There are arguments between abolitionists whether human trafficking is a form of slavery or a means to an end. After the research I have done, I fully believe that trafficking is a tool to bring humans into slavery. It is part of the process. Whether a form or a mechanism; human trafficking is a global problem. Each year there are between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women, and children trafficked around the world. Of the 800,000 70-80% are female and 50% are children. Many are forced into the commercial sex industry. Trafficking has become the third largest source of income for organized crime.[1]

Trafficking happens not only internationally from a poorer country to a richer country but also from a poorer region to a richer area of the same country. Let’s take Haiti for example. A broker meets with a client about buying a child. This man came from the country but moved to Port-au-Prince, the capital, to find work. He starts out at a job but finds that selling humans is more profitable than say construction work. He can sell between 20 and 30 kids in a week, making around $200 in a month (in Haiti this is quite a bit of money). The client places an order, a girl who knows how to bake, a child from the countryside. Clients do not want kids from the city because they are street-smart and would escape. The broker’s colleague, who lives in a small village, begins convincing families to give up their children. He promises that the child will receive an education for the work they will be doing. Rural Haitian’s are the poorest of the poor. They have no means of income, no food, no schools, and out of 1,000 children 149 will die before the age of 5. Parents truly believe that they are giving their child a better life. Many do not realize that their little girl or boy will be enslaved, treated worse than a dog. The child is then moved into an unfamiliar city with strangers, no family and no money to get home. Thus the Restavek system continues in Haiti.[2]

Trafficking exists because there are no penalties for traffickers, the increased number of poor, lack of education, and easy profits. People can be used over and over unlike other “commodities.” The global profit made from trafficking is around $32 billion a year. These profits are greater in industrial countries where the most common form of slavery is sexual slavery. Trafficking allows for the continuation for modern-day slavery.

[1] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People 36

[2] E. Benjamin Skinner, A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery, (New York: Free Press, 2008) 6-9.

The Hidden: The lives of 27 million people

In 1850 slavery was legal in the U.S. In fact owning a slave was a sign of wealth and achievement. The most prominent men in Southern society owed hundreds of slaves.  Slaves were not cheap and their supply was not endless.  A field slave in Antebellum South sold anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800, which would be between $20,000 and $40,000 today.[1] For the cost of a salve the profit was low, around five percent, meaning it would take 20 years for a salve to pay off their buying cost and their “maintenance.” What does this mean? A slave in 1850 was considered a “protected investment.”[2] Owners “took care” of their slaves because a slave needed a lifetime to pay off their debt. Slavery in 1850 was life-long.

When we think of slavery we picture Antebellum South, a man or women standing on an auction block being sold in public like cattle. We think of cotton or sugar cane fields. We picture slave quarters behind “Master’s” house. We go back to high school history because that is what slavery is, the past.  Slavery could not possibly exist in today’s global, modern world.

Sadly that is not the case. Today there are 27 million people enslaved around the world and because of the globalization of the world slavery looks the same everywhere. Slavery is found in every country. Yes that means that right here in the United States; almost 149 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, there are humans living in bondage. The largest portions of slaves, around 15-20%, are in South Asia.[3] India alone has at least 10 million people enslaved. How can slavery exist when it is illegal everywhere, in every country?

Slavery exists today because it is hidden. Wealthy owners are not lining up at auction blocks to bid on a human being. There are no bills of sale, no titles of ownership. Slavery has become part of criminal business. It has become a money maker for drug lords, gangs, and mobs. Legal ownership of today’s slaves is non-existent. Because of the number of poor, the illiterate, those who live in the slums, has increased significantly over the years there is an endless supply of women, men and child to be exploited and enslaved. Unlike slavery of Antebellum South where slaves were kept for life, slaves today are disposable. An owner gets his 13 year old domestic slave pregnant he throws her on the street and finds himself a new one. A slave dies; the outlying village has more poor children with no education whose parents can be manipulated into giving up their children. And on it goes. There is no one to protect the poor. Not only is there an unlimited amount of poor, the cost of a slave today is as little at $10. The average selling price for a human being is $90.[4] Slaves today can repay their cost and maintenance in two years. Two years ! In 1850 it took at least 20. The profit of slaves today outweighs the cost of a slave. The cost of slaves has reached a historic low while the supply and demand has reached an all-time high. Why would an owner bother to “take care” of their slave in today’s world? All they need to do is get a new one.

