Well on the same day that the story broke about a week ago, I received a visitor to my office who gave me an insight into that story. He has been working against human trafficking for a few years now through a new abolitionist movement, a movement that I believe is the new frontier for pro-life activity, and may be a movement that can finally unite “social justice” Catholics and pro-life Catholics.
Nicholas Canuso is the Director of Faith Abolitionists. My conversation with him was enlightening and chilling. It was a happenstance visit that I will not soon forget as I sat and listened to his stories of modern day slavery. That’s one of the first things that struck me about his story. Human trafficking is something we think about happening in other nations, in Southeast Asia or in Africa. And in those cases, we tend not to think of it as what it is: slavery. Slavery exists. Slavery is alive. And because there is modern day slavery there are modern day abolitionists. But what I discovered is that slavery is alive and well here in the United States. It is everywhere and all around us… even here in Omaha, Nebraska.
Nick told me about “magazine crews,” about which I had never heard. This story sums it up thoroughly. What I learned from Nick and my own research is that people are promised a chance to travel and make money. Sometimes the victims are young adults not doing well at school who are promised a chance to earn experience and money. Sometimes it is people down on their luck just looking for some work. Sometimes the parents even grant consent to complete strangers who offer to feed and house their kids and help them child earn money for college. These young people, raised on T.V. shows that teach them more about shopping than about common sense, leave their homes to go on the road to sell magazines. Travel and income. Who wouldn’t go? But once on the road, it turns out that magazine sales are required to earn food and hotel rooms. No sales? No food. No room. No rights.
The crew members turn to hustling, taught by their handlers, so that they can bring in quotas for their bosses. “Buy a subscription and we send a dollar to St. Jude’s,” is one line they use… anything to get more sales. Why are they so desperate? Bosses are sometimes physically violent, certainly verbally abusive. Some crew members are just left by the side of the road, away from any resources if they don’t produce or aren’t willing to hustle and lie. Before long, the crew members are deep in debt and have to find other ways to pay off their obligations. Slave labor turns into forced prostitution.
The breadth of this problem is so vast that it is no wonder we don’t like to think about it. Last week, the FBI rounded up around 150 pimps in 76 different cities. Children as young as 13 are caught up in it, and the numbers are getting worse. It is big business and, yes, it is mostly slavery in the sex trade. Gangs and organized crime target vulnerable young people and children regardless of their socio-economic situation. Nick told me about girls recruited right from under their parents’ noses. Worse, it is not always recruitment. Sometimes it is out and out kidnapping.
What is driving human trafficking? Porn and a media culture that is forever convincing us that the most important thing in life is sex. When there is the World Cup or the Olympics or a Super Bowl, prostitutes are flown in to handle all the extra “business.” Those women are not part of circuit of professionals. They are slaves. Free, constant access to pornography has, surprise surprise, driven higher demand for prostitution along with more lurid forms of pornography including child pornography and rape pornography.
Oddly, conservatives and liberals defend pornography and rail against any censorship by the State. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England, wanted to protect children by censoring pornography on the internet. Perhaps his approach will work or perhaps it won’t. But I stood confounded by the response by conservatives like Charles C. W. Cooke who called it a “power grab” by the ever-intrusive English State. Liberals argued that the plan would never work because the filters don’t and seemed to shrug their collective shoulders “Oh well.” Meanwhile children are kidnapped and women are violated in the name of liberty. Hail Britannia.
This line from Cooke’s piece is particularly disturbing:
Well, I do not watch ‘rape porn,’ nor do I want to; nor, for that matter, do I imagine that it does no harm at all. Who honestly knows? But the defense here is not of ‘rape porn,’ it is of the liberty of consenting adults, of the capacity of private companies to provide access to legal material without state preemption, and — most important — of a spectacularly successful Internet whose astonishing, inexorable growth has been the product of its remaining unregulated, decentralized, and ultimately backed up by the American First Amendment.
Do we see now by Pope Gregory XVI called freedom of conscience an insanity? The FBI agents in America who deal with human trafficking know the harm done, Mr. Cooke. The mothers of the 13 year old girls and boys know. It does great harm. It is not merely about consenting adults, for that’s the great lie of pornography. They want us to believe that the women engaged are happy to be doing this work. But they are not happy, for they are not free.
I learned last week that I need to know more about how to fight against human trafficking and about being a modern abolitionist. I was also affirmed in knowing that the Church’s teachings on sexuality are not means of repression but truly the way to free us from the real slavery that afflicts our culture. And I learned that the work for the pro-life movement must expand not just to religious liberty and conscience rights in the face of a hostile government but to the question of modern slavery. I pray that we all become abolitionists.
To learn more about what the FBI does about human trafficking, visit their Innocence Lost Project. Also, check out Nick Canuso’s work with Faith Abolitionists through Facebook.