By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — It was my namesake, William Shakespeare who, in Romeo and Juliet coined the phrase, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” referring to Juliet’s claim that names matter less than what things actually are. The same holds true for human trafficking; its stinking slavery and it smells just as foul.
The Australian-based Walk-Free Foundation, as a result of their most recent investigation of 162 countries released the Global Slavery Index which documented their discovery that slavery exists “in every single one.”
The Index ranks the nations in order of prevalence of modern-day slavery by percentage of population, estimating that nearly 30 million people across the world have been trafficked for labor or sex work. Forced labor, debt bondages, forced marriage, and child exploitation are the most common threats in these countries.
With a population of 3.8 million, the highest level is Mauritania where about 4 percent or 151,000 people are enslaved. Haiti ranks second on the list with 209,000 slaves. Pakistan follows with 2.1 million enslaved.
One international organization based in Washington, D.C. that goes by the name, Free the Slaves makes it very plain and simple at their website (freetheslaves.net) with this clear definition, Yes we mean real slavery. People held against their will, forced to work and paid nothing
... the end result is what slavery is today and has always been—one person controlling another and then forcing them to work.”
Their research first published in Kevin Bales’ “Disposable People”, estimated, “that there are 21-30 million people in slavery today. This means that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history. Slavery has existed for thousands of years, but changes in the world’s economy and societies over the past 50 years have enabled a resurgence of slavery.”
They point to three trends that have contributed the most to the rise of modern-day slavery:
• The recent population explosion has tripled the number of people in the world, with most growth taking place in the developing world.
• Rapid social and economic change, have displaced many to urban centers and their outskirts, where people have no ‘safety net’ and no job security.
• Government corruption around the world, allows slavery to go unpunished, even though it is illegal everywhere.
They concluded that “millions have become vulnerable to slave holders and human traffickers looking to profit through the theft of people’s lives. This new slavery has two prime characteristics: slaves today are cheap and they are disposable.”
Comparing the American slavery experience to today’s reality, they note that:
• An average slave in the American South in 1850 cost the equivalent of $40,000 in today’s money; today a slave costs an average of $90.
• In 1850 it was difficult to capture a slave and then transport them to the US. Today, millions of economically and socially vulnerable people around the world are potential slaves.
But, unlike the essentially race-based American experience, today’s slave holders care more about the high profits than whether the holder and slave are of different ethnic backgrounds; in New Slavery, profit trumps skin color.”
Like the cotton industry, the new slavery is directly connected to the global economy, says the report. “As in the past, most slaves are forced to work in agriculture, mining, and prostitution. From these sectors, their exploited labor flows into the global economy and into our lives”.
Locally, our region is not exempt from the scourge, so several individuals and key organizations are stepping up to address the issue.
A few months ago, some very impactful artwork from the mind and hands of ten-year-old Logan Kuhlmey of Lancaster has helped draw attention to the issue here resulting in more than 50 billboards going up across a 17 county area of the state.
According to information from the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, at least 12 victims of human sex trafficking have been rescued over the past year.
But the problems here in Buffalo and Niagara Falls are much bigger than the numbers indicate according to Amy Fleischauer, director of victim services at the International Institute of Buffalo and others who claim that the area is a magnet for traffickers.
In addition to the billboards, signs and posters are going up in shelters, hospitals and anyplace where victims might see them and reach out for help.
But, besides awareness, Buffalo has also launched an entire new law enforcement approach which includes a special Court set up to address the sex trafficking aspect of the problem.
The Buffalo Human Trafficking Intervention Part of City Court was “created to identify and help prostitutes and other victims of human trafficking escape a life of exploitation and violence and become productive members of the community, according to court officials.
Prostitution and related offenses will be handled by the special court to help victims of sex trafficking, who “are recruited into the commercial sex industry by force, fraud or coercion, and will attempt to provide victims of sex trafficking with assistance designed to provide them with alternatives to prostitution.”
As Ms. Fleischauer points out, not all of the victims come from the sex trade; they come here from 16 different countries, including China, Thailand, Kenya and Peru and from the United States as well.
Many land here because, as one official puts it, “We have all the red flags.”
Our position as a cross-border community makes us “a popular way station for traffickers moving victims from Canada to the U.S.”
She says our relatively large transient population and our unusual combination of large urban centers and vast rural areas provides opportunities for traffickers involved in sexual and labor exploitation to take advantage of the situation.
Sounds totally familiar to me; our rich history as a region deeply engaged in the pre Civil War Underground Railroad, abolitionism and Civil Rights is clearly repeating itself…
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