So what is slavery? If today’s circumstances for slaves are so different from slaves in the 1800’s how can we call it slavery? My question is how can we not? Lifelong servitude has never been a qualification of slavery. Slaves in ancient times were not always enslaved their whole lives. Many served short terms before they were released. Both slaves in the past and today have lost their free will; they do not own their own lives. They cannot come and go as they please. Both, then and now, slaves were controlled with violence, threats, physical and emotional coercion. They are exploited for the gains of another. The key is the ability to walk away. If a person can walk away from a situation then it is not slavery.[5]

Slavery today exists in four forms 1) chattel 2)debt bondage 3)contract slavery 4)forced labor

  1. Chattel slavery is closest to Antebellum slavery. A person is sold, bought, captured into servitude and there is ownership present. It is very small, mainly found in Northern and Western Africa.
  2. Debt bondage is the most common form of slavery today. A person has a crisis in life, someone becomes ill or crops failed so they give themselves and their labor for money. The debt increases and often times the lender never specifies a time frame for how long someone must work. If there is a family involved the whole family is made to work. They are threatened, beaten, and raped if they try to leave before the debt is paid. The debt is passed from parents to children. These people are working in quarries, kilns, factories, and rice mills. This form of slavery is mostly found in India where the population is predominantly poor and illiterate.
  3. Contract slavery is the fastest growing form of slavery. Contractors guarantee work in a workshop, factory, or restaurant. But when the workers come they are enslaved, paid almost nothing and many times females end up as sex slaves.
  4. Forced labor is the fourth form. While all slavery is some form of forced labor, this means slavery practiced by a group, such as a state or armed forces. This includes child soldiers, like the ones in Uganda or Sierra Leone. A good book to read to understand the lives of child soldiers would be A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. Many times instability of a country is due to natural resources. Armed forces or even the government will enslave people to collect the natural resource. The movie Blood Diamond, with Leonardo DiCaprio, depicts both the lives of the child soldiers and their family members who are taken to work in the diamond mines of Sierra Leone.

Another large form of forced labor is commercial sexual exploitation. I will be focusing on sex slavery. Shared Hope International, the organization that I will be working for in a few weeks, focuses on human trafficking and sex slavery. 80% of slaves today are women and 50% are children. Many end up trafficked and forced in prostitution or other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

If you are interested in reading more in-depth about modern-day slavery A Crime So Monstrous: Face-To0Face With Modern-Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner and Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million Peopleby Kevin Blaes, Zoe Trodd, and Alex Kent Williamson are two good books to start with.

[1] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, and Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People, (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009), 29.

[2] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People

[3]Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People

[4] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People

[5] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People 31.

Everyday Inspiration

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with great vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. Woodrow Wilson

My mom is the most selfless person I know. She truly believes that we were placed here on this earth to make it a better place for someone else. She has always told my siblings and me that even if we can only make a difference for one person we are doing what God is asking us to do. That one person in turn will make a difference for another life. And on it will go. She has pushed me to be the best person I can be, she challenges me to live my life based on my faith. She is the strongest woman I know. By her example, how she has lived her life, how strong her faith is, she has influenced how I want to live my life.

Even before the adoption process she had been interested in the issue of modern-day slavery. She would tell me I needed to read this or that book. I would tell her I would get to it. I had too much to read for my classes. As soon as I got home from Haiti I went to her bookshelf and picked up the first book. What I got was an autobiography about a woman who grew up in Cambodia. Somaly Mam has been named one of Times 100 most influential people in the world. Her story, The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, is heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. It is inspirational and calls all who read it to take some form of action.

