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Help to End the Unbearable Evil of Modern Slavery

Dec 30, 2013
Maureen Spagnolo

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name – modern slavery.” ~ President Barack Obama

Imagine the life of a modern day slave – subject to sexual and physical abuse, day in and day out without hope of any change – deprived of contact with family and friends, medical care, nourishing food, the freedom to go where she/he wants, or any kind of comfort.

  Images from the
(click for larger image)
Stop Slavery Now - Men Don't Buy Sex

Stop Slavery Now - Becky McDonald Speaking at Rally

Stop Slavery Now - Lincoln Statue Marchers

Stop Slavery Now - Soul Cry Dancers

Stop Slavery Now - Soul Cry Dancers - Real Men Don't Buy Sex

Stop Slavery Now - Lincoln Cottage Demonstration

Stop Slavery Now - Marchers by Lincoln Cottage

Slavery is alive and well. The Walk Free Foundation estimates there are some 29.8 million enslaved people around the globe, resulting in an estimated 32 billion dollars of profit a year, world-wide (although some experts consider this estimate to be very low). Although illegal in every country, slavery is big business in almost every nation on earth. Often young, mostly poor, the victims have no freedom to live as they choose and have no way to protect themselves.

In some countries, children are sold into slavery by relatives to pay a debt. They often don’t understand the full ramifications of what will happen to their children. Others are promised well-paid employment, for example as a maid in a hotel. The victims sometimes agree to pay an “agent” commission – as much as $5,000 US dollars. Instead of normal employment, they often find themselves held in inescapable situations where they’re forced to become domestic slaves, sex slaves, or both – with a debt bond to the trafficker which they can never pay.

The countless, voiceless victims are controlled through physical and psychological means, sometimes with threats to their families if they don't obey. They spend their days and nights in unthinkable suffering and are subject to physical and emotional abuse beyond our comprehension.

Almost all of us have unknowingly and indirectly profited from slave labor. Many low cost products that we enjoy may be the result of slave labor. The Walk Free Foundation estimates that slave labor contributes to the production of at least 122 types of goods from 58 countries worldwide. Official U.S. government research has identified that many products are commonly produced by slave labor – items as diverse as diamonds from Africa, bricks from Brazil, and shrimp from Southeast Asia. Dozens of things we use every day, like soccer balls, flowers, and chocolate, are produced by people around the world who are forced to work under the threat of violence for little or no pay. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor, ILAB)

Rays of Hope

Rays of hope are coming from groups who are making a difference in their efforts to end the suffering caused by the exploitation of vulnerable people around the world. This exploitation is also taking place in the United States. It may be hard to believe, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them children, are trafficked each year in this country. Groups that are working against trafficking include Stop Modern Slavery, Walk Free, the Polaris Project, Shared Hope International, Global Centurion, Women at Risk International, and Free the Slaves.

On a sunny day in October, Stop Modern Slavery held its 4th annual event, “UNBOUND - a walk uniting the movement to end human trafficking.” Due to the government shut down, UNBOUND was moved from the National Mall to the historic, privately owned, “President Abraham Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldier's Home”, which is located on a picturesque hilltop in northwest Washington. Lincoln, the father of the Emancipation Proclamation, lived at the Cottage with his family for over a quarter of his presidency. He would most likely have given his approval of the event.

The event was deeply moving. The speakers included women who had been rescued from slavery, and are now spokeswomen and leaders in the movement to rescue their sisters and brothers from slavery. Becky McDonald, Founder and President of Women at Risk International, opened the meeting with an overview of the problem of slavery around the world. Although the stories of abuse are horrifying, Ms. McDonald shared stories of success: a newborn baby sold to traffickers, was rescued and adopted. Young women, sold into prostitution, were rescued, reunited with their families, and were helped in their efforts to start businesses that enabled them to support themselves. Martina Vandenberg, Founder and President of Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, was the keynote speaker. Her message, “Human Trafficking: We can do better!”, detailed how the US, although a leader in the anti-trafficking movement, has far to go in the war to end worldwide slavery .

