The Slave Next Door
California Lawyer

The Slave Next Door

January 2010

The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, By Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, University of California Press, 320 pages, $24.95, hardcover




Slavery in the United States did not really end in 1865 with the 13th Amendment. In The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, authors Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter say that, according to the U.S. State Department, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year to work in slave-like conditions. Others claim a much higher figure?as many as 50,000 people, not including the people who are trafficked within the country. This new, "equal opportunity" slavery, which does not discriminate by race, is also characterized as "disposable" slavery, because a slave in 1850 cost the equivalent of $40,000 but in today's currency can be bought for as little as a few hundred dollars.

The authors provide a wide range of perspectives in this well-written book. And they are very familiar with their subject matter. Bales is the president of Free the Slaves, an antislavery advocacy organization, and the author of three previous books on modern-day slavery. Soodalter is a Lincoln scholar and the author of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader. The first half of The Slave Next Door describes various types of slavery in America today, weaving in personal stories of enslaved workers, their exploiters, law enforcement officials, and anti-trafficking advocates. They describe horrific trafficking cases that involve domestic workers, sex workers, African choir boys, and even Chinese acrobats. The authors point out that the commodities produced by overseas slave labor are quite common, including such things as fish, cotton, coffee, carpets, and steel.

The latter half of the book focuses on what is being done about slavery and trafficking in the United States and what the average citizen can do about this tragic problem. One chapter, entitled "States of Confusion," describes and analyzes how the individual states have responded?or failed to respond?to human trafficking. The book also discusses the law enforcement agencies that investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, and provides advocates' views on the federal response to trafficking. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Soodalter and Bales give their outline for ending slavery, which would require participation at all levels?from government organizations to individuals?and includes ideas for consumer activism, community organizing, forcing government action, improving labor and immigration laws, and volunteering and donating to service organizations.

The authors claim that "there has never been a day in our America ... without slavery." And they put Americans on notice that there are people to liberate right in their own backyards.

For those who might feel overwhelmed or disheartened by the continued existence of slavery, the book also offers suggestions about how to help trafficking victims and survivors, including a list of antislavery organizations and agencies to contact in the appendix. Anyone wanting a better understanding of the ongoing problem of slavery in the United States?and their own role in perpetuating or eradicating it?should read this book.

Charles Song is the West Coast pro bono manager for Howrey in Los Angeles and the former legal director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

We welcome your comments!


E-mail: (will not be published)

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.

Enter the characters on the left: