As we approach the end of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month here in the US, I want to take a moment to highlight an institution that is making strides in raising awareness about the reality and horrors of slavery and human trafficking. And, it just so happens to be located in the modest Midwestern city that I live in, Cincinnati, Ohio!
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is situated on the Ohio River, which was the dividing line between slavery and freedom in the US up through the late 1800s, in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. The Freedom Center is commonly and erroneously referred to as a museum. But, it’s really more than an institution dedicated to objects and ideas of the past. The Freedom Center is an active symbol of consciousness, a platform from which voices can be heard, and a bridge linking the past and present. Oh yes, and it has the first permanent exhibit in the world dedicated to modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
This exhibit, Invisible: Slavery Today, truly gives a comprehensive view of what slavery and trafficking actually look like around the world today. The exhibit is a sensory experience, made to make you feel like you are a part of slavery, from dim lighting to the wooden crate walls to the mattresses with ‘Sex Trafficking’ scrawled across the bed springs and the miniature brothel models underneath. It’s a haunting homage to the dirty, seedy, exhaustive underbelly of an underground trade and the lives that are lost to it. The true personal testimonies of children forced to work in Indian rug factories, young women sold to Eastern European brothels and men forced to work in African mining fields will long stay in the back of your thoughts. In fact, the experience will haunt you long after you’ve left the building.
Modern slavery and human trafficking takes many forms: domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labor, child soldiers, indentured servitude, child slavery. Together, they are a global injustice affecting an estimated 12-27 million people at any one time, a range so broad due to the clandestine nature of the trade. It also just so happens to be a multi-billion dollar business, generating $44.3 billion dollars each year.
Slavery and trafficking affect people of all ages, all backgrounds and ethnicity and both sexes. It occurs in developed and developing countries alike, and particularly in times of instability like armed conflict.
Women and girls are most vulnerable to being trafficked and forced into slavery. Consider the statistics from the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report :
- 55% of forced labor victims are women and girls
- 98% of sex trafficking victims are women and girls
- 4.5 million victims are sexually exploited
The 2012 UNODC Global Report of Trafficking in Persons reports that:
- Trafficking of girls accounts for 15-20% of the total number of victims from 2007-2010
- The number of detected women victims has declined somewhat in recent years, however the number of girls has risen
Trafficking is a crime with a strong gender bias towards women and girls.
If you happen to end up in the area, come by and check out the Freedom Center. It’s an amazing learning experience that will educate you, depress you, but most importantly inspire you to take action to fight slavery and trafficking in your own community. Don’t miss the slavery and trafficking exhibit, and if you get there before March be sure to check out the Half the Sky temporary exhibit! Oh yes, you read that correct. There is an exhibit there devoted solely to the Half the Sky movement (and if you know anything about Girls’ Globe, you know we’re BIG fans of Half the Sky)!
If visiting isn’t an option any time soon, the Freedom Center website offers a wealth of useful and practical suggestions on how you, no matter where you are in the world, can become a modern day abolitionist. If you haven’t yet watched the recent Google+ hangout, covered by our Girls’ Globe founder Julia Wiklander, featuring our heroes against slavery and human trafficking Nick Kristof, Somaly Mam, and Rachel Loyd. You may have notice that the moderator was Luke Blocher Director of Contemporary Slavery Initiatives at the Freedom Center!
Check out these Freedom Center partner organizations around the world who are working towards freedom:
- Polaris Project
- Free the Children
- Free the Slaves
- International Justice Mission
- Child Voice International
…and learn more about slavery and trafficking with these book suggestions:
- Half the Sky
- A Crime So Monstrous
- The Road of Lost Innocence
Consider how slavery has looked in your country in the past and how it compares to today. Does your country/ state/ city have a history of slavery? What about those around you? Who were the victims? Have you seen any signs of slavery today? How do the victims compare to those in the past? How does the work compare? Use the Freedom Center and these resources to start educating yourself and raise awareness in your community today.
Pictures taken by Sally Pope at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.