The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, April 09, 2009

And you thought we abolished slavery

by Tricia Dower

Your intrepid reporter here, bringing you the latest from Google Alerts.

Google sends me an e-mail when something appears online about the cheery topics I touch on in Silent Girl, such as domestic violence, sex trafficking, bride kidnapping, racism, global warming, and incest. I get so many notifications every day I shove them into a file to get them off my read page until I can find time to review them.

Yesterday, I took a look at a few about sex trafficking, a topic that falls within the broader issue of slavery which, according to some sources, is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world after drugs and guns. One source estimates that 27 million people are slaves of one sort or another. Officially abolished worldwide at the 1927 Slavery Convention, slavery continues to thrive with billions of dollars in annual profits. Approximately 80% of the “commodities” traded are women and children and 80% of the services they’re enslaved to provide are sexual.

As a writer, I try to imagine the individual stories behind the statistics. I wrote one of them (the title story in the collection) about a seven-year-old girl who, after losing her mother in the 2004 tsunami, is kidnapped and sold to a brothel. Researching the story was painful. I was appalled at what I learned and felt helpless to do anything except write about it. Luckily, others have felt empowered to do more.

Google Alerts called my attention to several organizations working in various ways to abolish modern-day slavery and provide aid for victims. Organizations like the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG), Polaris Project, Free the Slaves, and

Boston-based AASG promotes awareness, engages in advocacy and activism, and provides direct aid for victims.

Polaris Project was named after the North Star that guided US slaves towards freedom along the Underground Railroad. It operates in the US and Japan, seeking out victims and providing them with social services and transitional housing. It also operates a human trafficking hotline.

Headquartered in Washington, DC, Free the Slaves goes right to the “frontlines,” they say, to liberate people. According to their site, they also “enlist businesses to clean slavery out of their product chains and empower consumers to stop buying into slavery, work with governments to produce effective anti-slavery laws then hold them to their commitments, and research what works and what doesn't.” takes on human trafficking as one of a number of its causes. It profiles cases and provides a forum for activists.

An intriguing headline, compliments of Google, claimed that cannibalism and sex tourism were criminalized under a bill passed by Uganda’s Parliament last week. Actually, the bill is broader than the headline implies and offers a laundry list of what might constitute slavery today.

It provides that “any person who recruits, hires or maintains, confines, transports, transfers, harbours or receives a person, through force for purposes of engaging that person in prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced or arranged marriage is liable to 15 years imprisonment.” Also, “Any person who commits an offence in trafficking in children, uses a child in any armed conflict, removes any part, organ or tissues from the body of a child taken alive, uses a child in a commission of crime or uses a child or part of a child in witchcraft or related practices, commits the offence of aggravated trafficking in children and is liable to life imprisonment.”

And, finally, yesterday the United Nations today launched a manual called Combating Trafficking in Persons: A Handbook for Parliamentarians —a compilation of international laws and good practices developed to combat human trafficking.

All good news, I guess, but…”organ or tissues from the body of a child taken alive”…? I could not write that story.

Image from the video trailer for Silent Girl.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

There was a lot of interesting commentary on 'sex trafficking' at the recent conference at the University of Toronto: Sex for Sale

The sex worker advocates spoke about how a lot of 'anti-trafficking' rhetoric and initiatives are really anti-sex-work initiatives, denying that sexwork can be migrant work like any other trade. The problem is the 'trafficking' part not the 'sex' part.

Here is a relevant and balanced article by Melissa Ditmore--Sex Work, Trafficking: Understanding the Difference

Thu Apr 09, 04:04:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Good article, Andrew, and interesting comments after it. It is important to distinguish between voluntary sex work and sexual slavery and to note that slavery includes other kind of work. The problem for children is both the trafficking and the sex parts. Hard to believe that someone under the age of 12 chooses to become a sex worker. For adults, the concerns are whether they've been tricked or coerced into it, if they get to keep the money they earn, and if they're free to walk away. For those who choose sex work, safer working conditions are important. To achieve that, we've got to overcome moral objections to the work. There's so much more to say about this subject, but I'll stop for now.

Thu Apr 09, 06:28:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Oh absolutely! complicated subject. I agree with you. Children can't 'consent'--they don't have the power necessary to say "no," so 'saying yes' is meaningless.

However, 90% of child sexual abuse is at the hands of family, step-family and family friends. Our preoccupation with paedophile strangers is a way of 'othering' a problem that is much closer to home.

Fri Apr 10, 06:56:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger danclads said...

Officially the slavery ended. In Brazil this happened in 1888. But, even so, in 21st century, we are faced with situations of slavery, in pure offense to human dignity. Sex slaves, workers who live in similar situations of slaves, etc. Officially ended, but in practice still persists in a clandestine manner,, slavery.

Sat Sep 18, 09:27:00 pm GMT-4  

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