Mam was sold into sexual slavery by her grandfather when she was 12. She spent years in one brothel or another. She was abused, suffered acts of torture, and witnessed the horrors that humans could commit. Unable to forget her life in the brothels, after her escape, and the girls she had struggled with, Mam became a leading figure in Cambodia’s fight against human trafficking. She became the voice for sex slaves. She saved many women and children, some as young as 5 and 6. She built a shelter for them and started a foundation, The Somaly Mam Foundation, which has gone international in raising awareness of the horrendous conditions of sex slaves.

“I think selling women into prostitution has always existed in Cambodia. People get into debt…By working in a brothel where the moneylender has an arrangement, a daughter acts as collateral and repays the loan.” (31)

“I fought him, and he raped me. But it wasn’t easy, because I resisted. So he did it again, to teach me another lesson. I was bleeding from the nose and mouth when he’d finished and felt dirty-blood and sperm were everywhere. It was morning, and when he left he said, ‘I’ll see you tonight.” (44)

Mam’s book was the first I had read on sex slaves. I was horrified by what these girls, many of them younger than me, had been through, the violence and abuse they lived with on a daily basis. Many of the girls were tortured when they did not do what the pimp or Madame told them to do. Mam’s first owner was a woman; she ran the brothel and hired men to guard the girls in her brothel. I was taken aback when I first read about the brothel owner. I could not, still do not, understand how a woman could subject other women to the terrors of being a sex slave. My interest in women’s issues stems from Mam’s book. Mam had no chance because she was a female child who lost her parents. She was uneducated and living in a society where women are not valued. They are treated as a commodity, a means to an end, as a thing to be used and then rid of.

I began to question my plan. Did I really want to go to grad school, to become a teacher, or was there more for me out there. A month before graduation, as I was meeting with my advisor for my Master’s program, I realized I was not interested in going to school. I had been accepted into a good school, had my classes picked out, was ready to start in the fall and I had no desire to do any of it. So I called my mom.

My mom has been my strongest supporter. So when I told her I no longer wanted to go to grad school that I really wanted to find a position with an NGO dealing with modern-day slavery she told me to go for it. We researched different organizations. She read and reread my cover letters, writing samples, and resumes. After two phone interviews, while I was waiting to hear a yes or no from two different organizations, she listed as I stressed about my lack of plans. And when I got the e-mail saying I was accepted as an intern for Shared Hope International we had a celebratory beer together.

My mom planted the seed of interest in modern-day slavery. Because of her I stepped off the safe path, I decided to go after what I feel I am really being called to do. I thank her all the more for it. For believing in me and pushing me to do what I feel is right. I am not here for me. I am here to serve others.

My mom and I

A restavec is….

  • “ a slave child who belongs to well-to-do families. They receive no pay and are kept out of school Since the emancipation and independence [of Haiti] in 1804, affluent blacks and mulattoes have reintroduced slavery by using children of the very poor as house servants.” (4)
  • “…treated worse than slaves because they don’t cost anything and their supply seems inexhaustible.” (4)
  • “…do the jobs that hired domestics will not do and are made to sleep on cardboard, either under the kitchen table or outside on the front porch.” (4)
  • “For any minor infraction they are severely whipped with the cowhide that is still being made for that very purpose.” (4)
  • “Girls are usually worse off, because they are sometimes used as concubines for the teenage sons of their ‘owners’.” (4)

(Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American. John-Robert Cadet)

My first encounter with modern-day slavery was with the Restavec system in Haiti. After meeting Cadet, I read his book, Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American. Cadet’s book goes on to paint a vivid picture of his life as a child slave. The abuses he suffered and the childhood that he lost.  I was then able to bring Cadet, on two different occasions, to Morehead State to speak at my church and on campus. Cadet focused on his life growing up as a child slave. He described a typical day for a restavec and then showed how easy it is to buy a child in Haiti by showing the following video.

In January of 2011, five months after my sisters moved in with their foster mom, my family flew to Haiti. My mom and my biological sister had traveled to Haiti in October for the first time to meet the girls. When they came home they both tried to explain what they saw. They tried to describe Haiti, the people the smells, traffic, living conditions. I thought I was ready for Haiti when we went. Nothing my mom or sister said prepared me for the shock and heartbreak I felt as I stepped out of the hanger and into Pout-au-Prince.

