“There are more slaves in the world today than in four centuries of the African slave trade.”
Last week my husband Les and I had the opportunity to attend the “All Aboard! Celebration” of North Star Initiative, an organization looking to free slaves caught in sex trafficking. Their desire is to revive the Underground Railroad that once rolled through Lancaster County, delivering slaves to freedom. In a lovely play-on-images, the event was held at the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum.
We strolled among the trains, eating delicious hors d’oeuvres provided by Enck’s Custom Catering, and examined the architectural renderings for North Star’s planned restoration home. We bid on silent auction items (and won two). Les found himself bidding on the picture “The Girl at the Window,” which was based on the incident that led to North Star’s foundation. (The painting ultimately sold for more than he was able to bid.)
We learned some important but appalling facts:
- 100,000 Americans under the age of 14 are enslaved (that’s a conservative estimate).
- 17,500 individuals are trafficked each year into the U.S.
- 20 million people worldwide are slaves.
- Human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking as a source of illegal income.
- Nationwide there are only 678 beds in shelters with specialized programs for sex trafficking victims.
We watched this video from the Take No Glory Musicianaries called “Beautiful Slave.” Take 5 minutes and watch it:
It’s time to open our eyes. The same week as the benefit, 7 people were arrested for prostitution a few miles from the museum. One was a 17-year-old girl. As a minor, she is a victim of trafficking, and yet she was charged as a criminal. Four months before, another 17-year-old runaway from New York, escaped from her pimp in the same area.
Yes, human trafficking is happening right here in quiet Lancaster County, and it’s happening where you live as well. In nearby York, Pennsylvania, two women were forced to work in nail salons (in a WalMart!) for three years, seven days a week for no pay. The punishment for the woman who kept them imprisoned? A mere 90 days in prison, followed by 270 days of house arrest, one year of probation and $300,000 in restitution. The two men involved received only a year’s probation and fines of $1,000 and $5,000.
It’s time to open our eyes, see the pain, and step in to help. Visit the Facebook page of the Lancaster Anti-Trafficking Network (LATN) to connect with more organizations. Plan to attend Freedom Weekend, January 16–18, 2014, to get the facts and find ways you can become a conductor on a modern Underground Railroad, ushering a slave to freedom.