On February 28, 2010, ASR attended an event for Youth for Human Rights International where we were honored to meet Ben Skinner, author of A Crime so Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery. A Carr Center for Human Rights Policy fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and winner of the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Skinner is both academic and activist.
Skinner’s own first-hand experience with slavery began in 2003 while in Sudan on an assignment for Newsweek. He met a young man, Muong Nyong, a former slave who was Skinner’s own age but who had spent half his life in bondage. Nyong inspired Skinner to seek out more people like him. Thus began the journey that has made Skinner the first person in history to have observed the sale of human beings on four continents.
Scholars estimate the total number of modern-day slaves is greater than at any point in history – Skinner places it at potentially twenty-seven million human beings. But as Skinner points out, that number means little, unless we clarify the meaning of slavery. He formulated a specific definition: slaves are forced to work, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence.
Though the number of slaves defies comprehension and is growing, finding them is challenging and at times dangerous. Often going undercover, Skinner has infiltrated trafficking networks, slave quarries, urban child markets and illegal brothels. These experiences and insights are chronicled in A Crime So Monstrous.
After the presentation, ASR also met with Skinner’s guest, fellow Angeleno Maria Suarez of CAST-LA (Coalition of Abolition of Slavery and Trafficking- Los Angeles). Maria moved the audience to tears with her story of being trafficked at age 15- in Los Angeles. Lured by the promise of a job, Maria was imprisoned into domestic servitude and abuse for 5 1/ 2 years – in Los Angeles, then wrongfully imprisoned for 22 1/2 years for the murder of her enslaver. Upon her release, she was threatened with deportation. Maria’s name was cleared, a green card granted, and with a radiant smile and spirit, she is dedicating her life to educating families, and especially young women, both here and in small villages abroad, of the dangers of human trafficking.
It was a thought-provoking morning and ASR felt privileged to bear witness to some of the tragedies of human trafficking.