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Justice official: Slavery persists

BY CHRIS CURTLAND | NOVEMBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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When John Richmond started speaking Wednesday night for the Geneva Campus Ministries Lecture series, he opened with a question.

“How many of you have met a slave?” he asked the crowd that nearly filled the IMU’s second-floor ballroom. “Well, I have.”

Richard, a Department of Justice employee, works to fight against human trafficking — which, he said, is the world’s third largest criminal enterprise, with nearly 27 million people being oppressed and exploited worldwide.

Richmond now travels the country speaking about his work, but before his government job, he worked with the International Justice Mission.

On that job, he met a slave named Nagaraj in Chennai, India, in 2002.

“One day in the market, he prayed to images of Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, and of Jesus — and two days later, he met two International Justice Mission investigators,” Richmond told the crowd.

Believing God had sent them — though Richmond actually had — Nagaraj was freed after a lengthy case. He now operates his own brick kiln, in which he used to work in servitude.

“And Nacaraj pays his workers standard wages,” Richmond assured the crowd. “He promised me.”
In what many consider a thing of the past, Richmond says slavery is still a relevant issue.

“Too many think of slavery as a historical problem, and not as the modern-day blight it is,” he said. “These stories aren’t anecdotes; slavery exists today.”

Richmond said it is impossible to accurately quantify the number of humans who are compelled or coerced into labor or service. But if his 27 million figure is correct, he said, that means more slaves exist today than during all of the 400-year trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“This issue isn’t just the sex trade, and it’s not just a caste problem in other countries,” Richmond said. “Trafficking is happening in restaurants, bars, factories, fields, and homes everywhere.”

The Geneva Campus Ministry invited Richmond to participate in its weeklong effort “Jesus, Justice, and Poverty: STOP the Traffic.”

“John Richmond developed a sustainable model for prosecuting perpetrators and an aftercare rehabilitation program for the victims,” said Edward Laarman, the ministry’s director, noting he rescued around 1,300 slaves while in India.

Laarman said Richmond used a few personal vacation days to come to Iowa, a state with human trafficking issues of its own. In 2006, Iowa became the 14th state to outlaw human trafficking.

“The state of Iowa is working with federal government and creating task forces to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes,” Richmond said; Iowa’s issues relate to sex brothels, domestic servitude, and the trafficking of undocumented workers.

Students in attendance said they were disturbed by the idea of human trafficking abroad and locally.

“[Trafficking] is an abomination. It’s disgusting,” said Alex Strieder, a UI sophomore in philosophy. “You can buy a girl in Indonesia for $300.”

Sauvik Goswami, a UI freshman in business who attended because his rhetoric class is addressing human trafficking, agreed the issue can no longer be ignored.

“It’s a huge problem that needs to be dealt with,” he said.


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