by Marie Tingle, Director of Prevention at NightLight Atlanta
Slavery. A cruelty we confine to our history books. A thing of the past. Or is it?
Currently over 27 million men, women and children are enslaved worldwide.1
This means that there are more slaves today than at any other time in our
The current slave trade is a $32 billion industry.2 criminal industry in the world, tied with the illegal arms business as the second largest, and second only to the illegal drug trade. Slavery can take many different forms and potentially appear normal at first glance. It can look like a construction worker in India, a housekeeper in Peru, a factory worker in China, a woman in Romania who is offered travel to a new job as a waitress in a new city, a runaway teenager in New York City, or a migrant farmer in California.
But look a little deeper, and you will find an Indian man working construction, held in bondage as collateral for debt to pay off a loan that his boss will never say is paid (“debt bondage”). A Peruvian housekeeper who is forced to work from dawn until midnight with little to no pay (“involuntary domestic servitude”). A Chinese child who is mandated to stand for 12 hours a day in a factory making phones while undergoing verbal and physical abuse. A Romanian woman transported to Rome under the guise of working as a waitress, which is actually forced work in a brothel (“contract slavery”). A migrant farmer picking tomatoes for hours a day under threat and paid little wages (“migrant labor”). A girl in New York City who runs away from adverse circumstances at home, only to find herself raped and trapped into prostitution (“commercial sexual exploitation of children”).
Forced labor makes up 18% of human trafficking; however, the most common form, making up 79% of all human trafficking, is sexual exploitation.3 The term sex trafficking often conjures up images of girls being kidnapped or tricked, then smuggled internationally. While this is absolutely and distressingly
true, the majority of exploitation occurs within a country’s own borders and involves native children and women with native men from all sectors of society.4
And it can look different than the narratives of movies like Taken or the more recent incident in Cleveland, Ohio of the three women freed from a decade of captivity. Commercial sexual exploitation also includes work in prostitution, strip clubs, massage parlors and pornography. We believe that any time money is exchanged for someone else’s body, a “commercial sex act,” it is sex slavery. That person is sold as a commodity.
In the words of a 12 year old girl who is being commercially sexually exploited, “My boyfriend always tells me I am beautiful and that he loves me. No guy has ever said that before. He gives me nice gifts and takes me out to eat. We ran away together, so it could just be me and him. He says he will always take care of me. But it’s only fair that I have to help bring money in too. So I have sex with his friends. When I don’t do what he says, he sometimes hits me. But it’s because I am being selfish and not wanting to help take care of our family. And anyway I know he loves me.” The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry is 11-14 as reported by the US Department of Justice. And these girls grow into women whom we disregard as “prostitutes” who must have chosen this life.
Commercial sexual exploitation is a complex and multi-faceted problem that requires complex and multi-faceted solutions. The organization that I work for, NightLight International, is one such avenue of response. NightLight International is a faith-based organization that addresses the complex issues of commercial sexual exploitation in four main areas: prevention, intervention, restoration and education.
So how do we at NightLight address these issues? What does this look like in the United States? And how can you get involved? The next two blog posts will discuss just that.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
1 International Labour Organization, The Cost of Coercion, 2009
2 International Labour Organization, Global Alliance Against Forced Labour, Gobal Report, 2005.
3 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, A Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2012.
4 The US Department of State, Trafficking In Persons Report, June 2007.