“An estimated 12 million people are enslaved worldwide – more than were held at the height of the trans-atlantic slave trade” Polaris Project
Washington D.C.– I took some time on my last day in D.C. to visit the museum at President Lincoln’s Cottage and see the new modern day slavery exhibit. Titled “Can you walk away?”, the exhibit is an initiative of President Lincoln’s Cottage and the Polaris Project. It calls attention to the idea that although President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery with the establishment of the Emancipation Proclamation almost 150 years ago, slavery has not ended in the United States. It has merely changed its shape and now manifests in the exploitation and enslavement of immigrants (documented and undocumented) who have moved to the U.S. in search of better lives and employment opportunities; and vulnerable domestic minors and adults who may be coerced, forced, or tricked into prostitution in the U.S. sex trade.
The exhibit is small, but effective. Upon entry you can watch a short video on the realities of human trafficking within the U.S.. The video presents the stories of multiple survivors of both forced domestic servitude and sexual slavery. One woman traveled to the U.S. to work as a nanny and was ultimately enslaved – forced to watch the employers children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, cook and clean the house, without a day off and without pay. Another survivor who is depicted in the video was a domestic minor runaway, picked up by a pimp and forced to prostitute herself at truck stops.
Following the video, visitors can read quotations featured on the walls, which are meant to educate and inspire individuals to get involved in anti-human trafficking efforts. There are also three pedestals around the room holding books that provide visitors with a better understanding of what modern-day slavery looks like in the U.S.. These books go into detail on What is modern day slavery?, Who is vulnerable? and How can we end it?.
I took my time in the exhibit. I watched the full length video and flipped through the books looking for further inspiration to continue my work in the anti-trafficking field. During that time, over twenty people visited the museum; three visitors came into the modern-day slavery exhibit; not one of the three visitors stayed longer than five minutes. To me, this is a representation of a problem within our society in which people are much more comfortable ignoring the topic than recognizing that slavery still exists in the U.S.: out of site is out of mind.
Additionally, there are too many people throughout the U.S. who falsely understand slavery to be an issue of the developing world. Ultimately, this exhibit is a great introduction for individuals to be shown how prevalent the issue is in our own country and in our own communities.
The exhibit is open through August of 2013. If you are in the area I suggest making a stop at Lincoln’s Cottage and checking it out. It would only take a maximum of 45 minutes to walk through the Cottage museum. Entrance to the Cottage museum is free, unless you would like to take a guided tour of President Lincoln’s Cottage. If you are not in the area, or cannot stop by the exhibit, you can still view elements of the exhibit on the website by clicking here.
Written By: Ali