Like most people I assumed slavery existed only in history books, that we had abolished it more than a hundred and fifty years ago. To my horror, I was very wrong. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and one of our most urgent human rights issues. It is occurring in our midst, in our communities, and yet it is largely a secret. A despicable secret.
Human trafficking is our modern-day slave trade.
Am I exaggerating by calling it a "slave trade"? Unfortunately, I am not. Dr. Laura Lederer, former State Department Advisor on Human Trafficking and Vice President of Global Centurion, an organization designed to fight world slavery, has stated that, "Over the last 10 years, the numbers of women and children [who] have been trafficked have multiplied so that they are now on par with estimates of the numbers of Africans who were enslaved in the 16th and 17th centuries."
Over the past decade, the trafficking of human beings has reached epidemic proportions, with 1.2 million children becoming new victims of human trafficking every year. In the U.S., the average victim of abduction is an 11-year-old girl.
It wasn't until I was asked to speak about human trafficking that I realized I knew nothing about it. I turned down the speaking engagement; but soon thereafter, I had a nightmare in which my daughter and I were sold into slavery, and it hit me that this could happen to me, to my daughters or granddaughters, or to any other woman. I began to learn more about the subject, and the more I learned the more horrified I became.
I started treating victims of human trafficking in my practice, hearing their anguished stories about the hell they had gone through. Victims of sexual slavery are forced into prostitution, escort services, online pornography, and strip clubs. They live in constant panic, threatened with punishment if they attempt to escape, often tortured if they try.
We may prefer to believe that the abduction of teenage girls (and boys) who are forced into prostitution occurs only in fictional movies, like the 2008 film Taken! But human slavery is not a fiction. It is happening in the United States, it is happening in our cities and towns. One of the reasons the general public doesn't hear the stories that I heard in my office is that victims are often too afraid of retaliation by traffickers. But their voices are beginning to be heard.
The voices of the many terrorized clients whom I treated-and the urgency of this issue-compelled me to write a play, called Don't Call Me Baby. It portrays the life of a sexual slavery victim, how she tries to keep her past a secret, and how her secret impacts her marriage and her community. This is a story many would rather not hear about, because it is terribly disturbing to think that such crimes are going on around us, in our so-called civilized society.
Human trafficking is a heinous crime that is being committed daily. It would be a moral crime to keep it a secret.
If you want to learn more about human trafficking, you can visit my website for information and links: www.drnogales.com.
- Dr. Ana Nogales