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The Kidnapped Girls in Nigeria, Modern Slavery, and You

Was Sochi built with forced labor? Is sex trafficking real? Are you a slave?

What will happen to the kidnapped girls?

What will happen to the kidnapped girls?

The kidnapping of Nigerian Christian teenage girls from their school by Islamic extremists in Nigeria, potentially to utilize or sell the girls as sex slaves, has refocused world attention on the unfortunate reality that slavery still exists. I sit safely in the US where the emotional struggles I help my clients to deal with involve depresison, anxiety, anger and marriage problems. I can hardly fathom the horror that these girls, and their terrified families, are dealing with.

In Nigeria, kidnapping has become a war strategy.

The poor kidnapped girls have in this sense become cannon fodder in power struggles within Nigeria between Chrisitians who are located primarily in the southern part of the country and the Muslims in the northern areas who are attempting to create a wholly Muslim-dominated nation.

In other parts of the world, kidnapping and slavery serve financial ends.

Hard to believe, but, as in the sale of drugs, selling people can be hugely lucrative.

Psychologist Roxanne Lewis posted a relevant comment on slavery and human trafficking on The Psychology Network in Linked in:

"The United Nations outlawed Slavery in the 1960's. Yet today, in the beginning of the second decade of the 21st Century, amid all the technological advances, educational advances, and the establishment of Democratic republics, there are more slaves in the world than ever before. Human trafficking in labor and sex slaves is in every country in the world. This cannot happen with out tolerance from government and ignorance of common people."

What can psychology do to fight this?

Maybe we can start, as the women's revolution started, that is, by raising awareness. "Consciousness raising" was what women in the 1970"s, me included, called it when we gathered in groups to share perspectives information about ways in which we were allowing ourselves to be society's underlings. The evenual outcome became a radical shift in the status and rights of women around the globe, though not yet in all countries.

Can consciousness-raising lead eventually to termination of slavery a human trafficing?

As with the women's liberation movement, it's at least a start.

One group that has been trying to spread the word about human traffiking is based at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Professor Oliver Kaplan, Associate Director of the Human Trafficking Center, discussed the Nigerian situation on 9News on Denver TV:

Professor Oliver Kaplan, Associate Director of the Human Trafficking Center

KUSA (May 6, 2014) - A U.S. team is on the way to help search for more than 200 girls kidnapped from a Nigerian school.

The militant Islamic group Boko Haram is threatening to sell the girls into slavery. Secretary of State John Kerry offered up help from the U.S. The Nigerian government is welcoming that help.

The incident is putting a spotlight on human trafficking. While it's less prevalent in the United States, assistant professor Oliver Kaplan at the University of Denver says it does happen.

"Human trafficking does affect us in the United States," Kaplan said. "In fact, according to some of the data we've analyzed at the Human Trafficking Center at the University of Denver, we see that in fact, in recent years there have been human trafficking flows from other countries into the U.S. We found that individuals are trafficked into the U.S. from approximately 39 countries."

The secrecy of human trafficking makes it difficult to measure.

"There are actually very few good estimates of the total number of people trafficked, but some estimates suggest that as many as 21 million people are in slavery, or conditions of modern day slavery," Kaplan said.

He says people are trafficked into the United States for a variety of things, from forced labor, such as farm workers who work in fields, and for sex.

"Really, one of the biggest problems is that we don't have a good estimate of the prevalence of trafficking within the U.S.," Kaplan said.

The University of Denver is working to get more accurate numbers.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

Oliver Kaplan has recently published an updated and well-researched background article on the problem of human trafficking and slavery in Nigeria. Nigerian boys as well as girls have been kidnapped and sold around the globe. The problem has been escalating, though with world attention focused on the situation the Nigerian government now is beginning to address it. Consciousness-rasing works.

Slavery and the 2014 Winter Olympics

Additional posts on the Human Trafficking Center website convey further poignant realities. For instance, did you know that many of the beautiful facilities built for the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi were built at least in part with slave labor? Read Associate Peter Rocco's article for a wake-up call about this unfortunate reality.

Depression and slavery

In general, human beings are designed to be dependent on others during their infancy and growth years, and then to function increasingly independently as they move into adulthood. Adults who find themselves in dominant-submissive interactions therefore tend to find themselves feeling depressed. My audio program called Depression, A Disorder of Power, which is available as a free download on my clinical website, offers further information on this understanding of the cause of depression, as do several prior articles on depression that I have posted on this blog. One is on depression and power loss. A second post explains the dominant-submissive trigger for depression more fully. And a third offers a treatment technique based on this theoretical understanding.

Democracy, thus, truly is a political form that, by guaranteeing independence for all citizens, fosters happiness. Captivity and slavery by contrast, along with living under any oppressive totalitarian government, must be overwhelming depressogenic.

At the same time, we who have the great fortune to live in free societies have a responsibility toward other citizens of the world who live in oppressive conditions, personal, political and otherwise. Educating ourselves is a vital first step toward in some way helping to free all slaves.


Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a Denver psychologist, is author of the book on therapy, From Conflict to Resolution, and of the online program that teaches collaborative conflict resolution skills, Power Of Two Marriage.

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