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Editorial: Slavery in its ugly modern form

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tonight at 7 p.m., the Seneca 2 women's rights group will present a free public lecture on a grotesque topic: human trafficking, especially the coercion of teen girls into prostitution.

Sister Anne Victory of Cleveland, a nun who helps lead the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking, is to address the forum in West Virginia State University's Davis Fine Arts Building.

Although the subject is repulsive, it's important because thousands of girls are lured, abducted, tricked, drugged, beaten, starved, confined or otherwise snared into selling their bodies to profit their handlers. Sometimes they're manipulated by alleged "boyfriends." Sometimes it's done by trusted female "friends." Either way, it wrecks a girl's life.

Victims often are runaways from troubled homes. As they struggle to survive hungry on gritty streets, they're enticed by pimps who use narcotics or rape to turn them into $1,000-a-night moneymakers.

After overcoming Republican resistance, Congress recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act and the accompanying Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Both are sorely needed. Sister Victory's organization says:

"Approximately 800,000 to 900,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, and between 18,000 and 20,000 of those victims are trafficked into the United States. ... Many are exploited for commercial sex, including prostitution, stripping, pornography and live sex shows."

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and his wife wrote a book, Half the Sky, about oppression of women. Kristof says sex trafficking of girls now is tenfold bigger than the U.S. slave trade before the Civil War.  He said the worst offense isn't "Mexican or Korean or Russian women smuggled into brothels in the United States. ... The biggest trafficking problem involves homegrown American runaways."

American men who pay to enjoy the bodies of these young victims should understand what they're supporting, and feel deep shame.

Human trafficking -- modern slavery -- also involves people forced into farm labor camps, factory sweatshops, domestic maid duty and other types of coerced work.

The whole topic deserves greater awareness and stricter policing. We hope tonight's lecture serves that purpose.


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