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This editor has begun research on a book, working title Good Court, Bad Court, dealing with Dred Scott and Plessy. While looking at these Supreme Court decisions – particularly Plessy – made it clear that judicial philosophy and strict-or-liberal construction of the law are less important in the Supreme Court than is the unconscious social view of the jurist, it also piqued some curiosity about slavery in the United States.

Slavery, accepted in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an, has always existed. In North America, once it became clear that American Indians captured and forced into slavery were overly susceptible to European diseases, settlers chose to import African slaves. It is estimated that up to 650,000 slaves arrived in North America 1 between 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 slaves to Jamestown, and the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865 2. While details are a little sketchy, if we posit that the importation of slaves was spread equally over the 240 years, this would come to about 2,700 slaves a year. Spread over a 50 year period, this would be 13,000 a year.

Today, with modern transport, we are, sadly, much better at bringing in people for labor and the sex trade. The U.S. government estimates that of 600,000 – 800,000 3 people are forced into servitude annually worldwide, with up to 17,500 4 slaves imported to the United States each year. Others estimate the number to be as high as 25,000, though the CIA estimated the trafficking of women and children alone to the United States at up to 50,000 5 a year, as did the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 6.

1 In the “But mommy, he was worse” category, Brazil reputedly imported about five million slaves…
2 While the Constitution permitted importation of slaves until 1808, and Congress banned it thereafter, The African Slave Trade (Thomas Fowell Buxton, Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1839, recently re-published by Cosimo Classics of New York), indicates that 15,000 Negros were imported from Africa into Texas between 1837 and 1838.
3 U.S. Department of State, 2004 Report, Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report,
4 U.S. Department of State, United States Becomes Party to Anti-Trafficking Protocol: Marks Slavery Abolition Day , 1 December 2005,
5 DCI Exceptional Intelligence Analyst Program: An Intelligence Monograph. International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime by Amy O’Neill Richard Date of Information: November 1999

The U.S. government has been supportive of efforts against slavery, both in the U.S., and abroad. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (“TIP Office”) supported more than 240 anti-trafficking programs in over 75 countries in fiscal year 2003. As an example, it funded a program in Turkey, which has a serious problem with women from the former Soviet republics being imported for illegal enslaved prostitution. While Turkey has legalized prostitution, using slaves is more profitable: You can buy a girl from Moldovia for $500 and realize $250,000 in income in a year from her services. We read somewhere that the cost of the war in Iraq made unavailable the $600,000 annual funding for this program. If this is true, we hope that when the war ends we will again be able to afford to fund this program.

The treatment of slaves is only marginally different today than it was in the 18th century. Then, to control a slave, they were likely to be beaten, raped if a woman, intimidated, and their family threatened if they tried to escape or resist. Today they will be drugged – a modern innovation – then beaten, raped if a woman, intimidated, and their family threatened if they try to escape or resist. If there is a group of slaves – not uncommon – and one of them resists, they will most likely be beaten, raped if a woman, or even killed in the presence of the others as an object lesson.

In many parts of the world, if a girl does escape (many of those held are in places where they have no contact with the outside world) and goes to the police, she is likely to be returned to the brothel. In the U.S., the likelihood of the slave being returned to servitude happening is extremely low. Obviously, there are hopefully-rare exceptions to this: One woman with whom we briefly spoke, whose husband is a police officer in Georgia, mentioned that her husband was concerned by the fact that the local sheriff was running most of the drugs in the county. If the sheriff in this county also runs or protects brothels, the reaction the escaped slave might get is a little more problematic.

In truth, however, we would be more concerned with the issue of indifference, as opposed to corruption. Someone we know was in a restaurant in New York 7, and the waitress told him that she was being held captive. To our horror, we discovered that he did not call the police. Our follow-up was fruitless, but we like to think that the waitress tried again, and that a more humane patron called in help. In another case, someone we know who was driving a taxi was given a non-English-speaking girl to transport to the airport by the owner of a massage parlor. Instead, he took her to a safe place and called the police.

The good news is that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000) makes clear that, by statute, anyone under 18 must be defined as a victim. The bad news is that ECPAT-USA notes 8 that, as implemented, there is some level of serviced provided for girls imported from abroad, there is markedly less support available for American girls.

Why should you care about slavery? We can think of four reasons.

First, slavery is simply wrong, and should no longer be condoned by civilized peoples.

Second, even if you don’t care about what happens in an exotic foreign place like Cambodia or Canada, you should very much care about what happens here, and to your own children. NISMART, the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children 9 indicates that thousands of abused children run away and end up forced into prostitution, starting as young as 11.

Third, a very small number of children in the United States, coming from good homes with good parents, are kidnapped and forced into prostitution every year. NISMART-1 estimated that in 1988 200 to 300 children were kidnapped by strangers. NISMART-2 estimated that in 1999 115 children were kidnapped by strangers. While you might assume that this indicates a decline – we certainly would like to think that this is the case – the design differences in the studies make the two numbers hard to compare. But if you have children, or know anybody who does, this should be of at least some concern to you.

7 While liberal New York is not generally associated with slavery, before it was abolished, about forty percent of households in New York City owned slaves, as opposed to twenty-five percent in the South. And people forget that the conservative Republican party was originally the liberal anti-slavery party.

Finally, we as a nation have worked hard – and are still working hard – to escape problems caused by our being founded as slave-owning nation. Independent of your political beliefs, from a geopolitical perspective the re- emergence of slavery, combined with incidents such as the still-vivid images of Abu Ghraib, does not serve us well domestically or internationally.

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