Among many highlights, perhaps the most moving and meaningful element of last week’s Inauguration for me was watching President Obama swear the oath of office on the personal Bibles of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. as we begin a year of deeply significant civil rights milestones.
January 1, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation, an Executive Order issued by President Abraham Lincoln at the height of the Civil War in his capacity of Commander-in-Chief. It declared all slaves in the 10 States then in open rebellion against the Union to be free persons. Southern and border States not in rebellion began to abolish slavery in their territories, and two years later Lincoln achieved formal ratification of 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery throughout the U.S.
Later this year we will celebrate the 50th anniversity of the landmark 1963 March on Washington which brought 300,000 citizens from around the country to the National Mall to demand civil rights and economic opportunity for African Americans. The iconic highlight of the March was the historic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in 100th anniversary year of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Despite the long span of years since those landmark events, despite the efforts of giants like Lincoln and King, and despite the ongoing work of legions of freedom advocates, slavery still exists among us. It’s called “human trafficking” in polite company, and too many officials continue to avert their eyes or minimize or deny the problem. It is a well-documented fact, however, that millions of people around the world live in modern-day slavery. The risk and reality exist in every country.
Whether called human trafficking, modern-day slavery, involuntary servitude, or debt bondage, the impacts on victims’ lives and the moral fiber of our societies are the same. We can all play a role in combating the scourge if we are willing to accept that there’s a problem and if we learn what to look for.
American Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who coordinates U.S. government activities in the global fight against contemporary forms of slavery, notes that the challenge of identifying victims can be a daunting one:
“While the victims may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are often hidden right in front of us at, for example, construction sites, restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, agricultural fields, and hotels. Traffickers’ use of coercion – such as threats of deportation and harm to the victim or their family members – is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to accept your help. Knowing indicators of human trafficking and some follow up questions will help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it.”
Modern-day slavery does not just refer to the physical barriers of chains, locked doors, and physical isolation. It’s important to understand the complexities of how threats, coercion, and denial of freedom of movement build mental barriers that create servitude and prevent escape. To better understand how to recognize less obvious situations in which human trafficking occurs, I encourage you to take the Human Trafficking Awareness Training developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
I talked at length last year about human trafficking and the various NGOs and other institutions active in anti-trafficking efforts. During the course of my work over the past few months I’ve come across additional resources and players that I’d like to share with you. The following are well worth work checking out:
- Slavery Footprint, a sobering look at how, through the choices we make as consumers, we all contribute to human trafficking;
- National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which celebrates freedom’s heroes past and present while encouraging participation in the ongoing struggles for freedom; and
- Prescha Initiative, based in New Zealand, which has created great education tools to raise awareness here about signs that someone may be a trafficking victim.
I would also refer you to a resource that I’ve mentioned several times previously, the State Department’s smart and handy checklist of 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking.
Finally for now, I’m pleased to advise that this April 11-12 the Embassy will partner with the Salvation Army and ECPAT Child Alert in sponsoring in Auckland a ”Preventing People Trafficking Conference.” Information about the conference is available by clicking here. Please consider attending or sending someone from your organization. I look forward to seeing you there.