You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”
That’s how one of the speakers began her presentation — quoting William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament who dedicated more than half of his life to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
So what would I never again be able to say I did not know?
You may want to consider the consequences of reading any further because the topic is human/sex trafficking, or modern-day slavery. We were in the gallery of Christ Community Church’s downtown campus surrounded by artwork from the Faces of Freedom exhibit — portraits created by artists from around the world depicting people rescued from human trafficking.
While their names had been changed, the stories accompanying each portrait were real. The same was true of a display of shoes formerly worn by women exploited through prostitution.
“Physical chains are largely absent in this modern slave trade,” said Helen Taylor with the organization Exodus Cry. “Yet there is a visible, recognizable symbol of slavery fastened about the ankles of sexually exploited women: stiletto-heeled shoes.”
The exhibit, “Why These Empty Shoes Mean Freedom,” features old stilettos donated by women rescued from slavery, symbolizing their “broken chains.”
So how big of an issue is this?
There were about 12.5 million slaves shipped to the New World from 1525 to 1866, with 60,000 to 70,000 ending up in the United States.
By comparison, there are now an estimated 47 million people worldwide living in some form of slavery.
In the 1800s, the average price of a slave adjusted to today’s dollars was $40,000. Today, children are being sold for as little as $100. Two million children are exploited annually in the global sex trade.
That’s not 2 million total — it’s 2 million additional children each year. Some are as young as 2 years old. The exploitation of vulnerable children is so pervasive it now has a term of its own: Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.
Don’t think such trafficking affects you or your family? Think again. Or just ask Russ Tuttle, managing director of the Kansas City-based Stop Trafficking Project. Predators target 11- to 14-year-olds when they are most vulnerable — suffering from low self-esteem, peer pressure, parental conflict etc.
So Tuttle and his team can be found speaking to students, parents and teachers about the myths of human trafficking and ways predators reach unsuspecting children via chat rooms, online games and other seemingly safe activities. This is not a topic I have frequently discussed or wanted to bring up in conversations, yet human trafficking occurs in places we pass daily.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve joined me in the ranks of those who can never again say you did not know. So what can you do? Start with at least one of the following, and then tell others what you now know ... so they too cannot say, “I did not know.”
Read “12 Myths About Human Trafficking.” Then invite the Stop Trafficking Project to speak at your school or church. Report suspected human trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 or visit www.traffickingresourcecenter.org.
Watch Exodus Cry’s award-winning documentary, “Nefarious,” or attend its Abolition Summit. For more information on both, go to www.exoduscry.com.
Paul Scianna of south Kansas City is a native of Mississippi and a management consultant. To reach him, send email to Midwest Voices at firstname.lastname@example.org.