Friday, July 25, 2014
It has been over 100 days - 102 days to be exact. 102 days since Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 girls and threatened to sell them into sexual slavery. I worry that in today’s 24-7 news cycle that fact has become “yesterday’s news.”
As a human trafficking scholar I think a great deal about the parallels between the slavery of today and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. I have considered the role of the bystander in both these systems, trying to imagine how it was possible for people - particularly the bystanders - to justify the ownership of human beings as property. It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the concept that it was acceptable and not shocking to abduct, buy, and sell other people.
And then 100 days pass since these girls were abducted and threatened to be sold and it seems as though this terrible crime is no longer at the forefront of the American consciousness. It is perhaps no longer shocking.
Three months after the crime, Malala Yousafzai visited Nigeria and met with President Goodluck Jonathan who claimed he would bring back the girls “as soon as possible.” Well, apparently “as soon as possible” means right after he finishes spending $1.2 million, not on the rescue effort, but on hiring the American public relations firm, Levick, to improve his image. It seems to me that such an amount of money may have been better spent actually trying to rescue the girls…rather than paying Americans to explain why the government has not done so. If that is “as soon as possible” I would hate to see what “when I get around to acknowledging it happened” looks like.
Yet, the outrage is gone. The shock is gone. We in the West seem to have largely moved on to other issues. How can this be? It may be because on some level we accept the objectification of people…just like bystanders accepted slavery centuries ago.
Some reject the parallels drawn between human trafficking and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, asserting that there is an important distinction between legally sanctioned slavery and that which is not state supported. These events underscore that laws do not the society make. While it is indeed symbolically important to end laws that sanction slavery or other moral wrongs, it is necessary but not sufficient. A legal shift is interesting but a social shift is what is required. And we in the West seem not to have made that shift.
While I support Pope Francis’ bold call for human trafficking to explicitly be treated as a crime against humanity it will amount to nothing until we as a global society truly value the lives of such victims as though they were our own children…until the shock lasts longer than a week, a month, or 102 days. Until that day comes the parallel between the bystander in the 1800’s and the rest of us unavoidable.