Monday, January 16, 2017

Slavery Yesterday and Today

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Slavery Yesterday and Today

By Katrielle Vaslenio

The Colosseum, also known as the Coliseum, shown above, is one of the most iconic buildings in Rome. People from all over the world travel to Italy to see its impressive size and beautifully crafted Roman archways. The magnitude of this building is awe-inspiring. The Coliseum was on my own travel bucket list before this AGI-Rome trip.

However, on this AGI trip, I learned that this building has a darker history. Built in 70 AD at the commission of Emperor Vespasian, the Coliseum was a gift to the Roman people. His idea was to build a center place for the common and poor folk to enjoy in an attempt to keep his subjects happy. Styled as an amphitheater, the Coliseum could hold 50,000 seated spectators and 80,000 spectators standing. It is estimated that over 50,000 slaves built the Coliseum. These slaves came from areas all around the Adriatic Sea that were conquered by the Romans. On this trip, we took a tour of the Coliseum and learned about the slavery that built it. It’s an eerie feeling walking around such a grand structure, imagining the blood, sweat, and forced labor that went into its creation. As I walked with our tour guide, I tried to find a balance between my own wonder of the structure and my unsettledness of its history. To learn more about slavery during the Roman times, visit this website or – if you’re planning a visit to Rome – I highly suggest taking a walking tour of the Coliseum.

Although it’s been centuries since the Coliseum was built, the slavery still exists. Through this program, I learned how slavery intersects with our world’s current refugee crisis. Forced migration and the mass movement of peoples has resulted in human trafficking – essentially a form of modern-day slavery. As migrants move into and through Italy, the country has seen an increase in human trafficking. In the 2016, the U.S. Department of State released a report (found here) briefing the human trafficking in Italy. When we met with the Director of the UNHRC and his colleagues, (thank you, Stefan, Fabianna, and Mikal!), I learned that in 2015, they saw an 80% increase of human trafficking of Nigerian women. They shared that there is a huge difficulty in getting women to report human trafficking and it’s hard to prosecute without proof or reporting. According to the International Labour Organization estimates that about 2.5 million people have been trafficked at any one time and are subject to sexual or labor exploitation. Currently, Italy has taken several measures to help victims of trafficking, an important task as hundreds of thousands of immigrants cross into their borders, many with the opportunity to escape their situations and claiming asylum.

The world has changed drastically since Ancient Rome but slavery – in the form of human trafficking and forced labor – still exists. Human trafficking isn’t absent in the United States either. When I arrived back in the States, I saw the poster below, strategically placed when exiting the customs line at San Francisco International Airport.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved in eradicating modern slavery, check out Polaris, an organization in the U.S. that is working to restore freedom and prevent more victims.

While work is being tirelessly being done around the globe to end human trafficking, we are nowhere near the end and our current refugee crisis has placed the issue at the front door of many host countries. The policies and actions we take next determine the future of these exploited peoples. Although our world has a deep history of slavery, our future doesn't have to.

Photo by Katrielle Veslenio