I don’t think anyone can imagine the feeling of losing their freedom, but for those who have, one theme I constantly read from victims is that breaking someone is simply the task of taking away their humanity. To make someone a slave, you simply treat them below the status of an animal. Like breaking a horse, with enough repetition and brutality, all will eventually succumb to the realization they are no longer free (that or they simply face their death at the hands of their captives). As holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl explains, after shock, there is eventually an emotional death as the realization sinks in that you are no longer your own.
I vividly recall the nauseating feeling of the biographic portrayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, his memoir turned film, which captured the Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards. The brutality in the film is haunting, but even more so is Solomon’s realization that he’s lost his freedom. A free man kidnapped and forced into slavery, the film captures a speck of what one can only imagine the loss of one’s humanity. This scene, in particularly, was horrifying (note: this it is graphic and difficult to watch)
Solomon was an adult, so this horror goes even more more beyond comprehension a minor forced into sex trafficking.
I’m not entirely sure when/how the topic of human trafficking continued to press itself on my mind. I’d certainly heard about the topic more and more in my adulthood, my wife played a large part in educating me on the severity of the issue as I ultimately envisioned it was a much smaller problem than it is. The reality of this evil is harrowing. The International Labor Organization estimates forced labor as a $ 150 billion dollar industry, $99 billion of that sexual slavery, $51 billion of that economic slavery. Slavery has a dark past, so I thought, but make no mistake, slavery is alive and well, both in our nation and around the globe. In 2014, the International Labor Organization estimated that 21 million people globally were victims of forced labor, 68% of these were victims of labor exploitation, 22% were victims of sexual exploitation, and 10% were victims of state imposed forced labor. A staggering realization, not only forced slavery, but sexual exploitation, many of which are minors. It’s difficult to put a number to the US incidence, but the Polaris Project estimates it in the hundreds of thousands when combining both adults and minors and labor and sex trafficking.
The slavery of our history books is very much present, just with a different face. With this strain of evil, we’ve only just begun the intervention. And much like the slavery of the past, a $150 billion dollar industry will not go quietly into the goodnight. Like the past, an epic, global, legal, and grassroots endeavor is the call. And like the giants before us, we must carry on their dream and, in Martin Luther King Junior’s words, “not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Even more, in the words and actions of Christ, “what you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” With our hands, hearts, minds, wallets, and votes; the time has come to take this face of slavery, with loving action. True religion demands nothing less; true discipleship is a call to action.
The fact that slavery still exists in any form should be a deeply disturbing call to each of us.