Slavery in Syracuse??!!…..Yes, it happens every single day!!
“Human Trafficking (modern day slavery) does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.” – Elisa Morales, New York State Abolitionist
Multitudes believe that slavery does not exist in the modern world or at least not in America. Even less believe that it happens here, in Syracuse, NY. Contrary to popular belief, I’m taking this opportunity to raise awareness and inform you that slavery does exist here and now. The invisible people walk amongst us. You may not detect distress or see chains attached to someone, but they are enslaved all the same. I know because I’ve crossed paths with hundreds of human trafficking victims and survivors. Every single day countless people are enslaved worldwide. In fact, there are over 28 million slaves in the world today and the numbers keep growing. Human trafficking is the fastest growing organized global crime. It is a multibillion dollar underground industry. New York State has a huge appetite for slaves. We are the 4th worst state in the country in terms of human trafficking, ranking behind California, Texas, and Florida.
So what exactly is human trafficking or modern day slavery? It is a crime against humanity that exploits men, women, and children. It involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a persons through the use of force, threats, and coercion for the purpose of exploitation, including forced sex and labor. Slaves are bred with the intention of enslaving innocent infants into a life of slavery for the pleasure and profit of another person or group. Unfortunately, this worldwide trend shows no signs of stopping. Unlike a drug which is used for a temporary high, a human being can be used over and over again. With slavery your color, gender, ethnicity, race sexual orientation, language, religion, or dreams don’t matter. Traffickers are criminals and their agenda is all that matters to them because they don’t even view people as human beings only property.
Women and girls (about 80%) are the most enslaved gender. Many are forced into the sex industry to satisfy someone else’s sick pleasure. Foreign nationals or international victims are trafficked into the US every day. People often confuse trafficking with smuggling. Being smuggled into the US from another country is a choice that people make and are willing to pay and even die for. Often they come in search of the American Dream and betterment for their life and that of their families who suffer extreme poverty or persecution in their country of origin. Trafficking victims have no choice or say in the matter, they are forced across borders. Victims are often trafficked by people they know and trust including family, friends, and neighbors, significant others, as well as, recruiters and agents that seem safe, honest, and trustworthy. Once enslaved, debt bondage follows for amounts that are false and impossible to pay off. It is not unusual for slaves to be subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse or inhumane living conditions.
America is a melting pot, so traffickers do not have to go far in the states to victimize people, especially children. American citizen children are enslaved by the thousands every year. Parents, relatives, fosters, and care givers everywhere, including in Syracuse, are selling children for sex in exchange for rent payments, iPods, laptops, tire rims, and money. It’s an outrage that children are being forced into prostitution and others fall victim because of circumstances at home including abuse that force them out of the home onto the streets to survive any way they can. The problem is so vast that there are now dedicated Human Trafficking Courts and since November 2013, one of the few in New YorkState happens to be in Syracuse, NY. The Onondaga County Human Trafficking Court understands slavery and gives alternatives to those forced into prostitution that need assistance. So there is help and hope.
What can you do? First, educate yourself about human trafficking and share the knowledge with others. Currently, the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA) is proposed in New YorkState legislation (A 2230D/S.5879B). Please take a moment and visit www.tvpja.com for more information and take action by reaching out to your legislators to support it with a phone call, email, letter and/or visit. For those legislators already supporting the TVPJA, please take a moment to thank them for their support. The TVPJA will make a difference for so many who need our help now. It will minimize the victimization of victims while holding traffickers and those who pay to have sex with minors accountable. If there are strong legal consequences for the crime of human trafficking, the demand will diminish and so will slavery, even if it is one slave at a time.
Over the past decade, I’ve dedicated my life professionally and personally to end human trafficking. I will move mountains when someone’s freedom is at stake. Last year, I was bestowed an honor being recognized as a New York State Abolitionist. One human trafficking survivor that remains near and dear to my heart reached out to congratulate me because I was able to help her. With her permission, I’d briefly like to share her survivor story. Once upon a time in Thailand, a poor, young girl with many siblings had a cow that grazed in a neighbor’s property. A debt followed and her father was unable to pay it. Her prominent uncle from the big city came to visit and offered to pay the debt in exchange for his niece to accompany him home where receiving a good education was promised. A hand shake sealed the deal and her fate as a slave. She was tortured and raped in front of her father that day. She was not allowed to say goodbye to her mother or siblings. She was 8 and she said she died for the first time that day. It wouldn’t be the last time she said she died. Back in the big city, she did not received schooling. She did serve her uncle, his wives, and children. She suffered unspeakable abuse. Two years later, there must have been another debt at home because her younger sister now 6 was sold to her uncle. She herself was sold over and over again. She said it seemed like the whole world was enslaved. One day at age 18 she was walking with her trafficker through the Carousel Mall (now Destiny USA), a stranger made eye contact with her and smiled. She said that for the first time in her life……she felt human. She said she wanted to feel that again. The Universe crossed her path with mine shortly after and the rest is history. She has no contact with her family for fear of retaliation to them, even though they sold her into slavery. She now helps others that are enslaved in her homeland. The message in this story that I share everywhere is simply to smile. You never know the impact that sharing a smile will have on another person.
If you want to end slavery, don’t look any further than yourself; educate yourself, share the knowledge, support the TVPJA and other related legislation, get involved by donating time and money to causes that help victims, and finally SMILE (it may save a life). For more information or if you or someone you love may be victims of human trafficking please call the following:
- NationalTraffickingResourceCenter at (888) 373-7888 (24 hour hotline)
- Safe Horizon (800) 621- HOPE (4673) (24 hour hotline)
- Spanish Action League (315) 475-6153 (Mon. – Fri. 8:30AM – 4:30PM) or
- (315) 427-3315 (24 hour Spanish/English bilingual crisis & support hotline)
- McMahonRyanChildAdvocacyCenter (315) 701-2985 (M-F 8:30AM-5:00PM)
Elisa Morales is a NYS Abolitionist, Spokesperson for the CNY Anti-Trafficking Coalition & Onondaga County Safe Harbour, She is also a member of and/or associated with numerous State, National, and International anti-trafficking groups. The Spanish version of this article will be published in July.