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Slavery still in U.S., just different

And what it was like to escape bondage

Published Thursday, October 4, 2012 10:00 am by John McClelland

Slavery still flourishes everywhere, even "near here" in Florida, Ron Sodalter asserted.

Francis Bok told what it was like to be seized as a child from a happy Dinka village. He was forced to work on a farm, rebuffed in efforts to expose his captors, treated as a refugee, and privileged to work for others' freedom

In what is now the United States, Sodalter told the AOJ convention in Orlando, human bondage began with Christopher Columbus, fell to a low in the 1960s and is now up again as "capitalism at its worst."

Bondage still involves people on farmlands, but also in domestic service, in factories, yards and gardens, he and others have said. Victims are unable to leave their situations under the threat or actuality of violence, or because of an economic vise reinforced by language- and cultural gaps.

Public attention tends to focus on sexual exploitation, he said, but servitude afflicts many others, such as fruit pickers or a platoon of deaf street peddlers that was exposed in New York.

Of those who get out of bondage, Sodalter said, about a third are rescued by authorities, about a third escape, and about a third are freed when good smaritans "us, ordinary citizens" report something suspicious.

He described fighting bondage in an "America born with the congenital disease of slavery." For example, helping police realize that prostitutes may be more victim than criminal and go after pimps and customers.

[video: his hope 17 seconds]

Bok, from what is now South Sudan Republic, said he was 7 when grabbed from a market by mounted soldiers. He was in captivity for 10 years before escaping. He had difficulty communicating his situation to authorities across language barriers, but persisted.

Trekking from Khartoum to Egypt, he said, he eventually got a visa to study in the U.S. and to "try to help my people now" until "all men and women are being liberated."

Those efforts took him from Fargo N.D. to the Bush White House and the lecture circuit.

[video capture and communication]

Sodalter said neither party has said much about what the State Department calls "human trafficking." State does have people working at it.

Some of those people appeared at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's annual report June 16.

[the report:]

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, Clinton's right hand on the issue, briefed AOJ members and other journalists by conference call earlier that day.

He said annual trafficker convictions globally rose from 3,619 to 3,969, "not a large number when compared to global estimates of victims." The International Labor Organization estimates 21 million in bondage or "forced labour."

Officers described efforts to stop the abuse through "Protection" of existing victims, "Prevention" of new abuses, "Prosecution" of offenders, and now "Partnership" with countries that strive to end forced labor.

Syria fell into the department's non-compliance list. Several other countries, including Burma-Myanmar, Venezuela and Haiti, moved up to a mid-level for increasing their efforts.

North Korea, however, seemed intractable. "We've seen repeatedly state-supported forced labor in North Korea and exporting of mostly workmen," CdeBaca said. "When the North Koreans send workers, they send police with them."

CdeBaca noted the coming 150-year anniversary of the Emacipation Proclamation of Sept. 22, 1862.

On Sept. 25, President Obama signed an executive order requiring government contractors to avoid misleading or economically disabling vulnerable employees. [editorial in N.Y. Times 10/2]

Was there an avalanche of media attention?

--John McClelland 10/3/12

(Sodalter is co-author of the 2010 book "The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today."
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