Why We Should Care about Modern-Day Slavery

Photo by Nicholas Gercken

Photo by Nicholas Gercken

I’m willing to bet that as some of you just read the title, some thoughts that popped into your head were probably along the lines of, “Wait, but didn’t we get rid of slavery? Aren’t we past that already? Shouldn’t issues like prison reform, LGBT rights, and government corruption be our primary focus these days?” 

I wish I could say you were right that modern-day slavery does not exist. 

Unfortunately, slavery is at an all-time high. Yep, you read that right. There are more slaves on planet Earth right now than at any other point throughout human history.

“There are more slaves on planet Earth right now than at any other point throughout human history.”

A21 is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works on slavery prevention, protecting and rescuing those who have been enslaved, and prosecuting traffickers. Currently, A21 estimates that there are around 27 million people living in slavery today. For reference, that is about .36% of the world’s population, meaning close to 1 out of every 200 people in the world is enslaved.

Perhaps you’re already aware of this fact, and, if so, I am genuinely impressed. You may be aware of slavery in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where local militias rule, and women and children are forced to work in mines for 12 hours a day without breaks. You might have heard of slavery in places like Malaysia or the Philippines, where factory workers are not allowed to leave their jobs and are even forced to sleep in the buildings where they work. Though there is a chance you might be familiar with the nature of these horrible crimes being committed half way around the world, did you know that there is still a huge slavery problem here in the United States?

Before we continue, let’s take a look at the definition of modern-day slavery and the various ways it manifests itself in our culture. Slavery is defined by A21 as “the illegal trade of human beings, mainly for the purposes of forced labor and sex trafficking.” Throughout the duration of this article, I will use human trafficking and slavery interchangeably; although they aren’t exactly the same, modern-day slavery generally takes the form of human trafficking.

Likewise, the different forms slavery can take are practically limitless, but the most common forms are forced labor and sex trafficking. Other common forms include -- but are definitely not limited to -- debt labor, child slavery, and domestic servitude.

Want to talk about hitting close to my hometown? On October 17th, ten people in Birmingham, AL were accused of forcing local women into prostitution. It is mind-boggling that things like this still occur-- right outside my front door.

It is also estimated that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States every year due to the fact that the U.S. is considered a hot spot for both transportation and exploitation.

More than this, human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world, only behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking, and it generates over $32 billion every year.

Despite the massive size of this problem, there are still those who are not giving up the fight. Throughout the past year, I have had the pleasure of getting to know one of these advocates that refuses to be silent on the issue of human trafficking.

I met Stephanie Durr at the beginning of last year, and the first word that comes to mind when I think about her is the word “driven.” She is not giving up until every person enslaved by human trafficking has been liberated.

Stephanie is also a student at Mississippi State University. Her end goal is to prosecute those who engage in human trafficking and bring them to justice, and the nonprofit organization we are both involved into together -- Saving Silhouettes -- is just the beginning for us.

What began as a project selling hairbands to raise money for a local charity has now blossomed into a Mississippi State organization with over 40 members. Saving Silhouettes focuses on bringing in college students from all different majors and hopes to help everyone understand that they have something to contribute in the fight against modern-day slavery. You don’t have to a certain major or career path in order to join the fight -- and there are practical ways to get involved besides just donating money.

One of our main events is the End It Movement’s Shine A Light on Slavery Day. Given that one of Saving Silhouettes’ main goals as an organization is to heighten awareness of modern day slavery, Shine A Light on Slavery Day provides an excellent platform to engage students on campus and, in turn, spread the truth about slavery throughout our student body. As one of our first events last year, we successfully reached hundreds of students who had no idea human trafficking was still an issue.

We’re still in the early stages of our organization, and there is no way to know where we might be in three or four more years. For now, it is exciting to know we really are making a difference, even if it is in our own small way. We’re doing our part. Hopefully, this article has encouraged you to join us. 

For more information on our organization, Saving Silhouettes, click here

David Sides