Friday, September 10, 2010

The Forgotten People of Modern Day Slavery Part I

Part of the Human Trafficking Students' Series on HTP

By Ashley Keller

Old Slavery v. Modern Day Slavery Part I

Enslavement of individuals predates our history. It has been around since the beginning of man. However, it was not until sometime in the 15th century that slavery focused on a certain group of people, the African Americans (Mintz 2007). When I speak of “old slavery” I am referring to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. There are some engrained similarities to old slavery when compared to modern. For instance, there is a loss of control and free will on the victim’s part, and it continues to be exploitation for profit. The enslaved are broken down to a sort of commodity to be traded, bought and sold. Their humanness is ripped away and replaced with a monetary value. However, modern day slavery, also known as human trafficking, is not the slavery from our history books. The old slavery was hyper focused on a specific group of people, African Americans, whereas modern day slavery “cuts across nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, education-level, and other demographic features” (National, 2010; Polaris 2009).

People are easier and cheaper to buy than ever before. It is estimated that the slaves of history were ten times more expensive then modern day slaves (
Polaris 2009). The ease and cheapness of modern day slaves creates an issue of “disposability” because of the inexpensiveness of the “investment” (Bales, 2004). This “disposability” poses yet another threat to the countless, nameless, voiceless individuals caught in this hell.

Due to the fact that slaves are so cheap, there is much less motivation for the traffickers to take care of their “investments” because there are plenty more when needed. There are many reasons that individuals may be trafficked. Some of the reasons are: debt bondage, sexual exploitation, forced labor/service like domestic labor, agricultural labor, sweatshops, begging, hard labor, soldiers, hospitality industries and many more. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that 161 countries have been identified as being affected by human trafficking (
Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns).

Human Trafficking and Disabilities

The International Labor Organization estimates that 2.4 million people were trafficked between 1995 and 2005. The 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report reports that 12.3 million adults and children were trafficked in 2009, at a rate of 1.8 people per 1,000 worldwide. In 2007, the Trafficking in Persons Report stated that 800,000 people are trafficked across borders every year, of which about 80% are women and girls and up to 50% are children. In the U.S. State Department’s “The Facts About Child Sex Tourism: 2005” it is reported that approximately 1 million children are sexually exploited every year throughout the world.

This statistic, as are most, if not all, is broken down into specifications of age and gender, but there is no specific information as to how many of these individuals have a disability. As defined by the
Americans with Disabilities Act, a disability is; “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of such an impairment; or a person regarded as having such an impairment”.

Human trafficking and disabilities is a severely under addressed topic in the discussion of human slavery. There are very few reports on its incidence. In 2009, Stop Violence Against Women wrote an article called “Violence Against Women with Disabilities”. They report that children in orphanages are at a higher risk for violence. Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery – Belgium reports that gangs throughout Belgium’s major cities organize begging rings using children and individuals with disabilities, typically from Romania (Patt, 2010). Due to the lack of understanding, financial means and cultural stigmas, discussed further below, children with disabilities are a source of shame to their families.

Research indicates that violence against children with disabilities occurs at least 1.7 times greater annually than for their peers without disabilities (
disabledworld). There are many reasons as to why these families give up their children, such as not having the knowledge or financial resources to care for these children. Other reasons are extensions of cultural beliefs. UNICEF reports, “[s]ocial beliefs about disability include the fear that disability is associated with evil, witchcraft or infidelity, which serve to entrench the marginalisation of disabled people” (2008) . As a result, these children wind up in orphanages where they are much more susceptible to violence. Women and girls with disabilities are especially vulnerable to physical and sexual violence which puts them in danger of unplanned pregnancies due to sexual exploitation.

A child who requires assistance with washing, dressing and other intimate care activities may be particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Perpetrators can include caretakers, attendants, family members, peers or anyone who enjoys a position of trust and power (UNICEF, 2007).

People with disabilities are not seen as individuals who deserve dignity and respect. Even if a pregnancy occurs within a normal situation, not having to do with sexual exploitation, disabled women often do not have a choice in whether they can keep their children and abortions are forced upon them. Disabled women are also forcibly sterilized so that the issue of pregnancy will not become a recurring issue (UNICEF, 2007).

Not only are disabled children dumped off into the system and stripped of their inalienable human rights, but as they grow up they are blacklisted from employment. The factors that are thought to cause the most vulnerability for an individual to be trafficked are being impoverished, lack of knowledge or ignorance, others also discuss that being a female and a minority exacerbate the issues (
UNIAP, 2007). However, the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and the Strategic Information Response Network (SIREN) warn against over generalizing the vulnerabilities being dealt with by different cultures and areas. They suggest that it is naïve to enter an area assuming that the issue is the same as others. They argue that it is important to know the people, the culture and the problems before implementing a program in order to provide assistance.

Many groups go to help, but assume generalizations as fact and set up information programs and funding programs to fix the ignorant and impoverished in order to combat those specific vulnerabilities. However, those may not actually be the issue (UNIAP, 2007). In
Cornell University’s 2007 Disability Status Report, they show that the employment gap between individuals with and without disabilities is 42.8%, in the United States alone (Baker, 2008). This enormous gap in employment exacerbates the vulnerability of poverty that these individuals experience by denying them access to a self-sustaining life with gainful employment.

Continued Monday, September 13th, 2010.

Ashley received her B.A. in Psychology from Immaculata University this past semester. She has worked with individuals with autism for about 10 years and is currently working as an ABA therapist doing Early Intense Behavioral Intervention. This coming semester she will be student teaching to receive her Elementary/Special Education teaching certifications. She also plans to pursue graduate level programs in order to continue her work and understanding of individuals with autism.


  1. Working with deaf people, I have seen the impact of human trafficking. Yet where is the news coverage or the numbers? In my expereince, the victims usually are not classified as human trafficking victims. As an interpreter I have met them as labeled rape victims or even in mental institutions. The lack of English and often times lack even basic American Sign Language results in unclear explanations of what has occured. More training needs to be provided to police, medical professions, and interpreters to spot this horrible problem.

  2. Ashley Keller6:43 PM


    Thank you for your comment. I agree with you 100%. I don't believe that these individuals have been overlooked intentionally, I belive it is simply a lack of knowledge regarding what is actually occuring. I hope that my post will shed some light on the situation and push people into action.

    I think training community personnel is a great place to start! Hopefully you read the other two parts of this post because I do talk about people taking advantages of those with hearing impairments.

    Thanks again for your comment,