The first thing that hit me was the suffocating heat. It took me a minute to be able to breath. All around me were people, hands grabbing at my luggage, voices yelling at me in a strange language, bodies pushing together to get to cars waiting in a pothole filled parking lot. We found our driver the adoption agency had sent us and climbed into an old van with no seatbelts, air-conditioning, and cracked windows.

My youngest brother, he was 10 at the time, looked out of the window in fear. His eyes as round as sand dollars. I watched as Port-au-Prince flew by me. Men, women, and children walking bear-foot, children drinking from the same water someone was bathing in, tent after tent used as the only form of shelter. Garbage piled as high and wide as a two story building, food being sold in outdoor markets in between the piles of garbage.  It was a year after the earthquake, yet I felt as if it had just happened. Buildings were still crumbled to the ground.

On many of the faces of the older generations I saw despair, hopelessness, pain, and a lack of will to live. The children on the other hand were laughing; playing soccer with empty bottles and cans, for them life was still worth living. They were just kids, they had no worries. Then I saw them, the children carrying buckets on their heads. A young girl dressed in rags carrying another girl dressed in a nice clean school uniform on her back. From what I had read and learned from Cadet and his book I began to see the hidden children.

At that moment I knew that I wanted, needed, was being called to do something to help the children of Haiti. Then I met my sisters for the first time. When I walked out of the elevator into the lobby of the hotel we were staying at I was welcomed with arms thrown around my neck. T squeezed and told me she loved me. Her English was minimal but from phone conversations and our foster mom both girls had learned how to say I love you. I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with two people so quickly. By the end of the fourth day they were part of the family. Watching our foster mom drive away with them, on our last day, was the hardest thing I have ever done. I couldn’t stop crying, knowing that we were leaving them behind, not knowing when we would be able to see them again.

As we drove back to the airport I vowed to myself to become more knowledgeable in the area of modern-day slavery.  I became passionate, almost obsessed, with learning all that I could about the lack of social justice around the world, the complete disregard for basic human rights. I promised myself I would go back to Haiti to do mission work, to help in any way that I could. I still want to go back. I haven’t been able to yet. There is something about the country that calls me. It may be the people, their culture. It may be the land, the beauty and mystery to be discovered. All I know is I have a longing, a nagging, a calling, the greatest desire to go back. Through all the bad I saw a breathtaking beauty in Haiti. The pure white sand and crystal clear blue ocean water sounded by mountains were mesmerizing. The Caribbean music that filled the air made me want to dance, to sway with the rhythm. I fell in love with Haiti over a course of four short days.

People who have not been to Haiti do not understand. I have a very good friend who went on a medical mission to Haiti not long after I came home. When I skyped him he told me he did not truly understand what I meant until he was standing in Haiti. He said “people don’t get it. You try and explain the feelings, what you have seen but to truly understand you must go.”

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A picture worth a thousand words

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself…” Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

This is a section of a prayer by Thomas Merton called Thought in Solitude. Merton was a Catholic monk living at the Abby of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky from 1941 until he died in 1968.

Over the last two years Merton has become one of my favorite spiritual writers, this section of his Thoughts in Solitude in particular. I do not know where I am going or what God has planned for me. But I hope to follow the path that He has set for me. Merton’s prayer goes on to say “…I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing…” I do not know where I am being lead life. What path my life is being directed on. I do know that I am being called to make a difference in the world and I will do all in my power to follow that call.

I believe that we are all placed here with a specific purpose and we are shown that purpose slowly and quietly, like a whisper. If you would have asked me two years ago where I would be today I would have told you at grad school studying to get my Master’s in Education. I am a planner. I always have plan A and B. I had my whole life planned out my freshman year of college; get a BA in history so I can teach on the high school level, find the perfect guy, get married and settle down, start a family. In my eyes my life was mapped out, set, not going to change.

