In 1860 there were nearly 4 million men, women and children were held as slaves in our nation’s southern & border states. They were denied their natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They were helpless before their masters, forced to work long hours to make money for their owners, with little to no chance of ever earning enough money to buy their freedom. Escapees were often punished harshly with inhumane beatings. Female slaves could be forcibly taken by their masters for use as a sex object or given to anyone the master wished. In 1865, after a long, brutal war, the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, declaring, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Americans look back to the abolition of slavery as the triumph of freedom over bondage, good over evil. They view slavery as an evil of the past.
Yet, unbeknownst to many, between 14,500 and 17,500 women, children and men are forcibly trafficked into the United States each year, as reported by the State Department. Many of these victims are forced into prostitution, though the exact number is not known. Once in America, traffickers, pimps and madams use rape and beatings, among other abuses, to control the prostituted women and children. The “johns” who purchase their services can, and often do, act with the same depraved indifference towards them.
Prostituted women often find themselves in debt to their pimp or trafficker who trumps up “fees” that the women must pay back. These fees may include the cost of bringing them into the country, room, board and condoms – and the fees ensnare the victims with increasing debt. The prostituted women are told that they must repay this debt by servicing between six and 20 men every day. It’s never enough. Women and children remain caught in the web of prostitution.
How can we as a society allow this modern-day slavery to exist? Some of those who know of the problem naively push for the legalization of prostitution, despite the increase of sex trafficking in those countries that have legalized prostitution, such as Germany and the Netherlands. They call prostituted women “sex workers,” so that they can delude themselves into thinking that these women choose prostitution freely, ignoring the staggering 89 percent of prostituted women in the world who want to escape. To call a prostituted woman a “sex worker” is akin to our ancestors calling their slaves “servants”: it may make them feel better, but it does not change the truth.
There are some who argue that prostitution is the only way some women can support themselves, acquire healthcare or feed their children. What is sad is that these proponents would rather promote an institution in which a woman must sell herself and her dignity for food, rather than take action to help those women find a way to support themselves outside of prostitution. Is it not better for a woman to sell the work of her hands and the thoughts of her mind, than the flesh of her body? Didn’t the southern slave owner in the nineteenth century use the same argument to try and convince himself and others that their slaves lived better lives being cared for by their masters?
As in the 1860s, the only way to end this modern-day slavery is abolition, the complete cessation of both the trafficking and use of prostituted women and children. We must take a page from Sweden’s book. That country combats demand by criminalizing the buying of sex while aiding the victims in restoring their lives. For the sake of women and children around the world, we must declare, as did the 19th century abolitionist, Charles Sumner: “I insist that this must cease.”
Over 140 years have passed since the work of Sumner, and others like him, helped lead America in a campaign to outlaw slavery. Then, one face of slavery was an African woman who worked without pay and had no control over the use of her body. Now, one face of slavery is a woman from Russia, forced by a trafficker to work off the cost of her plane ticket plus whatever extra fee is imposed.
The face of modern-day slavery is the five-year old Nigerian girl whose parents thought she was being adopted by a kind family who would give her a better life. Instead she ends up being sexually abused for the pleasure of her trafficker and the men who buy his pornography. Slavery is the American teenager who ran away from her abusive father, but is further used and sold by the pimp she thought was her caring boyfriend. Slavery is any woman, child or man forced to work with little pay and without any recourse against the men who sell and use their bodies.
The victims and countries involved have increased in number, and the means of trafficking are different, but slavery itself has not changed much, has it?
Caitlin DeMarco is an intern in the Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program at Concerned Women for America. She is assigned to the Beverly LaHaye Institute.