“Sin? There is no sin. Man does how he pleases with his property.”
So says Edwin Epps, one of many despicable villains in Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning 2013 historical epic 12 Years A Slave. This beautifully crafted and powerfully acted biopic brings to the screen a tale that is almost two centuries old – that of Solomon Northup, a respected black freeman who was kidnapped and viciously thrown into a life of slavery for more than twelve years in the mid-1800s.
I had the opportunity to finally watch this film for the first time this week, and to say that the film’s depiction of the slave trade is harrowing would be an understatement. Black slaves, treated as no more than the aforementioned “property,” are bought, sold and abused with seemingly no consideration for the soul that dwells within the body. In perhaps the most disturbing scene of all, Patsy, played with powerful conviction by Lupita Nyong’o in a career-making role, is whipped to within an inch of her life for having the audacity to look to wash herself after being repeatedly raped by her ‘owner,’ Epps.
As a film, 12 Years A Slave serves as a chilling indictment of the slave trade and unsurprisingly swept the board at the Academy, collecting nine nominations and three gongs at tinseltown’s premier event including the most prestigious prize of all, the ‘Best Picture’ award.
However, while the film itself may recall a bygone era long since passed, it centres around a theme that is shockingly more prevalent today than ever before – slavery – or as it is more commonly referred to nowadays, human trafficking.
Today’s slave trade: the sickening figures
Solomon Northrup may have long since passed, but the practice of trading human beings as commodities is sickeningly rife in 2014. Here are just a few facts, courtesy of the A21 Campaign, that brought the enormity of this issue home to me personally:
- THERE ARE MORE SLAVES IN THE WORLD TODAY THAN AT ANY OTHER POINT IN HUMAN HISTORY, with an estimated 27 million in bondage across the globe. Men, women, and children are being exploited for manual and sexual labour against their will.
- THE AVERAGE AGE OF TRAFFICKING VICTIMS IS 12 YEARS OLD, with women and children often kidnapped into the industry or sold into it by family under desperate circumstances. The average age of victims continues to grow younger as clients seek “fresh” product.
- ONLY 1 in 100,000 EUROPEAN TRAFFICKERS ARE EVER CONVICTED and ONLY 1-2% of VICTIMS ARE EVER RESCUED.
Is this the first time that these facts have ever been presented to you? If so, please take a moment and let it all sink in…
Done? Good. I imagine right now that, like me, you are shocked, saddened and likely sickened by these statistics, and rightly so.
I find it almost inconceivable that there is one human being in this world, let alone over 27 million of them, that would have to suffer the horror of slavery in this day and age.
In ‘civilised’ society where we are supposedly more connected to the world around us than at any other time past, how can this cruelty be happening and on such a wide scale?
These are questions that I do not have the answers to, but I truly wish I did. To treat any other human being as one’s “property” is a disgusting misuse of power that has no role to play in society.
Clearly the problem is a global one and one that will not be solved overnight – but in publishing this article today I personally vow to play a part in turning the tide on this atrocity. I may not be able to do much, but if everyone reading this also made the same pledge, we could make a difference together.
Tackling the problem: charities that are challenging human trafficking
The A21 Campaign focuses on four key principles: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership. Working on a global scale, A21 looks to prevent trafficking through awareness and education, ensuring that young people are equipped with strategies to avoid becoming a victim. I was first made aware of their great work, and the above shocking statistics, at a Matt Redman worship concert in Bath earlier this year and have been actively reading about their work ever since.
Closer to home, Unseen is a charity established to disrupt and challenge human trafficking at all levels and that aims to encourage the Government to include legislation to prevent slavery in business work practices and supply chains. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to personally hear Unseen’s CEO Andrew Wallis speak at West Wilts Vineyard Church about the charity’s commitment to lobbying and so was delighted to learn this week of the announcement made in the Queen’s Speech that the Government is to introduce a new Modern Slavery Bill.
Speaking on the bill, Wallis stated, “This is an opportunity to introduce real change in the UK and to lead in the fight against modern slavery at a global level … we welcome the recognition that the UK must improve support for victims, and importantly continue to help them to be reintegrated into society.”
Both The A21 Campaign and Unseen are making significant strides to tackle this problem and need your help to make an even bigger difference. Whether it be through fundraising, writing to a survivor, or raising awareness of the enormity of this problem via the power of social media, I encourage you to visit the websites of both organisations (thea21campaign.org and unseenuk.org) and to learn more about the work that both are doing.
Looking towards a compassionate future
Addressing an admiring audience in a moving speech at the Essence Magazine Awards, Lupita Nyong’o, who portrayed Patsy in 12 Years A Slave, remarked, “what actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful, is compassion; for yourself and for those around you.”
The issue of human slavery is almost too large to comprehend, but we cannot shy away from it any longer. We all must act with compassionate hearts to confront this issue and to do all that we personally can to try to alleviate the suffering of the many millions of victims of these terrible crimes against humankind.
I implore you to please join me in thinking about ways in which you can help to change the future of human slavery and to consign this atrocious act to where it truly belongs – the history books.