What We Can Do

An excerpt from the foreword to Enslaved

Written by Gloria Steinem

In the past, the global slave trade was justified by a belief that some human beings were lower life forms, thus could and even should be owned and protected by the more evolved. These popular and respected arguments were grounded in everything from the right to private property to pseudo-science of craniology and the slavery references in the Bible and Koran.

Now, the enslavement of many more human beings is justified by the argument that subsistence is better than nothing; or by generations of slavery that make it seem inevitable; or the notion that sex traffickers are just “facilitating migration” for women who have “chosen” to do a kind of “sex work” from which only pimps profit; or, in the case of children, by the excuse that their families would have been unable to support them anyway. And then there are the dictators who promote or tolerate slavery without fear of being held accountable.

We can begin to see through the justifications if we use empathy. Even minor changes in language affect consciousness, as when we are careful to speak of “prostituted women and children” instead of labeling them “prostitutes,” or when we make the process visible by saying “people who have been trafficked or enslaved.”

We can undermined the system of slavery itself by refusing to buy goods whose provenance we don't know; by supporting strong laws that target the slave trade and those who profit from the prostitution of others; by prosecuting even well-to-do and respectable customers who patronize sex slaves; by becoming aware of and willing to report the cyber-auctioning of human beings on the Internet; by spotlighting the sex industry role played by U.S. military bases, United Nations peace-keepers, and tourist agencies; by challenging the dictators who use slavery as a means for control and ethnic cleansing; by supporting anti-slavery activists working in the face of government repression; by offering escape and safe haven to those who have been enslaved; by refusing to excuse slavery in the name of “cultural relativism”; by following our sense of empathy to what free will really means – and so much more.

But first, we must learn to recognize slavery when we see it. Just as we didn't understand the prevalence of child abuse or sexual assault until we listened to people who had survived it and learned to recognize the patterns of slavery.

Listen to the voices of these survivors. They came from the darkness to bring us light. It's up to us to open our eyes.


To read the rest of Gloria's foreword and the firsthand accounts of survivors of slavery, buy a copy of Enslaved. All proceeds go to help the efforts of the American Anti-Slavery Group.

For more information, go to iAbolish.org.