What to the slave is the Fourth of July? In his essay of the same title, Frederick Douglass notably reminded Americans that as they celebrated Independence Day, not all Americans could enjoy being in the supposed land of the free. Not all Americans were free in 1852, just a decade before the official emancipation of all slaves in the North during the Civil War in 1863. Abolition was enforced in all of the United States when the war was won in 1865. As the United States recovered and the country began to stabilize, racial tensions still mounted and African-Americans were denied many basic civil rights, like the right to own property and the right to vote. Even after they were granted these rights with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, blacks still lived as second-class citizens whose rights were regularly disregarded as they were intimidated from voting and lived in debt on plantations.
Still, today, not all Americans and not all people on American soil are free. Slavery may no longer exist as a legal institution, but there have been an estimated 100,000-150,000 sex slaves in the United States since just 2001. The CIA estimates that there are 45,000-50,000 slaves trafficked into the country each year.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published an article in March of this year that condemned the use of websites, social media, and other online platforms that promote human trafficking in the country, notably Backpage.com, a website owned by the well-known Village Voice Media. By using Backpage, prostitutes could be purchased and sold over the Internet and then delivered or picked up in person. Most of the prostitutes are managed by pimps who beat them and threaten them; they are additionally at high-risk for rape and sexual assault.
300,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. Where is their chance at freedom? How can these forgotten children who have run away or been thrown away find a path away from such dehumanizing abuse? The FBI reports that most human trafficking victims are women and young girls from Central America and Asia; those who are not on the streets or locked in basements are domestic servants, often working in nail salons and massage parlors without pay or enough food. Worldwide, 1.2 million children fall prey to trafficking annually, in addition to the millions already captive; the average age of a sex slave is 12-14 years of age globally.
When you wave the red, white, and blue flag, when you grill your burgers and sip a cold beer, and when you celebrate your freedom tomorrow, remember those who are not free. Remember those who live invisible lives as slaves in commercial sexual servitude who cannot run, who cannot hide. Remember that as you celebrate your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, there are millions of people on American soil - those who were born here and those who were not - who do not have such a luxury.