Does Slavery Still Exist?
If you were to ask an average American on the street whether slavery still exists, they would probably tell you that it doesn’t, and that it hasn’t since the Civil War. They would be correct in saying that we no longer have the same legal system of slavery that existed in the antebellum era. What they might be surprised to learn is that this isn’t the whole story. Slavery is thriving today in the United States and all over the world in the form of human trafficking. Human trafficking involves the exploitation of a person and coercion into forced prostitution or labor for the profit of the trafficker. This practice is found in nearly every country around the world.
Today, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It takes place during the observance of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It may seem almost laughably insufficient to dedicate a day to simple awareness of this grave crime. But it has become increasingly clear that a lack of awareness about human trafficking is astoundingly widespread—and our ignorance of the issue tacitly allows it to continue. Researchers do not even know how many people are victims of human trafficking, but estimates are around 20.9 million globally. That is more than the population of the state of Florida. The majority of these victims are women (see our blog post from 2016 for more on this), and many are children. Often, the trafficking is part of large, organized crime networks.
Why does human trafficking matter for Catholics? Like many other social justice issues, the heart of the matter is the dignity of the human person. As Catholics, we are called to respect the humanity of each individual. Forcing vulnerable populations—including migrants, refugees, orphans, children, and others—into prostitution or coerced labor is an assault on human dignity. Even if we ourselves are not taking part in or profiting from human trafficking, we cannot be silent about it. Silence has become the same thing as allowing it to continue. Since no one is taking traffickers to task, they continue trafficking and often are not even prosecuted or convicted when caught. Our job, if we are able, is to defend those victims of human trafficking who are unable to defend themselves, and to bring physical, emotional, and spiritual healing to survivors.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text the Polaris BeFree Textline at 233733 for help. If you would like to get involved in working to stop human trafficking, read our blog post on ways to give up slavery, and check out Polaris.