The Modern Day Abolitionist

O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Written in the midst of America’s triumph in the War of 1812, the famous question penned by Francis Scott Key in the 1814 anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, has since earned America the nickname the Land of the Free. While Key’s lyrics may have intended to raise the immediate question of America’s political freedom, the question remains relevant to this day. Today, with more people enslaved worldwide than ever before in history, America has a considerable part to play in the fight against modern slavery in order to fulfill its self-proclaimed role as the Land of the Free. The question coined by Francis Scott Key is the same one we are asking today: Does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Slavery, tragically, is nothing new, as the greed for financial gain and power has fueled the exploitation of other humans since the beginning of the world. In the United States of America, the reliance on the backs of slaves has existed since before the 1776 foundation of the country. With the early 17th century rise in European immigration to the thirteen New World colonies and expansion down the southern coast of North America, the demand for cheap labor soon surpassed the available supply of European indentured servants. Consequently, 1619 marked the arrival of the first African slaves to colonial America in order to assist in the production of tobacco, cotton, and other crops in Jamestown, Virginia. Throughout the following century, with further population increase and southern migration, the colonial American slave trade experienced exponential growth, with the agriculturally rich South gradually building an economy dominated by slave labor.

The South’s economic reliance on slavery appeared an irreversible mistake recognized too late, which the Founding Fathers dared not reverse for fear of dealing of deadly economic blow to the southern half of the newly formed and fragile country. Thus, although debate over the morality and role of slavery in America raged during the drafting of the United States Constitution in 1787, ultimately the Founders succumbed to their fears of suffering the economic consequences of freeing the slaves, adding Article I, Section IX, Clause I, thereby pushing off the question of slavery’s legality in America for another twenty years. However, when 1808 rolled around, that year would pass and slavery would continue to dominate the South’s economy, leaving the question of slavery to be finally answered with the blood of 620,000 in the American Civil War. With the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, America outlawed slavery, answering Key’s historic question that it would stand up to be the Land of the Free he prophesied it to be. For the first time since Jamestown’s importation of African slaves in 1619, it appeared America would be a country of opportunity and freedom for all, regardless of race, previous servitude, or wealth. However, that is not the case.

With the modern day slavery, today referred to as human trafficking, industry generating over $150 billion in annual revenue, slavery remains a booming business. Compared to the 19th century American South, slaves are cheaper and more disposable than ever before. According to Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, the price of an average slave in the American South in 1850 was the equivalent of $40,000 today. Now in 2016, the average slave only costs about $90 worldwide. And this cheap cost continues to be driven down by the ample amount of available slaves: today, there are more slaves in the world than at any other point in history. With estimates ranging up to 30 million victims worldwide, this means there are more slaves today than twice the number of slaves transported during the entire Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even more shocking, tens of thousands of these victims live within our national borders.

Unlike the 19th century enslavement of African Americans in the South, slavery today is not exclusive to a race of people; rather, victims of human trafficking can be any age, race, nationality, or gender. It may be the young woman smuggled across national borders, deceived by promises of employment, only to have her identification cards taken and be forced to work without pay in a nail salon, massage parlor, or a brothel. It may be the eight-year-old orphan slaving away in a Bangladesh sweatshop, sewing J.C. Penney shirts with no hope of receiving the pay he deserves or even the freedom to leave. It may be the insecure American teenaged girl whose boyfriend has manipulated her into selling her body to his friends or customers to get some extra cash. It may be the fourteen-year-old Yazidi girl kidnapped by ISIS and sold off as a “bride” to a sixty-year-old married Iranian man.

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, victims of human trafficking are defined as:

  1. Children under age 18 induced into commercial sex.
  2. Adults aged 18 or over induced into commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion.
  3. Children or adults subjected to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery through force, fraud, or coercion.

The three main forms of human trafficking consist of bonded labor, sex trafficking, and forced labor, with the latter being the most common form of trafficking. Bonded labor is a form of inescapable, indebted servitude; a victim may be born into slavery or later sold into it, often to repay an ever-mounting loan. Sex trafficking, on the other hand, is the involuntary prostitution of primarily female victims; victims may be working in a commercial brothel or strip clubs, or may be hidden away in motel rooms or truck stops. Forced labor consists of any service a victim is forced to perform with little or no pay and often horrid working conditions; the work may include domestic servitude, construction, sweatshop manufacturing, etc. While people are more susceptible to becoming victims in poorer countries, a multitude hide in the shadows of affluent countries like the United States. Human trafficking can enslave anyone.

So the question is raised: what can be done?

Combatting broken judicial systems and corrupt politics, especially in less affluent countries is crucial to ensuring justice. Particularly in the United States, it is critical that this country leads as an example for other countries to follow. Encouraging legislators to pass anti-trafficking legislation (such as the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act proposed by Senator Bob Corker) and promoting legislation that rightly punishes the pimps and trafficking ring leaders, rather than the victims themselves, is essential to making America a freer nation. Holding politicians and law enforcement accountable keeps this money-rich industry unable to bribe its way out, a common occurrence especially in foreign nations.

Another critical component in the fight against human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, is combatting the societal degradation of women and protecting the sanctity of sex within a committed marital relationship. As kidnapping and sex trafficking victim Elizabeth Smart has attested in her recent video for Fight the New Drug, an anti-porn movement, the role of pornography in the sex trafficking industry is disastrous, fueling the demand for cheap sex and drastically worsening the conditions for victims, who are all too often forced to enact the nightmarish videos. The porn industry in America and beyond has been irreversibly infiltrated with human trafficking and abuse victims, with the callous demand for porn by the American public further tightening their shackles. As long as a demand for cheap, noncommittal sex exists, more and more sex trafficking victims will be sold off as prostitutes, continually stripping them of their clothes, dignity, and freedom. Promoting a societal ideal that refuses to degrade women as purchasable sexual objects is paramount to the fight against sex trafficking.

Furthermore, encouraging grassroots movements and fostering public awareness of the growing human trafficking industry is also key. Understanding what human trafficking is, how the enterprise operates, and how to identify victims are all imperative criteria with which citizens must be equipped. Banding together to support local, national, and international organizations is an impactful way for citizens to have tangible impact on affected communities.

On campus, Princeton Against Sex Trafficking (PAST) is the student-run organization under the PACE Center dedicated to the fight against domestic and international human trafficking. PAST seeks to eliminate human sex and labor slavery through community awareness, civic engagement, and legislative change. While PAST is proud to offer support to a number of anti-trafficking organizations including International Justice Mission and A21, PAST’s primary partnership is with Yazda, a nonprofit organization that seeks care and justice for the thousands of Yazidis in ISIS captivity as child soldiers and sex slaves or those massacred by ISIS insurgents in the ongoing Yazidi genocide. This previous year, PAST hosted a number of anti-trafficking movements, including a conference for New Jersey anti-trafficking student groups, a petition signing for the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, a documentary screening of trafficking film Rape For Profit, and a discussion regarding the enslavement of the Yazidis led by a sixteen-year-old former Yazidi ISIS slave.

Slavery is not a partisan issue to be debated or discussed, but rather is one that questions the humanity and morality of mankind. Though the human trafficking industry labels the human life with a $90 price tag, they are grossly wrong. A human life is priceless. With millions of girls and boys, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers enslaved throughout the world, it is time to set the captives free. As long as we Americans continue to proudly sing our national anthem and salute our star-spangled banner, we must answer Key’s question with a resounding yes, we are the Land of the Free.


Katherine Trout is a sophomore from Chesterfield, MO. She can be reached at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



Leave a Reply