World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

Freedom Center Voices

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

Today is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Designated by the United Nations in 2013, July 30 is observed globally every year to raise awareness about human trafficking, and to promote and protect of the rights of victims.

An Introduction

When you hear the term “human trafficking,” what does that actually mean? The term is defined as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose.”

Human trafficking is a broad injustice that can take many forms. Some of these include domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, child labor and forced marriage. You learn more about each of these specific forms of slavery at

When discussing the scope of human trafficking, the numbers can be quite overwhelming. It’s estimated that between 21 million and 45 million people are enslaved in the world today. With staggering numbers and victims present in countries across the world (including the United States), it’s difficult to pinpoint how we can stop this cycle. What can we do to make an impact?

A Modern Abolitionist Struggle

 In 2012, President Obama stated:

“The outrage, of human trafficking . . . must be called by its true name – modern slavery.”

These words reflected an ongoing development in the US anti-trafficking movement—the shift toward viewing this movement an inclusive struggle against enslavement and oppression in all forms.

For much of its history, the anti-trafficking movement had been widely perceived as rescuing upper-class women from “white slavery”—specifically, sexual enslavement by foreign smugglers. However, many anti-trafficking activists will tell you that this is not the typical story. Brooke Hathaway-DeSantis, founder of End Slavery Now, points out that modern-day victims of sexual enslaved are rarely kidnapped or even smuggled from one place to another. Instead, they are most often lied to and deceived by traffickers who lure them with false promises of glamorous employment or supportive romantic relationships. For this reason, most victims and survivors of this form of trafficking are members of disadvantaged populations, such as poor immigrants and refugees, rather than middle class or wealthy people.

And while anti-trafficking activists are committed to fighting all forms of sexual exploitation, they will also tell you that forced labor is by far the most common form of modern-day enslavement worldwide. This doesn’t even include forced labor in prisons, which many consider to be another form of modern-day enslavement. For these reasons, most anti-trafficking activists today view the fight against modern-day enslavement to be as much about social justice as one against exploitation. It’s an abolitionist cause directly related to the struggle to end pre-Civil War chattel enslavement.

Who Are Anti-trafficking Activists?

Much like the pre-Civil War abolitionists, those fighting modern-day enslavement are a diverse group. They are comprised of law enforcement personnel, social workers, members of the clergy, academics, trafficking survivors, and politicians from both parties. They are ordinary people of all genders, gender identities, ethnicities, abilities, and sexual orientations. They agree on one important thing: nobody should be enslaved.

Photo: Mohamed Diaby and friends. Diaby is a refugee from forced labor in Mauritania who lives in Ohio. He has spoken at the Freedom Center about his fight against deportation.

A Call To Action

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center invites you to become a modern-day abolitionist. We believe that while chattel enslavement of African Americans was a unique evil whose effects still linger, human trafficking results from inequalities that continue to exist in our society.

Start by checking out End Slavery Now, a project of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. You can sign up to receive a weekly action email with ideas on what you can do to fight against  modern-day enslavement. You can also visit the Polaris Project, a national organization dedicated to this fight, and the National Human Trafficking Network that operates a hotline – (888)-373-7888 – where you can report suspected instances of human trafficking.

It will take a monumental effort to end human trafficking, but please know that no action is too small to make a difference. Take the first step, educate yourself, get connected, bring your passion to the table—roll up your sleeves end help us end slavery for good.


Jonathan Turbin

Coordinator of Initiatives against Modern-Day Enslavement
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

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