The audience was moved by an emotive dance performance by SoulCry. The dance group was inspired by the true story of a human trafficking survivor and her desperate attempts to save her children from a brothel. The story was from the book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”, by Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof, and Sheryl Wudunn. SoulCry’s founder and artistic director, Loralee Scott-Conforti, shared that Rodney Wiltshire, a city councilman from Troy, New York, was so moved by their performance and stories that he pushed to enact anti-trafficking legislation in the city.

The Scope of the Problem

This summer, on June 19th, Secretary of State John Kerry released the 13th Annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Secretary Kerry proclaimed:

“There is abuse that can take place in even the most improbable places in the most probable ways. And I learned then, looking in the eyes of young women who had been the victims of these crimes, that they were terrified of being victimized again, by the process, by the system. And nobody quite understood what it meant to a victim or the ways you could help victims through the system. Only when we started focusing on victims, not just as potential witnesses but as survivors, human beings entitled to respect and dignity, that’s when we started to provide people with a greater measure of justice. And that’s when we were able to give people a better chance at rebuilding the future.”

Prepared by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the theme of this year’s report is “Victim Identification: The First Step in Stopping Modern Slavery.” The report estimates that:

“... based on the information governments participating in the program have provided, only around 40,000 victims have been identified in the last year. In contrast, social scientists estimate that as many as 27 million men, women, and children are trafficking victims at any given time. This shows that a mere fraction of the more than 26 million men, women, and children who are estimated to suffer in modern slavery have been recognized by governments as such and are eligible to receive the protection and support they are owed.”

Secretary Kerry and Ambassador at Large Luis CdeBaca also honored nine activists, the 2013 TIP Heroes, who included: Laura Anyola Tufon of Cameroon, Katrin Gluic of Croatia, Simona Broomes of Guyana, Mohammed Bassam Al-Nasseri of Iraq, Javier Antonio Morazán & Juan Victoriano RuÍz of Nicaragua, Ippei Torii of Japan, Susan Ople of The Philippines, Paul Holmes of the United Kingdom. They also honored the memory of Eunice Kisembo of Uganda.

These individuals have amazing stories and are changing the face of modern slavery. To find out more about these heroic people, and their inspiring rescues, download your copy of the full TIP Report here:

A new organization, The Walk Free Foundation, was founded last year by Australian mining magnate, Andrew Forrest. It has been endorsed by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Microsoft Corp co-founder, Bill Gates. It recently released its “Global Slavery Index” report, estimating that 30 million people in 162 countries are affected by human trafficking, forced and bonded labor, forced marriages, and forced military conscription of children. Highest on the list are: India (estimated 13.9 million), China (estimated 2.9 million), and Pakistan (estimated 2.1 million). Secretary Clinton stated that although the index wasn’t perfect, it was a good starting point. “I urge leaders around the world to view this index as a call to action, and to stay focused on the work of responding to this crime," she said.

The Global Slavery Index report can be viewed or downloaded at this link:

Organizations Involved in the Fight

We can each do something to stop this evil – whether it is getting the word out to our communities, donating our time, donating home goods and/or money, and/or volunteering in the community. Another way is to be sure that we spend our hard earned monies on goods that have been made by free people. Here are some of the largest organizations who are leading the fight. There are also many smaller groups worth looking into who work at local levels.

Free the Slaves ( is the oldest human rights group in the country. Their mission is, “to free slaves around the world and change the systems that allow slavery to exist.” They state on their website that, “everyone has a role to play – governments, businesses, international aid organizers, consumers, and you.”

Bridge to Freedom Foundation ( was founded in December 2008 to bridge gaps in information and services that hinder the recovery process of survivors of modern slavery. BTFF facilitates research and next-step programs for survivors, and works to link businesses and organizations to the anti-slavery movement.

