation between damage to our environment and the erosion of our human rights; buying the fruits of slavery degrades our freedom.

Another form of slavery, human trafficking, is the fastest growing criminal industry on the planet and is predicted to outgrow drug trafficking in the near future. Human traffickers prey on children and women prostituted into the sex industry.

Free the Slaves has found slavery practiced in every country in the world except Iceland and Greenland. The organization has calculated that it would cost $10.8 billion to eradicate slavery, the same amount Americans spend on potato chips and pretzels in one year. They estimate it costs an average of $400 to sustainably free one slave. At those prices, it's clear that it would be relatively cheap to eradicate slavery if we wanted to. Our generation could shut down this hell on earth, if it wanted to.

Why don't we? Is it that we thrive on having a lower class, on showing off our bells and whistles like Christmas trees? Then we wonder why people hate us. It took me a year of living Down Under and the World Trade Center attack to figure out what the Aussies meant by 'over the top'.

The only way out of this Nietzschean slave mentality is by curing ourselves first. Just don't buy it. Now the thought of someone dissing me triggers disinterest: nothing can grow there, time to get on with my freedom. I might not feel this way when I'm dying (actually, I have indigestion right now), but as long as I can keep on, there's too much that needs to be done.

J.L. Morin is the author of Travelling Light, to be published July 31, 2011 by Harvard Square Editions.