If immediate response is needed, call 911. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

By Chanel Foster, Volunteer Contributor, Gateway Alliance against Human Trafficking

Editor: Jatonya Clayborn, Program Director, Gateway Alliance against Human Trafficking

Think of history as a river that flows into the present, carrying with it currents from the past that continue to swirl around us today. This journey takes us along these waters, showing us how the old chains of slavery haven’t disappeared but transformed into a different kind of bondage in the form of modern human trafficking. It’s like a shadow play, where the figures of the past cast long shadows into our times. Both involve the use of force, fraud, or coercion to control victims, perpetuating cycles of abuse and suffering. The societal impact is far-reaching, undermining the very foundations of communities and economies. Addressing human trafficking requires comprehensive and concerted efforts involving legal, ethical, and social dimensions to break the chains that bind individuals in this modern form of slavery.

One of the key similarities between these crimes against humanity lies in the fundamental nature of exploitation. Traditional slavery, which was prevalent in various forms throughout history, involved the ownership of individuals as property, often based on race, ethnicity, or social status. The transatlantic slave trade, for example, saw millions of Africans forcibly transported to the Americas to work on plantations under brutal conditions. In human trafficking, called a modern form of slavery, individuals are also exploited for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or other forms of servitude. Victims are coerced or deceived into situations where they lose control over their own lives, mirroring the power dynamics of traditional slavery.

Along with exploitation victims of both slavery and human trafficking find themselves experiencing violations of their basic human rights. Traditional slavery blatantly disregarded the humanity of individuals, treating them as commodities to be bought and sold. Similarly, human trafficking deprives victims of their basic rights and dignity. Victims often endure physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, and sexual exploitation. The exploitation of vulnerabilities, whether based on economic hardship, lack of education, or political instability, is a shared tactic use to keep victims of human trafficking bonded to their abuse.

Deception played a significant role in traditional slavery, with individuals often lured into servitude under false promises. Similarly, human traffickers today exploit vulnerabilities through deceitful recruitment tactics, such as false job offers or promises of a better life. Both historical slavery and modern human trafficking involve coercion as a tool for control. Traditional slaveholders used psychological manipulation and fear to maintain dominance. In retrospect coercion in modern human trafficking, may include threats, manipulation, or debt bondage, compelling victims to comply.

Human trafficking and traditional slavery, though separated by time and context, share alarming similarities in the tactics employed to enslave victims. As we reflect on the disconcerting parallels between human trafficking and traditional slavery, it becomes evident that the threads of exploitation persist, weaving a narrative that spans generations. The tactics of enslavement may have evolved with the passage of time, but the essence of human suffering remains unchanged. The shared use of force, fraud, and coercion transcends historical boundaries, reminding us that the fight against human trafficking is an ongoing struggle.

Works Cited

Aronowitz, A.A. (2009). Human trafficking, human misery: The global trade in human beings. Westport, CT: Prager.

Bales, K. (2007). Ending slavery: How we free today’s slaves. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Bales, K. (2016). Blood and earth: Modern slavery, ecocide, and the secret to saving the world. New York: Random Penguin House.

Swanson, S. J. (2022, March 11). Slavery then and now: The trans-atlantic slave trade and modern day human trafficking: What can we learn from our past?. Human Trafficking Search. (In text link)