Originally published as part of a 3 part blog series for the Verge Network.
When talking about slavery today, we could cite astonishing statistics about the $32 billion criminal industry that exploits more than 21 million people worldwide through sex and labor trafficking. We could share the heartbreaking personal stories behind those statistics, highlighting that 12 is the average age a child in the United States enters the commercial sex industry. We could show you devastating pictures that reveal the horrific abuses the enslaved suffer each day.
Chances are, however, you’ve already heard many of the statistics and stories. A quick online search reveals no shortage of websites, blogs, and films describing human trafficking. Nearly 15 years have come and gone since our Federal Government first passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Two years ago, President Obama delivered the longest presidential speech on slavery since Abraham Lincoln. The End It Movement has reached hundreds of thousands of people with the critical message that slavery is alive and well today.
It is undeniable that great strides have been made to improve legislation that protects trafficking victims, to develop better trauma-informed care for survivors, and to illuminate how global economics fuel this exploitation. But for all the awareness and attention, how much closer are we to solving this problem? How many of us know not only that slavery exists, but also what we can do about it where we live?
Allies Against Slavery was founded in response to those very questions. We were a small, passionate group of citizens who wanted a deeper understanding of what slavery looked like in our own city so we could determine the best ways to fight it. We believed that regardless of our expertise or profession we each had the opportunity to prevent and end slavery, and we could do it best by working together.
Thus at the core of Allies’ DNA is a call for an individual response and a communal response. We hold these equal, but to make our communal efforts possible, our individual response must come first.
To begin responsibly, we must each acknowledge our complicity in the problem. Slavery is not just a crime that happens somewhere far away, completely detached from us. Slavery rubs up against our everyday life through the choices we make. From the pornographic films and websites we support, the clothes and toys we buy, the coffee we drink, the strip clubs we visit, the phones we talk on, the computers we use, and the chocolate we eat, slavery is all around us. It touches almost every arena of our otherwise ordinary life, and like a cancer will metastasize unless we learn to cut it out.
In response to the question, “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton famously replied, “I am.” If you want to end modern slavery, start by examining your own life. Ask yourself, “Do I live in a way that contributes to this problem, knowingly or unknowingly? What can I do to take a stand?”