The Catholic University of America



Experts say Slavery is Not Consigned to History,
but Alive and Well Today


Americans tend to think of slavery as a piece of long-ago history settled by the Civil War. Not only is that not true, it is not even true in the United States.
“We’re talking about more people—in raw numbers—enslaved today than at any time in history,” declared Luis CdeBaca, (below) ambassador-at-large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State.
 He was among four expert panelists invited to discuss the ongoing and vastly misunderstood problem of trafficking in human beings, mostly women and children, for sexual or other exploitative purposes around the world.
The program, “Child Trafficking: America’s Role in the Problem and Solution,” was sponsored by Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 7, 2011.
Organized and moderated by law school professor Mary Leary, the symposium offered a startling look at the scope and prevalence of a social disease that many people in developed Western societies complacently assume is a thing of the past.
Not so. UNICEF estimates that as many as two million children worldwide may be enslaved and moved across borders in the global sex trade. The United States has been designated as a source, transit, and destination country for trafficked children.
“If there’s not a demand for it, traffickers are not going to provide it,” observed CdeBaca, who flagged an alarming new trend by noting that some prominent narco-traffickers have recently moved out of the drug business for the child prostitution business, which may prove to be more lucrative.
Enslavement more broadly defined includes any person held against his or her will and forced to perform labor. It’s not always sexual, but includes such things as picking cotton or harvesting cocoa beans. Such labor is often thrust upon children, who are paid nothing for their work.
There are Web sites that offer visitors a way of calculating their carbon footprint, by inputting the number of miles they drive and similar information.
“We need to ask ourselves, what’s my slavery footprint?” said CdeBaca. “Whose labor actually provides the clothes I wear and the food I eat?”
The problem of child enslavement and sexual trafficking in America is hard to combat because those who are most likely to notice something amiss—such as a child who never seems to be in
school and is always accompanied by an older male—are the local police, who know their neighborhoods best.
Yet enforcement of anti-trafficking laws is a federal responsibility with minimal involvement from law enforcement at the local level, said Anne Milgram, (below, left) former attorney general for the State of New Jersey and previously the Justice Department’s lead prosecutor for human trafficking cases.
“We need to ask ourselves then, why are we not doing more at the federal level?” Milgram said.
The Dallas police force estimated that upward of 50,000 prostitutes were brought into their city during the 2011 Super Bowl to meet the demands of carousers. Many may have come from Central America, where widespread poverty places many vulnerable children at risk as the prey of sexual predators.
“Behind every one of these statistics is a story, most of them heartbreaking. These are people just like us,” said Peggy Healy,(seated at right) senior vice president for Latin America of Covenant House International. Covenant House is the largest privately-funded agency for homeless, throwaway and run-away children in the Americas.
There is current legislation to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, an important tool in the battle against it. Panelists urged audience members, many of whom work for advocacy and nonprofit organizations that fight against exploitation, to lobby hard to keep the law fully funded.
“Freeing slaves is who we are. It’s what we do. It’s why we’re Americans,” CdeBaca concluded.
The discussion was the final installment of a four-symposia series sponsored by The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law during 2010-2011. The series is titled “Critical Insights in the Law and Law Practice: Ethical and Moral Responsibility.”