Modern-day slave narratives

When mentioning the topic of modern-day slavery or human trafficking, public perception is skeptical. Yet, slave narratives tell us the horrific stories of victim’s experiences. The stories show the public an awareness of an ongoing problem that is hidden. Human trafficking is an extremely lucrative business with an estimated net worth of $32 billion annually, making it the second most profitable criminal enterprise in the world.  Many scholars across different disciplines have highlighted the existing dominant narratives of modern-day slavery circulating in various forms. These narratives tell a clear-cut story of criminals and their victims. Modern-day slavery is a serious issue and the public and the government need to be proactive in eliminating the practice. In order to do this, the public needs to be aware of this issue and to learn how to not be victimized. The slave narratives help with investigating the topic and in analyzing the nature of modern-day slavery such as the most common types of modern-day slavery practiced in the United States, identifying the vulnerable populations who are targeted, identifying the traffickers and buyers and discuss how they operate, examining how the victims are viewed, and recognizing organizations that are currently raising awareness and providing support for the victims.

The story of Flor Molina – a tale of survival

Flor Molina is a survivor of forced labor in the garment industry in Los Angeles, California. Through her story, we learn how she was preyed upon and manipulated by the people she trusted. Flor said, “After my baby died, I got so depressed and worried that what happened to my baby could happen to my other three children.” Suffering from the recent loss of her baby and desperate to provide for her children, Flor took sewing classes with the goal of starting her own business. Her recent loss caused her to be depressed and there was no opportunity for work in her hometown. Flor was vulnerable emotionally and economically. This is one of the most powerful tools used to entrap people. Flor state “My sewing teacher was approached by a trafficker because she knew a lot of women who knew how to sew and would be desperate to come to the United States.” Flor’s sewing teacher knew of her situation and had been approached by a trafficker who offered to help Flor get started in the United States. This shows the method the trafficker used to lure Flor away from her hometown. She was targeted because she had a needed skill, was vulnerable, and was easy to manipulate due to her emotional state and economic circumstances. We can also see how her family played a role in her decision to emigrate. The inability to afford medical care had resulted in her baby’s death. So, she allowed herself to be brought to the United States where she was forced to work in a slave-like environment to pay the cost of her immigration expenses. For example, she was made to work 18 hours per day, received only one meal a day, and slept in the factory’s storage room on a single mattress which she shared with another victim. She was also required to live within the garment factory and was not allowed to go out without an escort. Flor said, “I was enslaved for 40 days but it felt like 40 years.” This was Flor’s life for forty days, which she describes as an enslavement.
Her harrowing story fortunately ended well when she was offered and took help from a concerned(non -slave)co-worker. She escaped her captors by convincing them to allow her to attend Church where she contacted her co-worker. Flor was successful in gaining her freedom and has shared her story with the goal of educating others.
Flor’s co-worker helped her and reached the FBI who were at that point investigating the trafficker. The FBI associated her to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), who gave her shelter and supported her throughout this traumatic incident. She became a member of CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus, one of the groups that endeavored to pass a bill in California, which requires producers and retailers in the state to reveal and ensure slavery-free supply chains.

The story of Sarah Woworuntu

In the story of Shanda Woworunto, She dreamt of America as a land of opportunity and promise. After she graduated with a degree in finance, she worked as an analyst for an international bank in Indonesia. Unfortunately, the country was hit by a financial crisis and she lost her job. To support her three-year-old daughter, she began looking for an opportunity overseas. Needing a job to support herself and her daughter made her vulnerable and desperate. She was an easy target. She later saw an ad in a newspaper for work in hotel management located in the USA. When she applied for the offer, she was required to fill out papers and go through interviews. This shows how the traffickers act as a legitimate source and make the victims believe in them. She was thus brought to the United States with false hopes to start a career in the hotel industry. Once in the US, her identity was taken away and she was trafficked into a world of prostitution and sexual slavery. She was imprisoned, not allowed to go out unescorted and the traffickers told her that she owed them the cost of her transportation, food, lodging etcetera. She was taken to New York City. But she was always looking for an opportunity to escape. The traffickers fed her plain rice soup and kept her often high on drugs. She also said, the traffickers always carried guns with them. This is typical as traffickers use various means, including violence and torture to force their victims to stay and to prevent their escape. Fortunately, one night in a brothel located in Brooklyn, somebody had left a window open, giving Shandra the opportunity to escape. Her escape later led her to the FBI and her braveness led to the arrest of the traffickers which in turn saved the other victims. Shandra’s story clearly shows the steps a trafficker uses to operate their business and to capture victims into their realm.

The story of Marie

In the story of Marie, she was already addicted to heroin when she met Mike, who later became her dealer. “All I had was him,” she said. “He made it seem almost godly, the way he said he would take care of me.” Unknowingly her drug addiction and resulting vulnerability allowed him to entrap her and to force her into prostitution for two years. Marie is from the United States, which shows us that traffickers target anyone as long as they are vulnerable and desperate. Being an addict made it very easy for the trafficker to approach and lure her. Marie’s story tells us about how drugs play a role in trafficking. A common thread in many narratives is how traffickers control their victims by drugging them so that the victim submits to sexual activity with buyers. Marie further speaks about the buyers who were prominent successful businessmen, noting certain habits they had. “They would leave on, their socks,” she said and while opening their wallets when it was time to pay, they revealed photos of their families. “To this day, I can’t stand business socks.” Her trafficker made her stay in this business by providing her drugs. Later she was saved when she was taken to jail where she recovered from her drug addiction. These stories clearly show how victims are trapped financially, physically and emotionally.

These narratives show the public, how this hidden crime functions, who the targeted victims are, who the traffickers are, how they operate their business, what the type of activities are that the victims do while entrapped. Most of all, these narratives tell us the nature of modern-day slavery, act as an open dialogue thereby ensuring global awareness, and bring people together for abolishment of modern-day slavery. The circulation of these slave narratives is one way we can let the victim’s voices echo and change our understanding of ourselves and those within our communities. By sharing their stories, these narratives have answered many complex questions, lead to debates, new laws, awareness, motivation to fight and highlight the issue of modern-day slavery along with providing the victims, a voice for their survival.

“‘I Was Enslaved for 40 Days’.” CNN, April 05, 2011. Accessed April 02, 2019. http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/05/i-was-enslaved-for-40-days/.

Woworuntu, Shandra. “Shandra Woworuntu: My Life as a Sex-trafficking Victim.” BBC News, March 30, 2016. Accessed April 03, 2019.

Dyson, Cathy. “MODERN-DAY SLAVERY: ‘You Are a Dog, You’re Their Product’.” Fredericksburg (VA)The Free Lance Star, February 25, 2019. Accessed April 03, 2019.