Forget 'Django Unchained' — Human Trafficking is the New Face of Slavery


The blood-splashing Western Django Unchained deals with America’s horrible slavery past. The Academy Award-nominated film follows Django, a freed slave, finding his way to free Broomhilda, Django’s wife, alongside a bounty hunter.

Django was unchained, and slavery was abolished, in 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Now, 148 years later, Barack Obama has declared January of 2013 National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Modern day slavery is human trafficking, and it is not a new phenomenon. With globalization, the increasing accessibility of travel, and an international black market, the new face of slavery has developed and expanded.

Today, around 12-27 million boys, girls and women are victims of trafficking. The new face of slavery involves physical and psychological coercion. People have become disposable and economically profitable. Trafficking as we know it now involves sex trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude, or debt bondage. These human rights violations happen in various industries and markets, such as hotel services, agriculture, domestic service, street prostitution and brothels, to mention only a few.

Forget the slave trade triangle of supply-demand Europe-Africa-America: Today's routes are scattered. Countries are affected as a source, transit or destination point. Mexico, Thailand, Guatemala, Honduras, India and Philippines were the top countries of origin for foreign victims in 2011, according to 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report. While the U.S. is a common destination, it is also a transit and source country. The TIP report notes that “a sex trafficking victim from the United States was identified in Croatia.”

In other words, human trafficking is not just an issue “over there.”

Have you heard about the young aspiring singer in Missouri trafficked by the man helping her make her dream come true? Perhaps you know a teenager running away from home? “One out of every seven children will run away from home before the age of 18,” states the Protection Project’s TVPA in 4 Colors report. Between 1,300,000 and 2,800,000 homeless runaway youth live on the streets, easy victims of domestic trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. In some cases, the boyfriend turns out to be a pimp.

Though you don’t see chains, slavery could happen in your neighborhood.  

With Django, it was obvious that he was a slave from the very start of the movie. The sound and sight of the chains clinging and digging into his feet imprinted itself in my mind. The new face of slavery is different; a person can become a victim of trafficking independent of ethnicity, gender, class, nationality or education-level. Still, slavery is difficult to spot. The issue is often neglected because of who it impacts the most, according to GEMS founder Rachel Lloyd: “Low-income people, people of color, and people in the juvenile system — those who are not high on anybody’s priority list.”

Hope for a better future drives people to be attracted to opportunities that might seem shady. The common push and pull factors of economic insecurity, discrimination, dissolution of families and lack of education and employment opportunities can push anyone into trafficking, like 14-year-old Keisha, a girl who fell into the invisible chains of physical and psychological coercion.

After running away from her foster home, she fell into the first phase of the trafficking process. She was recruited by a man concealing himself as a friend helping find her biological family. The situation turned into the second phase where the transportation to the destination occurs. He paid for her travel to Florida to find her family, but he coerced her into commercial sexual activities to cover the cost of stay and return travel. Through threats that she would never see anyone else in her family if she did not engage in sex with other men of his choosing, Keisha felt like she had no choice when she found herself in the third phase: exploitation.

It is essential that girls like Keisha be treated as human beings to restore their dignity. Somaly Mam, the founder of AFSEIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), and a survivor of sex trafficking herself, explains, "You can’t just go into brothels and get the women. You have to empower them, be with them, and listen to them. Don’t look at them as victims, but as human beings."

How can we free slaves, like Django and the bounty hunter? (Though with less bloodshed.) Throughout the movie, the bounty hunter follows the Three Musketeers motto “One for all and all for one.” Education is a key solution to prevent and protect. Take action to act as “one for all” and educate yourself on the ways to contribute to ending modern slavery.