Slavery isn’t dead.
We tend to think of slavery as something archaic that happens in other countries far, far away.
However, not only is it true that slavery and human trafficking exist in countries like the US, Australia and the UK, they’re also being sustained through very familiar and modern means of communication; the same ones we use hundreds of times every day without a second thought.
The tragic story of sex slavery at the hands of the Islamic State, recently heroically told to the UN by Yazidi woman Nadia Murad Basee Taha, sadly isn’t unique. What is unique, is the way in which slavery is currently functioning in a global culture that relies so heavily on social media.
A member of the Islamic State recently tried to sell two women on Facebook for $8,000 each. In Lebanon this past April, it was discovered that Syrian women were forced into sexual slavery, locked up in a house where they were only allowed to leave to have abortions performed. The women were sold for between $1,000 and $4,500, and the agents would solicit interest by sending photos of their slaves via WhatsApp. An advertisement on the Telegram app described a woman they had for sale as a ‘Virgin. Beautiful. 12 years old… Her price has reached $12,500 and she will be sold soon.’
They’re all the sort of sad, surreal stories we might ordinarily post on Facebook and forget about until the next terrifying news headline; because it’s not happening to our women, in our backyards, to our people.
We all have plenty of reasons to want to see ISIS, also known as ISIL and Daesh, dismantled, and this should be yet another reason high up on that list. We hear about the terrorist attacks, the children they force into becoming soldiers and suicide bombers, but we hear less about the Yazidi women they abduct and sell into slavery to fund their efforts. It’s seen as religiously right according to the group – these are women who refuse to convert to their violent distortion of Islamic belief. The men are simply murdered and tossed aside, buried in mass graves and forgotten.
They get away with it because these crimes happen to people without a nation to protect them, or to people whose countries either aren’t able to, or refuse to, provide aide. That’s where the UN can, and should, step in.
The first and most obvious thing the UN should be spearheading, is speaking out openly against this practice, a simple step the council has curiously neglected to take, along with harnessing existing policies and procedures developed to address human trafficking. Sanctions both apply and exist, yet for some reason the UN has yet to see fit to apply any of them, nor use their considerable reach to ensure displaced peoples have a safe place to return to (those displaced by war and conflict have been shown to be at the highest risk of becoming slaves).
Germany remains one of the only countries that is opening its arms to these people. It’s allowed the entry of so many victims, it now boasts the largest population of Yazidis belonging to any one nation.
There may not seem like there’s a lot we can do individually – we aren’t members of the UN, after all – but even raising awareness of this repeatedly violent injustice can strong arm our representatives into taking action where it remains tragically absent.
Comment: Are you surprised to learn social media is facilitating these violent violations of human rights?