Editor’s note: This blog post was written by Benjamin Skinner, a longtime friend of Free the Slaves who won the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace prize for his book A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery. To learn more about Mr. Skinner’s work as an investigative journalist and abolitionist, check out his website here.
Sex Slaves-UK, which premiered this past Sunday, May 22, at 9pm EST, documents the efforts of the British police to root out sex trafficking networks. Human bondage is a problem as old as recorded history, and England is where the organized fight against it began.
There, in the late eighteenth century, the first international human rights movement took shape when Wilberforce, Clarkson, Equiano and others pressed to abolish the slave trade, an effort magisterially portrayed in Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains. Those vanguard abolitionists inspired their brothers and sisters across the pond, including Douglass, Garrison, Truth, and Tubman. That American struggle culminated in the Civil War—the sesquicentennial of which we mark this spring—the Thirteenth Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Not to be outdone, in the late nineteenth century, British journalists reclaimed the abolitionist mantle by first crusading against sex slavery in urban England, then by uncovering the extent of Belgium’s slave empire in the Congo Free State. E.D. Morel, who conducted the Congo investigations, triggered the third abolitionist movement, also magnificently described by Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost.
Now, at the start of what Kevin Bales—President of Free The Slaves, the American wing of Wilberforce and Clarkson’s organization—has dubbed The Fourth and Final Abolitionist Movement. Britons are once again trying to slay the 5,000-year-old snake. As I explain in The Huffington Post, the modern British effort is a far cry from its eighteenth century forebears, but it certainly makes for engrossing television. Sex Slaves-UK is worth a watch.
(post script: As long as I’m given the opportunity to gratuitously plug Hochschild, his latest, To End All Wars, out this month, is typically brilliant.)
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Last year, Ben Skinner was featured on CNN’s Larry King Live, along with Dan Rather, Mira Sorvino and Julia Ormond. The topic was modern-day slavery. Watch a clip here.