Human Trafficking as It Relates to Slavery

Most Americans turn a blind eye towards slavery believing it only existed in the past. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Mike McDonnell Ten-minute read.   Resources

We live in a world rife with cynicism, racism, hatred, bigotry, and the most despicable of all these sins is the enslavement of another person to accommodate man’s greed, lust and insatiable desire to control another’s life. In the First Letter to Timothy, we find Paul’s words:

18 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. 9 This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
I Timothy 1:8-11

Mike McDonnell presents details of the breadth of the human trafficking problem. Image credit: Gary Allman
Most Americans turn a blind eye towards slavery believing it only existed in the past, possibly during the Civil War or maybe in biblical times, remembering Moses freeing the Hebrews from Egypt. I have read commentators who believed that slavery was a means used by the ancient world to care for widows, the poor and less fortunate; producing a welfare system through servitude. It was possible that some wealthy individuals took responsibility for those requiring help and these same people may have been emboldened by the fact that Jesus never spoke of physical slavery, but of the slavery that made us prisoners to sin. As you read Paul’s words above, you may wonder how people could believe that slavery was right in any way, shape or form. I am a pragmatic person, and I think Jesus was the ultimate pragmatist. He came to give eternal freedom and not to release those who were in temporary human bondage. However, because our Lord did not make any profound or lasting statements about slavery does not make it right.

Slavery has dominated the history of the United States and the history of The Episcopal Church for far too many years. In most cases, our nation and our church were complicit in the continuance of slavery. In today’s modern world we find women bonded into prostitution, children trafficked for sex and labor, and men forced to work for slave wages across the globe, and yes, even in our own backyard, here in the US.

I want to share a few important dates, with brief descriptions, so that you may understand and appreciate the bravery of those few who have brought us to where we are in our struggle against human trafficking:

  • The 1780s saw the first organized anti-slavery society established in Britain. 1.
  • In 1807, the slave trade was abolished by the British Parliament. 1.
  • In 1839, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was created, giving for the first time impetus to America’s abolitionist movement. 1.
  • In 1856, at the Episcopal General Convention, The Episcopal Church had “nothing to do with party politics, with sectional disputes, with earthly distinctions with the wealth, the splendor and the ambition of the world.” 2.
  • In 1865, the Protestant Episcopal Freedman’s Commission addressed the changes that had taken place in the south after the Civil War.2.
  • In 1877, the first Negro delegates were elected to the General Convention in West Texas and Florida. 2.
  • In 1883, the abolishment of slavery was itself abolished by the British Parliament. 1.
  • In the 1904 and 1907 General Conventions, a Suffragan Plan was established with restrictions. A suffragan could sit with the House of Bishops but could not vote. 2.
  • In 1921, the African Orthodox Church was formed by black Episcopal Priest, George Alexander, resulting from prejudices within The Episcopal Church. 2.
  • In 1948, the segregation of the armed forces and civil services ended. 2.
  • In 1948, Article 4 the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” 3.
  • In 1954, after the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education, the Episcopal Church began to dismantle its institutional segregation policies. 2.
  • In the 1958 General Convention, a resolution was adopted that officially condemned racial prejudice and segregation in the South. 2.
  • In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA 2000) was passed into law. It is considered to be the essential anti-trafficking law ever approved. 4.
  • On October 4, 2008, the Episcopal Church apologized for its role in slavery.
  • In March 2018, the Congress passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. This bill holds accountable websites, such as Backpage, when they knowingly facilitate sex traffickers. 5.

In many places in our world, people subscribe to the enslavement of others. In the United States, the home of the “free,” we are exposed daily to the notion that some people are not as valuable as others. This narrative is usually based on race, ethnicity, and sex with the desire to enrich oneself through the subjugation and control of others. The International Labour Organization estimated in 2016 that there were 40.3 million people in forced labor of which 2 million are in the Americas. In the United States, because of the secretive nature of labor trafficking, it is difficult to provide an accurate number of victims; however, it is estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

Sex trafficking is an appalling crime. In the United States, it is estimated that 300,000 youths annually are at risk to sex traffickers, with one in six being trafficked. The average age of a girl trafficked is 13 and will be asked to perform various sex acts up to 20 times daily. In a recent conversation with a trafficked victim, she contended that she was expected to produce $2,000 to $3,000 daily from being prostituted. If not, she was severely beaten or starved, or her life threatened. This woman subjugated her body to daily sexual abuse to generate income for her pimp’s financial gain, while she was degraded by the johns who paid for sex, and a society that sees her as nothing more than a prostitute who could leave her enslavement if she so chose.

