State Department Partnership

Approximately 21 million individuals are trapped in some form of modern slavery today. Yet, each victim is an individual with his or her own story that deserves to be told. The same is true for the thousands of individual abolitionists who devote themselves to freeing, comforting and providing opportunities to victims of trafficking.

In 2012 and 2013, the Freedom Center joined forces with the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Together, we hosted events that honor these stories and inspire even more to take a stand for freedom. Embassies around the world showed the Freedom Center film Journey to Freedom, followed by a discussion among local government officials, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and other interested parties, asking participants to consider human trafficking as the global problem it is, and to look to history for understanding and inspiration.

The film and materials have been a crucial part of a campaign that has helped influence policy makers and has reached out to new partners and stakeholders to join us in the fight against modern slavery. The campaign has also advanced the U.S. government’s anti-trafficking policy dialogue with foreign governments. — Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, March 21, 2013

At the center of these events were the stories of two men, Solomon Northup and Vannak Anan Prum. Although separated by 150 years of history, their stories are remarkably similar. For both men, a search for work to support a young family turned into years of forced labor, followed by a dramatic escape and a dedication to tell the world their story so others can be free.

What is, of course, very different about the stories of Solomon and Vannak is the context: Slavery was a legal institution in the United States when Solomon was kidnapped in 1841, but slavery was illegal everywhere in the world when Vannak was forced to labor for others in 2005. Ensuring freedom for those, like Vannak, who face the risk of being enslaved today requires spreading awareness of this crime and of the tools governments and international organizations have developed to combat it.

One important similarity between the eras of Solomon and Vannak, and any era in which freedom movements grow, is the role of individuals exhibiting courage, cooperation and perseverance in the pursuit of freedom. To illustrate this inspirational fact, these events also honored the Department of State’s 2012 Trafficking in Person Report Heroes, and connected them to some of their historic forebears in the 19th Century abolitionist movement.