Slavery is what it has always been: involuntary servitude. Bondage. Today’s traffickers in people force their victims into labor, service or the commercial sex trade. They maintain that control through violence: Brutal beatings, repeated rapes, threats of severe harm to the slave and often to their families, as well as through lies, deception and psychological manipulation. But there are three notable differences between modern day slavery and that of, say, the slave trade of the Civil War Era in the US.
- Numbers: There are 27 million slaves in the world today. That’s more than at the peak of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. More than at any other time in history.
- Laws: Abolitionists, like William Wilberforce in England, spent their lives working to change the laws that allowed slavery. Today slavery is illegal virtually everywhere. It may not be enforced because of corruption, or may not be effectively enforced, and the laws certainly need improvement, but there are laws in place. And that gives us hope of truly being able to end slavery in our lifetime.
- Cost: The biggest difference is cost. A plantation owner in the old south made a big investment when he bought a slave. A young male agricultural worker cost the equivalent of $40,000 today. That slave may have been treated like an animal, but at least it was like a prize bull. The slave owner didn’t want to lose his investment.
The average cost of a slave today is about $90. Today’s slaves are truly disposable people. So slave owners have little motivation to care for their victims, little motivation to protect them from AIDS or accidents or harm from “clients” or themselves, or to provide health care or good nutrition. If one slave gets used up, another one can be easily procured to take their place.
So this Fourth of July, while you celebrate your freedom, rejoice in all that you are free to do. And remember those who do not share your freedoms.