Stu Bykofsky: New name for old game: Slavery

Posted: February 06, 2012

SLAVERY IS alive and well.

Not the old-time slavery - that is rare, although it exists in a few backwaters of the world. I'm talking about neo-slavery, which goes by the name of "human trafficking," and its reach is global.

A lot of people throw the term around, but many don't understand it. Under federal law, at least one of three elements must exist to be considered "human trafficking": force, fraud, coercion.

Without at least one of those, it may be exploitation or cruelty, but it is not "human trafficking" under U.S. law.

These and other points were put on the table Saturday at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute during a film screening/panel hosted by state Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat representing parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties who is best known for having a sense of humor and a reliably liberal voting record.

The film was the 90-minute documentary "Not My Life," which detailed labor and sexual trafficking across five continents, from Lake Volta, Ghana, to Oklahoma City.

In Africa, kidnapped children are recruited as economic slaves - or forced to kill as soldiers for barbaric terrorists. In Nepal, 8-year-olds are forced to work as weavers rather than go to school. In America, teenage runaways are manipulated by pimps into prostitution.

"Human trafficking" has many faces, many procurers and many victims. There is no way of knowing how many, but the U.N.'s global estimate is 12 million enslaved for labor or sex.

The main enablers of "human trafficking" are poverty and lack of education, along with poor law enforcement.

Poverty explains itself. It may drive someone to voluntarily enter the sex trade, or position someone to be forcibly victimized.

Lack of education closes escape paths from poverty, but even worse, it makes the simple parents of young children prey for smooth-talking men who arrive in remote villages promising good jobs in the city as servants for benevolent rich families, or hotel chambermaids. The "lucky" ones wind up as household slaves in a Gulf sheikdom. The "unlucky" ones wind up in a brothel.

The movie has many revolting testimonies. The worst was reporting that very young girls were turned over to rapist "customers," then had their vaginas sewn up so they could be sold as virgins again. The most brutal pedophiles, the film said, are Americans.

Second worst was a jailed trafficker snickering, actually snickering, about how the women he sold to pimps would never have a normal life. I wanted to bash his grinning mouth.

I received a semi-personal invitation from the senator's office to attend, and I did, primarily because I support human rights, partly to ask, personally, why I was invited.

A Leach staffer told me it was because of my semi-infamous recent column about Thailand, the last third of which explained - neither defending nor attacking - the slice of the sex trade in bars and clubs. The truth is that although prostitution and trafficking can be related, they are not synonymous. I found no evidence of force, fraud or coercion among the women I wrote about.

Some people, including a few shrill hysterics, wrongly took my column to be an endorsement of pedophilia.

Here's how I feel about child molesters: If one touched my daughter, I would shoot him in both kneecaps and then castrate him. I'd do the same if he touched anyone's daughter.

Human trafficking is hideous, outrageous, but what can we do, I asked on Saturday.

Aside from talking to your lawmakers and backing legislation, if you suspect you are seeing "human trafficking," contact Polaris Project through its website, polarisproject.org, or by calling its tip line at 1-888-373-7888. You can remain anonymous, but you could be saving a life.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

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