I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves”. ~ Harriet Tubman
When most people think about slaves and slavery, a few images come to mind: black men, women and children standing on the auction block being checked, poked and gazed upon like property, the overseers managing the cotton fields and the substandard living conditions.. Slaves were kept uneducated and fearful of their master. Although they outnumbered their owners by hundreds, sometimes thousands, slaves endured the abuse and harsh conditions with few even trying to escape. They walked around freely, cooked in homes, cared for the children of their owners, had no access to sufficient medical care, ate what they were given, worked for little to no pay at all, and even the children worked long days and nights. Yes, from that history we have evolved.
The visual picture of chains, battered and broken bodies and innocence hung from a tree is a constant reminder of families dismantled and human lives that were forever changed. The buying, selling and exchange of slaves was not a secret. The rape, torture and sometimes murder of slaves was not a secret and rarely classified as a crime. The sexual exploitation and intimidation of slaves was not a secret, much less a crime. Not even when given the opportunity of escape would slaves run for their Freedom! Yes, from that history we have evolved.
"As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery." ~ Martin Luther King
But if we start resting comfortably on the pedestal that we have somehow arrived and humanity is far removed from the stench and stain that was tolerated, participated and most often ignored, then we shouldn’t get comfortable at all. The term has changed; the victims vary in race, gender, age, ethnicity and social class. There are laws on the books. People are more aware and yet others have no idea at all. This is not only a women’s or children’s issue. It’s a victim’s issue and it’s happening in Alabama, in Birmingham and throughout cities and neighborhoods across the country. It is a billion dollar industry and profit is available on all sides. Yes, we have evolved and its name is Human Trafficking!
It is easy to infer a connection between the slavery of yesterday and the human trafficking of persons today. Although the criminal activity surrounding the trafficking of persons is still extremely lucrative; it has become more organized. The use of technology allows perpetrators to snatch victims from the comfort of their home (figuratively speaking). The creation of false documents is more prevalent than ever, especially with respect to international victims coming and domestic victims going. The ability to sell, trade and barter victims from any location can sometimes make it more difficult for law enforcement and for the advocates who work with escaped or rescued victims.
There is significant victimization and collateral damage associated with human trafficking and it resonates deep within the psyche of its victims, often showing up as the Stockholm syndrome or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Due to the vast nature of sexual and labor exploitation, the visual perception tends to be less accurate than the reality. Even more difficult is trying to convince the world that slavery still exists and the dehumanization of victims is a daily occurrence here in America and across the world. I can hear the echoes of many voices …
“It’s happening everywhere but not in my city, not in my neighborhood.”
“The victims look like anyone other than me, anyone other than the people in my circle, the people in my class.”
“They are foreigners brought from some other countries, they are prostitutes who are willing and able (surely they couldn’t be forced to do this and not escape).”
“They are taking good jobs from me and those I know.”
“They don’t even have a right to be in this country”
“It’s their fault! It’s their fault! It’s their fault!”
I would be remiss if I let you forget about the perpetrators. Who are they? They are your Wall Street executives, elected officials, blue collar workers, street pimps and hustlers. They are men, women and even the children who attend school with your children (“groomers” as we call them). They are “the demand” and the victims are “the supply”.
Imagine how many lives would be saved it we just stopped ignoring what we see. If we stopped making excuses and worked on developing solutions. Human Trafficking is not new; it’s just the evolution of an old crime that many ignored then and are continuing to ignore now.
Sunnetta “Sunny” Slaughter is a local and national motivational speaker, law enforcement instructor, facilitator and consultant. Slaughter is a subject matter expert in victimization and crimes against persons (domestic violence, sexual assault, teen dating violence, human trafficking and child abuse). Slaughter is a federally certified law enforcement instructor and consultant for the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA. She has worked with various United States Attorney’s Offices, the FBI in Birmingham and Huntsville, the Office of Victims of Crime and the Technical Training Academy in Virginia. She also specializes in public relations/ marketing and event management services. You can reach her at https://www.facebook.com/sunny.slaughter