Life is funny though. I truly believe God laughs and shakes his head at people like me who think that we are in control. We sit and plan and we don’t want any changes in our plans. It doesn’t work that way. From the start He has had bigger and better plans for me I just did not know what they were. I still don’t but I have a few pieces of the puzzle.

One moment, one phone call. While I was home for the weekend, my sophomore year, my mom told me that she had very important news for me but I had to wait until my sister got out of school. We were sitting in the car waiting to pick her up. The phone rang. The only word in the conversation I caught was adoption. My parents couldn’t possibly be adopting, or so I thought. I was the oldest of four kids already and my parents were in their late forties. Why would they want more kids? Their youngest was 10. I was wrong. My parents began the adoption process for Haiti in January of 2010 after the earthquake devastated the country.

One man a few months later. God placed Jean-Robert Cadet in my family’s life. Cadet was born in Haiti to a white man and a black woman. Cadet was given away by his father as an infant to another woman in Pout-au-Prince. He grew up as Restavec, a domestic child slave, in Haiti. Restavec is a creole term that means “to stay with.” He was treated worse than a dog, made to sleep under a table, his childhood taken away from him. For the first time I realized how close modern-day slavery was to me. Today Cadet is a Middle-Class American fighting to end the Restavec system in Haiti. Meeting Jean-Robert was the first piece in my life puzzle.

One picture, one look of hope. Cadet told my parents that he could find us a child to adopt. Not one from an orphanage, but one who was on the street, who could be in danger of becoming a Resavec. In August that year my mom sent me an e-mail and two texts to check my e-mail ASAP. There smiling back at me was a six-year-old girl. Things began to be set in motion. T’s father was still alive, along with her older siblings. She was getting one to two meals a week. Her legs were covered in sores from the poor water conditions. She didn’t have clothes that fit her and her dad could not afford to send her to school. He wanted a better life for his youngest daughter. So Cadet asked a friend of his to become a foster mom for T until we could bring her to Kentucky. Everything was planned, set, or so we thought.

One surprise, one look of sadness. T had a sister who was eight. My parents received another picture, this one of J clinging to T with a look of fear and longing. God had bigger plans for my family then we thought. We would have 2 new additions not just 1.

The beginning of my journey.

J was 10 she is the taller of the two girls. T was 6. This picture was taken the day Cadet went to take T to the foster mom.

Meaning of Oncesheltered

Today there are over 27 million people enslaved around the world. According to anti-slave activists Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, and Alex Kent Williamson, this is more people than at any one point in history and as many taken from Africa in 350 years. Unlike slaves in the past, these people are hidden, invisible, because slavery is illegal in all countries.  Why is it that in today’s world there are 27 million people being held captive? Who are these people? What are abolitionists doing today to aid those enslaved? How did I, a white, middle-class, American, female, become passionate about joining the fight to end modern-day slavery?

Oncesheltered has a duel meaning. I was once sheltered. Growing up I had everything I could ever need or want.  My parents made sure that my three younger siblings and I knew what hard work was but we were in want of nothing. We all attended private schools and I went to an all girl Catholic high school. It was common for girls, at 16, to have their own car. Most families had significant amounts of money. I did not realize how privileged I was.  I attended Morehead State University in Eastern Kentucky and this is where my once sheltered life ended. I took international studies classes and began to see the world as it truly is. This is when I first learned of the plight of nearly 30 million people around the world.

The second meaning for the title of my blog is HOPE! There are people trying to make a difference in the world. They want to help those in poverty, those enslaved, those who have nothing. Once helped they become sheltered by those who care, those dedicating their lives to fighting for the basic human rights everyone deserves to have.

Oncesheltered will take you through my journey out into the world where I have become dedicated to making a difference. I will be moving to the DC area where I will be working for Shared Hope International, an nongovernmental organization (NGO), that focuses on human trafficking and sex slavery in Jamaica, Japan, The Netherlands, and the United States. I will be documenting my time with the organization. My goal is to open someone else’s eyes to the plight of nearly 30 million human beings around the world.