Modern-Day Slavery: What It Is and Stories of Impact

All around us modern-day slavery is taking place. Many Americans associate slavery with the English colonies treating African Americans and Spanish as objects and forcing them to do labor in the 17th and 18th centuries. Yet the definition of slavery has evolved over time to include sex trafficking and sexual assault — what today we call modern-day slavery.

Sex trafficking and sexual assault happen in every environment you can imagine — in the home, at school, on the street, in public. And it doesn’t just affect one demographic.

The rich and poor. The white, black and brown. The city dwellers and farmers. Any type of person could play a part of modern-day slavery, whether they’re fueling slavery with their money and power or whether they’re victims of slavery.

While sex trafficking and sexual assault aren’t often part of our daily conversation, they are a form of slavery and should be treated as such. At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor, according to the International Labor Organization. Plus, almost 6 in 10 trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation. A 2014 report by the Urban Institute found that the underground sex economy ranges from city to city, amounting to $39.9 million in Denver and $290 million in Atlanta.

Most of us have heard that one in five female undergraduate students are raped or sexually assaulted. Yet sexual assault is a much bigger issue that affects people before, during and after their college years. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, and every 8 minutes, a child is the victim, according to RAINN.

To raise awareness and share stories about the sex trafficking ecosystem, we’re partnering with filmmaker Sian Taylor Gowan and Not For Sale, a network for self-sustaining social projects to end exploitation and forced labor, for a film screening of Surviving International Boulevard. International Boulevard is the epicenter of sex trafficking in Oakland, filled with children and women who are selling their bodies because their pimps are watching, because they fear the consequence of not putting their bodies on display or because they believe their traffickers truly love them.

The film shares the complex stories of two women from Oakland who are sex trafficking survivors. Imagine a mother following her 15-year old daughter after she sneaks out of her house late at night only to find that she’s meeting up with her sex trafficker “boyfriend” to have him sell her body. The boyfriend turned pimp scenario is very common for young females. Often boys follow the lead of other males in their lives and become pimps, and girls grow up thinking that sex trafficking is simply a way of life.

“I found my daughter one day out here in some shorts just as short as those shorts she has on,” says the mother. “I just pray one day this has to stop. She looks just like my daughter.”

Surviving International Boulevard also tells the story of Sarai Smith-Mazariegos, who today helps child victims get help as founder of Growing up, Sarai experienced sex trafficking starting at the age of 12. She shares how her personal story inspired her to help others.

Sex trafficking is part of GOOD SF’s quarterly modern-day slavery theme that we’ll be exploring through April. We aim to expand our hearts and minds on how modern-day slavery is very present and invite others to share their reflections and insights. We want to bring awareness to how women are treated in pop culture, rape culture and family situations. Here are a few other topics we’ll be exploring:

  • How media portrays sex trafficking and sexual abuse
  • Masculinity and gender roles
  • Family issues and generational abuse
  • Policy, policing and funding
  • The mental impact of slavery
  • Rape culture
  • The difference between sex work and trafficking
  • Forms of therapy for survivors

We invite you to share your reflections on this issue in the comments section. If you’re interested in contributing an article related to our quarterly theme or collaborating with us, please email us at Stay up to date about our upcoming content and events by signing up for our email newsletter, here.