The Tipping Point for Slavery?

Yesterday saw the announcement of the Oscar nominations and leading the field is a biographical epic from Steven Spielberg about President Lincoln’s battle to end slavery. We applaud the efforts of Lincoln to make slavery illegal in the USA, but the scary fact is that slavery is bigger business now than ever before. There are more slaves in the world today than even at the height of the slave trade. We rightly celebrate Wilberforce, Alexander II, Equiano and Lincoln, but if we don’t continue their work then our words are nothing but hollow praise.

You may not have heard of Donald Ainslie Henderson, many people have not. The world we live in, however, is a safer and healthier place because of his life. Donald headed up the Global Smallpox eradication campaign. In the early 1950s an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred every year. The last known case of smallpox was in 1978. The work of people like Donald Henderson, and the determination and commitment of the global community, meant that smallpox was completely eradicated. Smallpox is the evidence that we can win, that when the global community unites against something terrible it has the power and potential to eliminate it.

“And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
– Genesis 11:6 (ESV)

In the book of Genesis we see the power of people working in unity. The example of those building the tower of Babel is a negative one but the lesson from what God says is one that stands to teach us the value of unity. When we are united as one people, and we speak the same language, nothing is impossible for us. It is as a united global community that humankind triumphed over smallpox, I spoke above of Donald Henderson but could equally have mentioned Viktor Mikhailovich Zhdanov from the USSR. Friends and enemies alike united against something terrible and that unity brought it’s eradication. In the victory over smallpox I see hope for victory over human trafficking because the victory over smallpox demonstrates that united we can do anything. This problem is not too big, this problem is beatable.

I have blogged about Human Trafficking before, here and here, but a problem like this does not just disappear overnight. As William Wilberforce demonstrated, persistently adding your voice to the groundswell movement for justice does produce change. It is vital that we don’t let causes such as this become trendy things to support that fall by the way side when the spotlight moves on to another cause. It is through persistent and united efforts that the problem of modern day slavery must be addressed.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. But let us be blunt; not only is neutrality dangerous ground but many everyday people within society unintentionally make life choices that make them contributors to the problem instead of part of the solution. A major part of the problem is society’s double life. An example of this would be when a paparazzi photographer invades a celebrity’s privacy and peddles naked photos of them; society has two reactions to this type of situation, one is to loudly condemn the photographer and the newspaper and the second is to go out and buy the newspaper. Sadly it’s often the case that both reactions occur in the same people. Modern society seems to exist in a situation where it can condemn something as wrong at the same time as taking the fruit of it. It’s the same with sex slavery.

Any involvement with the sex industry is being part of the problem; we can’t separate it out and say that some involvement is okay. Prostitutes and porn stars don’t come in a fair trade variety. That doesn’t mean that they have all been trafficked, but it does mean that you cannot separate a part of the industry and say that it exists independently from the rest of it. We can’t remove Belle du Jour from the girl trafficked into a brothel in a seedy tower-block, the industry is interdependent. As long as there is sex for sale you will have both ends of that spectrum. As long as people support the pornography industry which displays people like commodities for sex there will also be people sold like commodities for sex.

Where does an end to human trafficking come from? It comes from united effort, and part of that has to be looking at our own lives and whether any of the things we do are supporting the trade either directly or indirectly. Freeing yourself from addiction can be the first step towards helping free someone else from their chains. It’s impossible to support an industry that enslaves innocents and keep yourself clean; erasing your browser history may clean your hard drive, but it doesn’t clean your hands.

Figures recently released show that sex trafficking of people from this country is on the rise; this is not someone else’s problem, it is ours. The fight against trafficking can be won in a similar way to the fight against smallpox, and that is by making every life count. Essentially smallpox was eradicated by treating every one who could be treated and vaccinating everyone who was at risk. Slavery will be beaten by freeing every slave we can and educating those at risk to the dangers of human trafficking. Eventually, just as Donald Henderson found, there is a tipping point where what seems impossible becomes first possible, then probable and then done. Today is Human Trafficking Awareness day. Let’s start with unity on the issue.

Sixty Stadia supports the A21 campaign to end Human Trafficking.

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