Women at Risk International (WAR, Int’l) ( was established in 2006 with representation in 16 states and projects in 14 different countries. It is now represented in all 50 states. WAR, Int’l now covers 14 different risks including domestic violence, depression, loss, disease, exploitation, and more. Its website states, “Women At Risk, International unites and educates women to create circles of protection and hope around women at risk through culturally sensitive, value-added intervention projects.”

Walk Free ( mobilizes people around the world both online and offline to join the fight to end modern slavery. Their online work helps people take action against modern slavery and better understand its realities, by using videos and graphics. To see examples of their work, you can like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their YouTube Channel, or check out their Flickr stream. Walk Free's goal is to end modern slavery in this generation.

Global Centurion Foundation ( is a non-profit organization dedicated to playing a vital role in eradicating human trafficking by focusing on the demand side of the equation. Their focus is on the perpetrators, exploiters, buyers, and end-users of human beings who fuel the market for commercial sex and forced labor.

Polaris Project ( works to raise awareness of the trafficking problem and pushes for stronger federal and state laws. It operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888). It conducts training sessions, and provides vital services to victims of trafficking. Named after the North Star, Polaris, that guided slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, the Polaris Project is working around the globe to transform the way that individuals and communities respond to human trafficking.

Amnesty International ( is a fifty-year-old global organization of more than 3 million members in over 150 countries who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights, including human trafficking. Their vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. They are independent of government, political ideology, economic interest or religion, and are funded mainly by membership fees and public donations.

Beyond Borders ( is a group that aims to eradicate serious problems in Haiti, including child slavery and violence against women. They work to help provide universal access to quality education, and help individuals develop sustainable livelihoods.

Safe House of Hope ( is an outreach program in Baltimore that was established in 2007 to provide help and a way out of prostitution for sex trafficking victims.

Courtney’s House ( was founded in August 2008 in Washington, DC by Tina Frundt, a survivor of domestic sex trafficking. Courtney’s House has helped more than 500 victims escape and find a new life.

Innocents at Risk ( has been working since 2004 to raise awareness about the horrors of child trafficking in America and around the world. They conduct outreach programs through churches, clubs, organizations, schools and embassies. In 2007, they began training airline personnel, who are the “first line of defense in protecting the countless children who are trafficked on major flights each day.” Brochures, wrist bands, and educational workshops have armed thousands of flight attendants with information on how to recognize and report trafficking before flights reach the ground.

Restoration Ministries ( is a Christian-based group founded in 2003 that regularly visits the Youth Services Center and the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, DC in order to identify and help victims of sex trafficking.

Seraphim Global (, was founded in 1996 by Dr. George Contis and a group of medical and international development professionals affiliated with Medical Service Corporation International (MSCI) at Their teams have served the victims of prolonged civil war and natural disasters. They provide maternal and child primary health care and education to hundreds of thousands of victims.

DC Stop Modern Slavery (DC SMS) ( is a diverse and growing Washington, DC community group working to end slavery through grassroots community action. It offers training and a manual for starting similar groups in other cities.

Thanks to Constance Huntsman, Training Team Leader of the DC chapter of Stop Modern Slavery, for her help with this article.

Photos by Maureen Spagnolo

Maureen Spagnolo is a photographer, living in Washington, DC. She writes on a variety of social issues in addition to her photography articles.

Her passion for photography began in her twenties when she fell in love with a photographer, and then took her first photography class. She used any camera she could get her hands on - until she got her first DSLR camera several years ago. Since then, she has gone gangbusters - taking photos like a junkie (!) and reading everything about photography she could find. She now owns enough (never enough!) cameras, lenses, tripods, and camera paraphernalia to warrant an add-on to her home owner's insurance.

Yet, photography is not about equipment. It's about passion, and seeing - qualities that can turn a cell phone into a tool which can compete with the most expensive camera.

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