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  • James Wheeling

White Slavery

When Charles Sumner addressed the Boston Mercantile Library Association in February, 1847, he gave an oration on the chattel slavery of Christians throughout the Barbary States, specifically Algiers and centered around European concubines often found in Turkish harems. After uncovering this event, it occurred to me that white slavery is an aspect of human history that is often passed over until we started calling it “human trafficking.” I believe it deserves a quick statement here given recent and actual ongoing, national events.

White slavery has existed since the 14th century when sea-faring cultures would capture women and children from their coastal communities and take them back as slaves. The Vikings did it, the Greeks did it, the Muslims did it, and the Barbarians did it. Christians were captured and used as bait in the Roman Coliseum, all manner of captured souls were used to row the huge Roman ships to their destinations and Egyptians used Hebrews to build their architectural wonders. Native Americans and Mexicans practiced slavery between tribes clear into the 19th century. It is not a new thing.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the world made a united statement against the practice. The International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic of 1904 was aimed at women in the Slavic countries who had been forced into prostitution and the term was used against the forced prostitution and sexual slavery of girls who worked in Chicago brothels.

Anytime a culture dominates an area, the need to intimidate and disempower takes shape and taking slaves is one of the best ways to make that happen. In some cultures, it is the message to the men of the subordinate culture that they are too weak to protect their women and children. Fear coupled with perceived impotence makes for tragedy – until someone changes the equation.

In my story, I’ve used this dynamic. I'm writing historical fiction and I don’t have any specific facts supporting this theory; it isn't an account of actual events that happened in 1849 Boston. Instead, I am relying on mankind’s lack of kindness to drive the events and my storyline. The fact that our world still struggles with this domination and abuse is disheartening.

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