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Skinner exposes modern slavery in Social Justice lecture

Published: February 26, 2010
Section: News

Exposure: E. Benjamin Skinner discusses his experiences as an investigative journalist exposing modern slavery at the Shuster Institute for Investigative Journalism’s Social Justice Lecture.
PHOTO BY Jodi Elkin/The Hoot

Investigative journalist E. Benjamin Skinner discussed modern slavery and working towards emancipation in a Social Justice Leadership lecture in Rapaporte Treasure Hall Monday. The lecture was sponsored by the Schuster Center for Investigative Journalism, where Skinner is a senior fellow.

Skinner stressed that although there are more slaves than ever before in human history, the problem can be solved by pressuring governments to spend more money towards emancipation programs.

While modern slavery is most prevalent in South East Asian nations such as India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, Skinner said that between 14,000 and 17,000 people are enslaved in the United States every year.

“This is not a crime that is far from where we live,” Skinner said, adding that  there are about 50,000 slaves in the United States at any given time.  One person becomes a slave in the United States every 30 minutes, Skinner said.

“The critical thing is mapping where the slaves and the trafficking victims are coming from, and that takes research and dedicated, young Brandeis graduates” to find out where the trafficking is happening, Skinner said.

“The critical part that I see missing is prevention,” Skinner said. “There really has to be a better way of first implementing that prevention, and then measuring it.”

Skinner told one story of how he was once able to negotiate the slave trade of a 12-year-old girl in Haiti. The trader initially asked for $100, but Skinner said that after about two minutes, he had negotiated the sale down to $50.

“I bet that’s less than the cost of a cab from here to Logan airport,” Skinner said.

Haiti, like other poverty stricken nations, is succeptable to slavery because many parents face a “devil’s choice” between allowing slave traders to provide basic necessities including food to their children “versus the certain fait of watching the child die.”

“These are not parents selling their children into slavery,” Skinner said.

Before the Jan. 11 earthquakes,  between 225,000 and 300,000 Haitian children were domestic slaves, Skinner said.  He also said that there is no law against human trafficking within Haiti.

Skinner strongly criticized the ten American missionaries charged with child kidnapping in Haiti after attempting to transport 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 29.  The Americans claimed that they had an orphanage set up there.

“Their actions showed just how vulnerable the children and these families were,” Skinner said.

Skinner called the missionaries “fools” and “clowns,’ who are taking away important news coverage of topics such as aid and relief work for the victims of the earthquake.  Referring to the missionaries legal adviser Jorge Puello, who has an Interpol warrant issued for his arrest for crimes involving prostitution with young girls, Skinner said that “those that are the best at it [human trafficking], those that make the most money, are least likely to be prosecuted.”

“It’s important that we do prosecution right,” Skinner said.

Responding to comments about the impact of abolishing slavery on the global economy, Skinner said it will actually help improve the world’s economy because slaves will be given money for the first time, which they can spend once they are able to live at a “moderate poverty” level.

Skinner, author of “A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery,” has researched human trafficking first-hand while occasionally participating in negotiations with slave dealers conducting human trafficking.

“I knew that I couldn’t count every slave,” Skinner said, speaking about the goals of his recent book.  “What I wanted to do was to show what their slavery meant.”

Skinner reminded the audience that although we often refer to slavery as a “metaphor for undue hardship,” the slavery he investigates deals with “people that cannot walk away from their work.”

Though slavery is still prevalent today, Skinner said the percentage of enslaved people worldwide has decreased. “I would argue that there are plenty of indicators that gives us hope,” he said.  We have to do abolition right this time,” he said.

“One of the goals of the [Social Justice] Series is to introduce students to individuals who have forged career paths in pursuit of social justice.  And Ben Skinner is certainly one of those people,” Florence Graves, founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigate Journalism, said.