In my regular weekly news posts about Syria and Iraq, I write often about the many obscenities committed by the Islamic State.
What those women and children must be going through, physically, emotionally and psychologically, particularly as many will be under-age, beggars belief.
As a psychotherapist I known that the consequences of these experiences, even if they ended today, will be with them for the rest of their lives.
Having worked with many victims of sexual abuse over the years, I can assure you that they do not just “get over it” as many people will exhort them to do.
Sexual abuse deeply damages a victim’s sense of self-esteem and leaves psychological and emotional scars that only prolonged therapy over many years will heal.
Typically, sexual (and physical) abuse victims will be afraid of close or intimate contact with others, particularly with those who look or behave like their abusers, will exhibit hypervigilance and anxiety which monitors everything (but everything) in their environment and be so stressed that normal functioning is almost impossible without the use of anti-depressants or stimulants of some kind.
On top of that, most victims of sexual abuse, male and female, feel so worthless, powerless and inadequate that they will be unable to seek, sustain or afford therapeutic help, even if it is available.
Those very, very brave souls that do undertake the journey of recovery and who are helped to feel and expiate the emotional pain from terror to anger, will do well. But they will never forget.
All the more alarming then that in the 21st century, slavery, and the sexual abuse that often accompanies it, is more prevalent than ever.
Across the world there are currently an estimated 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking. Add to that the estimated 20.9 million trapped in forced labour plus those in bonded labour where they endless work to repay a debt, child labourers working in clothing factories and other places for cents and the estimated 51 million girls that have been forced to marry against their will.
Getting out of poverty, of course, is often the driving force for those that end up in some form of slavery or extreme exploitation, plus the promise of a “better life” that never comes but only gets worse.
If you think this is not happening in your “backyard” – think again.
I guarantee that in your everyday activity you have passed someone who is trapped into servitude or exploitation in some way or you have purchased an article of clothing, a carpet, electronic products, cocoa and many other products that were made or harvested by someone on the poverty line and with no future prospects, for a few cents pay a day if they are lucky.
According to End Slavery Now.org, “The standard price for sex at a brothel in the U.S. is $30.
Typically, trafficked children see 25-48 customers a day.
They work up to 12 hours a day, every day of the week; every year, a pimp earns between $150,000 and $200,000 per child”.
Between 1995 and 2012, judges in the US allowed 178 children between the ages of 10 and 15 to marry in New Jersey, often to older adults and the Tahirih Justice Center reported a suspected 3,000 forced marriage cases across the US between 2009 and 2011.
In the UK, where forced marriage is now outlawed (though most assuredly still takes place in exploitative and closed domestic settings) there have been a number of cases of young Asian girls, who were born and educated in Britain, being taken to Pakistan or India for a “family holiday”, only to discover that they are actually there to be married off to much older relatives they have never met and with whom they have little in common. That is both sexual abuse and slavery.
Other cases in the UK have involved road and driveway laying gangs who have picked up off the streets men with mental health and addiction problems, imprisoned them and forced them to work for little or no wages and minimal amounts of food or illegal immigrants collecting cockles (seafood) in dangerous tidal waters for less than minimum wages while paying back “accommodation and signing on fees” all the time living in appalling, overcrowded and filthy conditions.
Slavery, in one form or another, is still common across the Middle East and especially in the Gulf States.
Although King Faisal abolished slavery in Saudi Arabia in 1962, the “employment” of domestic servants from the Philippines, Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Africa often results in conditions of enforced slavery and sexual exploitation.
Karl Anderson, a former Californian accountant, who became an accidental anti-slavery activist when a Facebook friend from the Philippines asked for help, now aids about 10 women a month escape abuse to go to one of the little-discussed shelters in Saudi Arabia established for “household maids.”
“It is slavery,” Anderson says. “Every day, I see the face of slavery.”
“There is a woman who was forced to eat a child’s faeces out of a diaper because she didn’t clean the diaper soon enough,” he says.
“Women are raped, tortured, denied food, denied water, made to work 20 hours a day, seven days a week. One woman was only allowed to eat the food that her sponsor family left on their plates. They are treated like dogs.”
In Qatar, an estimated 600 workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh are dying every year in appalling conditions and extreme temperatures in the construction industry, including the building of the 2022 World Cup Stadium.
All of this has a long history of course. Slaves almost certainly built the Pyramids in Egypt and most other ancient buildings that survive throughout the world.
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire, which had been instrumental in shipping Africans to its sugar producing colonies in the West Indies for years, in 1833. The USA made slavery unconstitutional in 1865. The French abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848.
In my travels I have stood several times below a monument in Mozambique in southern Africa where “unruly” African slaves captured by British and Arab traders were hurled off the cliffs onto the rocks below, not unreminiscent of the behaviour of the Islamic State.
The sea there, where whales can be often seen migrating offshore, is wild and the noise, the blasting spray and the jagged rocks make you think; wondering what it must have been like for those young men and women to be ripped away from their families and tribes and set down in a completely alien environment after a very long and appalling sea journey shackled in the most terrible conditions.
Slavery is now illegal in all countries of the world, but in practice it continues in many places in many forms.
The fact is that there are now more slaves in the world today than ever there were at the height of the transatlantic slave trade to the West indies and the southern United States.
President Obama declared January 2016 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
That’s a start, but let’s bring some more consciousness into our own lives.
First, let’s be more aware of how we treat others, particularly those who are weaker or less powerful than ourselves – and especially when we are angry or upset.
Secondly, let’s be more aware of others who may be the victims of exploitation. If you suspect something is going on, there are help or tip-off telephone lines in most developed countries.
And thirdly, if you want to discourage slave-worker exploitation you can find a list of slave-labour free companies by putting in your email address, (scroll down) HERE: and/or follow @EndSlaveryNow on Twitter.
PETER CLIFFORD 20th January 2016