“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -MLKJ
Seven score and fifteen years ago, our nation reached the breaking point. The Union took a stand. The Confederacy held its ground. Over 750,000 lives were lost. The Confederacy crumbled. The Union prevailed. Our nation recovered, reconstructed, restored.
Was the original problem actually resolved? Did the Civil War truly eradicate slavery? In 1861, the South consisted of a population of 9 million people, that which 4 million of were slaves (Civil War). Fast forward from 1861 to 2016, there are between 14,500 and 17,500 slaves trafficked in the U.S., 80 percent of whom are women and children, not even counting the 20 to 30 million slaves in the world as a whole (Do Something). Obviously, there is a variable in population difference between time periods, but slavery still very much exists, even if it is in a different form. The enslavement of blacks by whites brought us to war, but the enslavement of our own women and children brings us to … silence?
Am I wrong? If silence is not the response to sex slavery, then why would Sexual Assault Awareness Month exist? Honestly, it sounds rhetorical, but awareness months would not exist if people were aware of the problem. Oh, some might say, sexual assault has nothing to with human slavery. How would you define the unspeakable acts committed on men, women and children in any other way but assault? Assault refers to causing grievous bodily harm to another person. Still not convinced? According to Do Something, “Trafficking primarily involves exploitation which comes in many forms, including: forcing victims into prostitution, subjecting victims to slavery or involuntary servitude and compelling victims to commit sex acts for the purpose of creating pornography.” I do not see any differentiation between the two.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a woman named Hope whom had just been in the presence of a victim of sexual assault. She had met her outside of a local convenient store. The victim, a woman, looked absolutely abused, exhausted and weak. Her lips no longer resembled lips. They were replaced with blisters. Her eyes looked as if they were about to fall out of their sockets. Rather than observing her briefly and continuing on with her day, Hope approached the woman. Hope has been developing a sense of awareness for victims of sexual abuse, so she proceeded to very bluntly, yet very respectively and sensitively ask the woman about her current situation.
A vulnerable and honest conversation about the victim’s history of being sexually abused by her adopted parents, boyfriends and men in general followed. She had even gotten pregnant once and had the child taken from her by Child Protective Services. She knew no other life but the life of dancing, stripping and prostitution. A life so closely linked to a life of drug addiction, which she also struggled with. Hope listened intently with a healthy balance of concern and love. At one point in the conversation, the woman said, “I’m just so tired. I’m so tired. I haven’t slept in five days.” Not only did she have no place to lay her head, but when she found a place, a sidewalk, or, if she was lucky, a bench to lay her head, she could not keep her eyes shut. Her heroin addiction coupled with the haunting memories of her past and present abuses forbid her from shutting her eyes. It was almost as if someone or something unseen was controlling her body without her consent. She was a slave.
As the conversation grew to a close, Hope put a hand on her and prayed for her, but she did not stop there. At the end of the prayer, Hope proceeded to genuinely ask if the woman wanted help. Not water, not food, not shelter. Help. “Do you want to keep living like this? Is help something you desire?” There was no shame or judgement. It was a mere question of curiosity with a similar undertone of concern and love. The woman, almost with a sigh of thankfulness coupled with relief, uttered the word, “Yes.” Hope spent the next half hour making various phone calls, and she eventually, ultimately, found a place that would not only take her but also would free her from her chains.
Silence will never free the slaves. Conversation, on the other hand, might just be the weapon of choice. Through honest, genuine conversation, Hope acted as a freedom fighter for this slave, similarly to the freedom fighters of the North during the Civil War. The North and the South went to war over so many conflicts, but at its core, every conflict had some relevance to slavery. The Union prevailed, the Confederacy crumbled, but the problem was never resolved. The problem simply transformed, which begs the question: can slavery ever truly be resolved?
We may never be able to resolve the problem of slavery. It is a bitter truth, especially in an era so infatuated with equality. Slavery will always exist. However, regardless of its continuous existence, we should never give up or ignore the millions of slaves longing for freedom. We pride ourselves on being the land of the free, yet we are ignorant to the fact that we also operate as the home of the slave.
So, take this as you will: a call to action, a piece of inspiration or a cynical observation. However, I would encourage you to remember that each one of those slaves is somebody’s child. How would you respond if your child, brother, sister was enslaved? What would you do?
Would you fight?
Credit: NYCriminal Defense