When is slavery no longer a crime, a sin and a moral outrage?

When it is invisible.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865 and it declares that:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States.”

We claim we abolished slavery in the United States, but we did not. We only passed a law and made it illegal. We said as a society we find the acts and practices of slavery so reprehensible and inherently harmful to our society, that hence forth we will not tolerate them.

But slavery still exist in the US today. We just don’t see it. It is no longer this easily identified black vs white, North vs South, leg chains and bull whips image that we can point at in horror and outrage. Slavery has gone underground and become embedded in our society.

According to the US department of Justice:

…Under federal law, the technical term for modern-day slavery or coerced labor is “severe forms of trafficking in persons.” …

…Trafficking covers the use of minors for commercial sexual activity even if there is no force, fraud, or coercion.

…defined as

1) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18; or

2) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Did you catch that last line.  Minors, children under the age of 18, can not give informed consent and so they can not voluntarily join a brothel.  They can not voluntarily become a prostitute. You don’t have to cross borders or state lines with a minor – it is trafficking.

So how prevalant is child prostitution in our society?

The FBI believes that more than 100,000 people are enslaved in the U.S., with an additional 30,000 shipped across state borders and transported to other countries annually.

Toni Morrison discussed on NPR some of the misconceptions of slavery that she presents in her book “A Mercy” :

Professor MORRISON: … I wanted to see what it might have been like to remove race from slavery, because slavery was not this strange thing. Every civilization in the world relied on it. But the notion was that there was a difference between black slaves and white slaves. And there wasn’t. The difference was in what they set white slaves up as. They called them indentured servants. And the suggestion has always been that they could work off their passage, in seven years generally, and then they would be free.

And many times they were offered or promised something called a freedom fee. But in fact, you could be indentured for life and frequently were. The only difference between African slaves and European or British slaves was that the latter could run away and melt into the population. But if you were black, you were noticeable. So I’m looking at slavery as a universal phenomenon.

Yes, slavery really is a universal phenomenon. It is just not a historical one. It is alive and well and living among us throughout the world – including the US. And if you think it is just a big city thing. Think again.

From the local ABC affiliate KAKA in Kansas

Within 48 hours of running away from home, statistics show one in three youth are lured into prostitution. Statistics also show the average age of entry into prostitution is 12.

The statistics are startling, yet they apply to Wichita.

“In the Midwest, this is a big problem,” said Kathy Gill-Hopple, Director of Healthcare Haven.

According to the FBI, Human trafficking is a major source of profit for organized crime syndicates:

Profits in human trafficking are estimated at $9.5 billion per year and rising, third only to illegal drug sales and secret arms trading.

That’s big business. And it can buy a lot of things – including power and influence within the political realm. From humantrafficking.org

Prostitution and related activities—including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels—encourage the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a façade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate. Where prostitution is tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.

…each year, more than two million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Children are also trapped in prostitution despite the fact that a number of international covenants and protocols impose upon parties an obligation to criminalize the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under both U.S. law and the UN TIP Protocol. There can be no exceptions, no cultural or socio-economic rationalizations that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Terms such as “child sex worker” are unacceptable because they sanitize the brutality of this exploitation.

So when is slavery no longer a crime, a sin and a moral outrage?

  • When we believe slavery does not exist.
  • When the media ignores it.
  • When our government directly and indirectly enables it.

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[Original version posted at No Quarter]

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