Many of us like to believe that slavery is over and that is a thing of the past. We’re trained to think of slavery as a shocking one-time occurrence, something that once existed in the Americas and then disappeared after former President Abraham Lincoln saved us. But in this mindset, there is a huge piece of information about the past that we are missing. Because of the lack of attention that is given to problems in non-Western countries, most of us do not know or do not care about the problems that people face in Thailand, India or Mauritania, among other countries. However, what is even more shocking is the modern day slavery that occurs in our country. Otherwise known as human trafficking, slavery in the United States is a major issue that goes unaddressed and is repeatedly ignored in the minds of many Americans. It’s usually perceived as an issue that is out of our control, and only effects disadvantaged countries, when in reality, over 161 countries, meaning more than 30 million victims are impacted by human trafficking. The United States is host to around 60,000 of those victims.
Contrary to the belief that slavery is solely defined as white plantation owners abusing and controlling black families as property — slavery comes in many forms. One of the most pronounced forms of slavery is sex trafficking, in which 98 percent of the victims are women and girls. The underlying theme of these kinds of slavery are the same: An exploitation of a human being and the stripping of their basic needs and rights. Victims of human sex trafficking are subject to violent forms of force, coercion, isolation, starvation, serious health problems such as HIV/AIDS and inescapable situations. They are promised homes and given false stories and given falsehoods into believing they will be given a “better life” by the sex traffickers that hold them hostage. As stated by Michelle Bachelet, UN Women director & former president of Chile, “An estimated 80 percent of all trafficked persons are used and abused as sexual slaves. This human rights violation is driven by demand for sexual services and the profit that is generated. The commodification of human beings as sexual objects, poverty, gender inequality and subordinate positions of women and girls provide fertile ground for human trafficking.” This kind of slavery exists in every corner of our world. On every street corner, every hotel, every club, are women and children exploited in a helpless situation, living the same nightmare repeatedly for years at a time, often with no end in sight.
One of the countless misfortunes that human trafficking victims face actually happens after authority forces have rescued them. Rather than be sent to a rehabilitation service clinic to treat the trauma that they have been put through for years, sex-trafficking victims are too often arrested or prosecuted for prostitution. Many of these are young girls have been forced into the system against their will by criminals exploiting their gender, social status and given situation. These children don’t know a better life and have no escape. Their false criminal charges follow them when they attempt to find jobs and create a life for themselves. Their role as victims in the slave system of mass criminal rape should not be used against them by our justice department. The real offenders should solely face the charges, but in New Jersey, a state that is relatively more active when it comes to human trafficking laws, sex traffickers are not even required to register as sex offenders. Other states are even worse with their human trafficking laws.
Girls as young as 9 years old, too young to be aware of what is happening to them, are manipulated by traffickers three times their age and are sent out to the streets with the false condition of safety and love in their minds. While this is all they ask for, why is it so easy for us a country to brush their situation off as something out of our reach? Why are we not more active in taking strides to help the situation? Modern day slavery does not only exist in undeveloped countries. Slavery did not end hundreds of years ago. It's time for us to take action.
Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School first-year double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. Her column, “Call for Change,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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