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Slavery in the Modern Age

Exodus Art Exhibit and Concert in Cincinnati

The Exodus is one of the seminal biblical stories, and represents the approach of Passover.

Themes of escape from slavery, freedom, justice and regained peace are heavily depicted in artistic imagery and discussion.

But while the topic slavery has become viewed as archaic, 21st century slavery still has its talons in millions of people worldwide. It might look different, or hide from the mainstream view, but even when called by a different name, “human trafficking,” it is still prevalent.

But what does this mean for us? How can we help others, or at the very least, stay aware of this plight?

Kevin Bales, founder of global non-profit Free the Slaves, led an insightful TedTalk in 2010. Below are some of the calls to action he advocates for.

1. Educate Ourselves About the Current State of Slavery
Bales admittedly didn’t realize that modern slavery existed until the 90’s. It just isn’t talked about. Understanding that slavery exists – and where it thrives, is paramount.

Locally, there are organizations like End Slavery Cincinnati that are working tirelessly on the front lines to support and aid those who are enslaved in human trafficking. The Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati also has fantastic resources, and a permanent exhibit about modern slavery.

2. Identify Causes of Slavery
Factors of modern slavery include economics, vulnerability, and absence of the rule of law. It isn’t as simple as prejudice. It’s about driving profits, taking advantage of those that are weak, and capitalizing on a lack of structured law oversight. It isn’t just a bunch of villains sitting around, twirling their mustaches. It’s indicative of total collapse of structure.

But in North America, these signs aren’t always easy to spot. Sometimes, you have to look closer at the people you’re passing on the street for signs that they’re a victim of trafficking.

Signs include:
Visible physical abuse such as bruises and scars
• Someone who’s tense or avoids eye contact
• Someone who doesn’t know where they are
• Someone who doesn’t have any personal possessions
• Long work hours with no break
• Malnourishment, and more.

Just by identifying these things, you could help break the cycle for someone.

3. Liberation is a Process

Freeing those that are held in modern slavery isn’t a simple act. It’s a process. It isn’t enough to free someone. They have to know how to support themselves financially, emotionally, and as Bales said, be “slave-proof.” This involves investing time and money into those that have been freed. Freedom doesn’t end at emancipation.

It might feel like a daunting or hopeless situation to even discuss slavery. “This is a time of joy,” you might say. But often, the first step to doing better is to know better.

After all, every year when we read from the haggadah, we acknowledge our escape from slavery. We empathize with what it must feel like to be enslaved. This history isn’t to be forgotten.

So as we celebrate Passover, hearts full of reflection and celebration, let’s not forget to turn our gaze to those who still can’t taste freedom. Contentment is dangerous; so let’s aim our determination to freeing those who still need a voice.

Cross training. Young woman exercising with dumbbells.

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