We men have turned a blind eye towards our accountability in the treatment of women in our society, but even worse, we have enabled abusers, pimps, johns, and pornographers to capture our souls, our nation, and to damage forever the girls and women that have long suffered as sex objects. We do this through our conversations, glances, the purchase of sex and pornography, and by not teaching our male youth that women are to be respected. I suggest to men that they consider what it is like to be chained and tortured and forced to have sex against their will. What it would be like not to have a choice as to who you are with and to feel your body violated, not once, but multiple times daily, every single day of your existence. Imagine your mother, wife, daughter or sister suffering the constant repetition of this horror. The reasons why some girls are targeted by traffickers while others are not, varies. These trafficked girls and women may very well be the same women we purport to love and care for, but we do little to change their sexual environment. Therefore, where they live, their economic situation, race, or ethnicity does not protect them from sexual abuse and predators.

I believe there are very few women who have not suffered from unwanted sexual advances. Many women have been physically and sexually abused. Maybe you know someone, family or friend, who has experienced this kind of violence. It is likely that we are aware of females who have been abused or even suffering harm today. Just possibly, we may have been the abuser. The questions we men must resolve to find the answer to is why do we harm women, why do we seek sexual gratification illicitly, and why do we purchase and watch pornography?

Human trafficking in today’s world is called “Modern Day Slavery.” Slavery from the ancient times to the American Civil War to present day slavery has one thing in common, the exploitation of many for the financial gain of the few.

In the four-plus years that I have been involved in the “Stop Human Trafficking” movement, I find myself writing and rewriting the same words and asking myself, “How can I break through the generations of men with the learned behavior of discounting and abusing women?” I find myself becoming angry every time I look at the statistics about the number of women and children trafficked globally and in the US. I find that statistics do not stir the hearts of men, no matter how shocking they are, if we are not motivated to alter the way that we view and treat women. I understand that perfectly. I am as guilty as the next man in the way I regarded women. Years ago, my favorite response came from the question “When you see a woman what do you notice first?” I replied, “It depends on which way they are walking.” It sounded cute and funny then and to me was an innocent statement of fact. Unfortunately, it was a statement that went straight to the heart of sexual objectification of women. As I became involved in the anti-sex trafficking movement, I spent some time reflecting on my “go to” comment, and what I saw about myself was disconcerting. I realized how revealing my actions and views were in promoting the abuse of women to those around me, especially my children and friends. It was impossible for me to proclaim any degree of holiness when I believed that the degradation of women was acceptable.

Learned behavior is problematic to change, but not impossible. It takes desire, perseverance, support, and occasionally professional help to alter unhealthy behavior. Recently there was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion page titled: “Look to Jesus to learn how to treat women.” Anita Anton quoted a comment from Barbara Leonhard, Oldenburg Franciscan,

“Jesus refused to treat women as inferior. Given the decidedly negative cultural view of women in Jesus’ time, the Gospel writers each testify to Jesus’ treating women with respect, frequently responding in ways that reject cultural norms. He recognizes their dignity, their desires, and their gifts.”

I appreciated her comments because if we treat women with “respect,” showing them the dignity they deserve and allowing them to use their God-given gifts fully, the sexual objectification of women will begin to cease. Finally, after all these thousands of years, women will be equal in the eyes of man. We can at least adhere to the path that the holiest man of all time, Jesus of Nazareth, has shown us to follow. So, let us begin.

This is a revised version of an article originally published in the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s magazine: St. Andrew’s Cross.

Mike McDonnell is co-founder of the Lake of the Ozarks Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, VP Human Trafficking Ministries with the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, and a member of St. George Episcopal Church, Camdenton.

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Gary Allman

Gary Allman is the Director of Communications at The Diocese of West Missouri

One thought on “Human Trafficking as It Relates to Slavery”

  1. The focus on males involved in sex trafficking generally falls on the pimps, as it should, but where do the buyers or “Johns” stand in this picture? Until very recently, they have been ignored. The woman was arrested, the pimp was nowhere in sight, and the John was sent home with no charges.. Without the buyers, however, sex trafficking would not exist. This is why Mike’s brave move to help men begin to consider their roles in the mistreatment of women and human trafficking is essential. As the co-founder with Mike of the Lake of the Ozarks Stop Human Trafficking Coalition (LOSHTC), I am proud of his willingness to “stick his neck out” and call attention to the need for men to reshape the part they play in the lives of girls and women. Bravo, Mike. Well-done.

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