Words and Ideas: Slavery is far from dead

Abbie Stuart

This summer, photographer Brandon Stanton, the man behind the popular Facebook page Humans of New York, traveled to Pakistan and photographed the people he encountered there. One of those people was Syeda Ghulam Fatima, whom he described as a modern day “Harriet Tubman” who has worked her entire life to end bonded labor for those who work in the brick kilns. The laborers are often forced to work for little pay at brick kilns due to the lack of other options for acquiring loans. However, the owners of the brick kilns add more to the workers’ debts until they are unable to repay them. The debt then is passed onto their children.

A photo really can speak a 1,000 words, and with eight photos, Stanton brought to life a reality that is too common in the world:

Slavery still exists.

The End It Movement, a coalition of organizations who are fighting to end slavery, reports that approximately 27,000,000 people–roughly the population of Texas–are currently trapped in slavery. The End It Movement reports that slavery exists in about 167 nations, which is 85% of the nations in the world, and that out of the 27,000,000 trapped, about 60,100 of those people are in the United States. Out of that 60,100 people-which is a little over half of the population of Topeka-, about 400 are reported by the Kansas attorney general’s office to be in Kansas.

In 2015, the Topeka Rescue Mission rescued 45 victims of human trafficking, most of whom were women and young girls. According to a letter that was published on cjonline on Feb. 7 and sent to the editor from Barry Feaker, the director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, there are likely more victims of human trafficking still residing in Topeka.

The fact that slavery exists is not a pleasant or convenient thing to think about. Many products have dark origins, but hundreds of consumers, myself included, are either unaware of the slavery behind the product they are enjoying, or chose to ignore it.

Both Feaker’s letter and Stanton’s photo series reveal the devastating affects slavery has on its victims. Slavery, as Feaker and Stanton point out, dehumanizes its victims and makes them feel worthless. Victims of slavery often report feelings of shame and hopelessness when they are rescued.

So what can you do to stop it?

The easiest thing you can do is become aware of slavery and raise awareness. Feb. 25 was Shine a Light on Slavery Day. On this day, some people wear red X’s, the symbol of the End It Movement, on the backs of their hands in order to raise awareness. While this act alone will not free any slaves, awareness is the first step in creating change.

Another aspect of awareness, which Feaker pushes for in his letter, is learning the signs of human trafficking and be willing to report. There are dozens of websites that have lists of signs people can look for and resources they can use if they think someone is being trafficked.

Another step people can take is being conscious of where their products come from. Project Just has begun to look behind the scenes of the fashion industry in order to inform consumers about where their clothing items come from. Another way that you could help is by donating to organizations such as World Vision that are working on the front lines to end slavery.

Slavery is an overwhelming issue and can be easy to push to the side for that reason. While someone cannot stop slavery on their own, there are steps that everyone can take to help reduce the impact of slavery and assist victims of slavery. In regards to Feaker’s article, if you ever encounter someone who you suspect may be a victim of human trafficking, please report. You may be saving a life.