Human Trafficking in the Historical Context of U.S. Slavery

Human trafficking is sometimes presented by those working within the field as “modern day slavery” -- framing the United States’ modern efforts to prevent and end trafficking and support those who have survived it as a continuation of historical abolition of chattel slavery. While these narratives are useful in garnering public support, awareness, and funding, they do so at the expense of racial equity work that brings awareness to systemic racism’s historical roots. This presentation will trace the historical lineage from chattel slavery to the current systems and institutions in the United States which carry on its legacy of racism, and explore the modern anti-trafficking movement’s historical roots as instead located in the White Slave Traffic Act (Mann Act) of 1910. Presenters will then propose shifts in language and framing for use in U.S. advocacy that honor the continuing work of racial equity without minimizing the urgency of ending human trafficking.


Outline/Structure of the Presentation

  1. What is human trafficking? Definitions, types of trafficking, labor vs. sex, minor vs. adult, history of slavery and trafficking in the United States.
  2. History and why it matters. Why does history matter? Chattel slavery, human trafficking, and structural racism.
  3. Racial constructs and human trafficking. Constructing crime and victimhood, underserved communities, and racial disparities in the experience of trafficking.
  4. Trauma, resilience, and compassion. Seeing someone as a whole person, ACE scores and resiliency, and roadblocks to compassionate service.
  5. Reframing our role. Reframing prevention, representation in our organizations and leadership, and thinking critically about how we frame the issue of human trafficking. Suggestions for language shifts to accommodate both the imperative to end human trafficking as well as sensitivity to racial equity.

Learning Outcome

By the end of this presentation, attendees will be better prepared to craft racially-sensitive prevention and outreach campaigns and to provide culturally-sensitive human trafficking crisis and trauma recovery services in the U.S. context through being able to:

  1. Describe similarities and differences between chattel slavery, human trafficking, and structural racism.
  2. Name three 3-5 potentially problematic uses of U.S. chattel slavery language in modern human trafficking framing and suggest culturally-sensitive replacement or reframing language.
  3. Explain how shifting to a culturally and racially-sensitive framework will help services be more appropriate and trauma-informed and can foster a sense of safety among African American, Native, and Latinx survivors.

Target Audience

Preventionists, outreach workers, advocates, policy makers, and researchers working in the United States.

Prerequisites for Attendees


schedule Submitted 3 years ago