A somewhat expected theme discussed at theconference was the debate on how to exactly define the crime of human trafficking. Most importantly, are the terms modern-day slavery and human trafficking equivalent? Are there similarities and differences between the Atlantic Slave Trade and human trafficking?
In order to properly define the crime of human trafficking, activists need to not only know what it is but also what it isn’t. There are two major issues with that.
First, there are those who view the enslavement of Africans during the Atlantic Slave Trade as something so horrible that no other practice could possibly compare to it. As Jowl Quirk, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Witwatersrand, shrewdly observed, the tendency, labeled as strategic minimization, to minimize and excuse slave-like practices is responsible for the lack of acknowledgement of human trafficking as akin to what has now been termed “the old slavery.”
I am sure that upon significant research and examination, we can determine (and many already have) that there are numerous similarities between the practice of slavery in the past and the contemporary crime of human trafficking. Of course, since the context is different, we can also find a lot of differences. This, however, should not prevent us from acknowledging that the conditions most human trafficking victims live in significantly resemble the conditions enslaved Africans lived in.
The second major issue with defining slavery is the tendency to expand the boundaries of slavery, labeled as rhetorical inflation, for the purposes of sensationalism. For those who become entangled in the tentacles of rhetorical inflation, it becomes very difficult to define what slavery is not. Basically, it creates the perfect conditions to refer to any mild inconvenience as slavery.
The above is the issue I seriously have a problem with. Rhetorical inflation seems to be a common side effect of living in a world of instant gratification and convenience. The moment something goes wrong, some are immediately inclined to label the situation as slavery, or torture, or any other example of extreme pain and suffering.
Somehow I feel that this obsession with defining the crime detracts from the very real and very torturous experience survivors go through, but I am not sure what the solution to the problem would be. There is a need of a clear definition in terms of the law, but how can we make sure that we include and exclude what is actually appropriate to be included or excluded?