It is called “the door of no return.” It is a chilling site.
Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, is notorious for the slave house that was the departure point for many slaves headed to North America during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
A gang plank was put on the threshold of the door; men, women and children were forced to cross over to the ship waiting to take them to places they did not want to go and force them to do things they did not want to do.
When we first visited in 1987, there was a list of countries and the year that each country had passed laws abolishing slavery as decreed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 1981, Mauritania was the last nation in the world to pass such a law.
I remember feeling grateful that our society had evolved to the point that we no longer held people in bondage and forced servitude. It didn’t take long to learn that slavery still continued in Mauritania.
The practice continued mostly because slave owners were not prosecuted. Slavery was not really a crime until 2007. Naively, I thought it was just Mauritania.
The reality is that virtually every country in the world is affected by slavery as either a country of origin, transport or destination.
Slavery is a distasteful word that conjures up images of shackles, whips and inhumane treatment.
The term used today to describe involuntary servitude is human trafficking. It might not conjure up the same images but it is no less inhumane.
Raising awareness of using human beings as commodities and private property has been happening for years.
Yet we are still in great need of understanding what human trafficking looks like and our own culpability.
Human trafficking looks like the man that pays someone to get him across the border only for more money to be demanded of him after he gets off the semi-truck. He can’t pay, so he is forced to work in a restaurant.
Human trafficking looks like the pretty white gifted high school girl who begins hanging out with some new friends. She doesn’t know she is being “groomed.”
So, when they pick her up one night shortly before graduation, she is unprepared for being forced to have sex with a man who has paid for her.
Human trafficking looks like the little boy in Burkina Faso who has nothing to eat. He is one of several children.
He is given to a farmer and is forced to work in cotton fields; that cotton is sent to make cloth for the clothes we wear.
Human trafficking looks like the Asian lady sitting across from you in a nail salon. She says very little. She seems afraid.
You try talking to her and learn that she is kept, along with other manicurists, in a house under lock and key and is bused in to work. She says she owes too much money to get away. She is in debt bondage.
On the surface, it would seem we have little opportunity to address situations just described.
Not everyone is called to work professionally in addressing trafficking, but we are all called to address injustice in our daily lives.
Here are ways that literally every single one of us can do something about addressing human trafficking that will take very little of our time but will require a bit of education.
1. Learn the signs of human trafficking especially labor trafficking. Labor trafficking is the most prevalent form of trafficking and the least reported. If you see something, say something. The national human trafficking hotline is 888-373-7888.
2. Purchase with purpose. Certain industries have poor histories when it comes to child, forced and exploited labor. Here is a list of countries and industries. If you are a coffee person, make efforts to purchase fair trade coffee. If you prefer particular brands of clothing, ascertain their practices in sourcing their fabric and labor.
3. Be boots on the ground. Keep eyes and ears open in places where trafficking may be happening, such as restaurants, nail salons, hospitality industry, sales crews, construction industry, agriculture and so on. Talk to those who are serving. If there is reason for suspicion, call 888-373-7888.
4. Find one organization that is addressing trafficking and begin supporting them in one definitive way, such as praying, giving or volunteering.
5. Take off your rose-colored glasses and really look at your community. We love to think that it is not here. But it is. Is the massage parlor frequented only by men? Are there strange goings and comings at the house near you? Is that teenager acting afraid of someone, keeping strange appointments or coming home with a new unexplainable tattoo?
6. Make your vote count. Whether municipal, state or national elections, learn what candidates know about trafficking and how they would address it or their past record in addressing it.
7. Realize that when you address vulnerabilities, you are addressing trafficking. Addressing homelessness, foster care reform, displacement and migration of peoples, racism, gender bias, poverty, education and so forth makes a difference for people who are at risk of becoming victims.
8. Address issues regarding pornography, an industry that is fueling sex trafficking. The National Coalition on Sexual Exploitation is one organization that has practical ways to do this.
9. Talk openly to youth and children about online activity. Traffickers use social media to search out victims.
10. If you travel, download the TraffickCam app. Snap a few pictures of the hotel room and help this service identify where victims may have been and aid investigators. Be watchful in airports, truck stops, bus and train terminals. Here are some things to watch for.
The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights states that no one is to be held in forced servitude and that slavery in all of its forms will be prohibited.
Sadly, the door of no return still has victims crossing the threshold, forcing them to go places they do not want to go and do things they do not want to do.
We are culpable if we ignore them.
Nell Green serves as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel alongside her husband, Butch, in Houston. They address issues related to human trafficking and minister to the needs of refugees.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Human Rights Day 2017 (Dec. 10). Previous articles in the series are: