Morning Forum: Human-trafficking expert condemns 21st-century enslavement


Stanford University lecturer Katherine R. Jolluck discussed “Enslavement in the 21st Century” at the Morning Forum of Los Altos Feb. 20, shocking the audience with the statistic that an estimated 40 million people are enslaved today.

Jolluck is a specialist on the history of 20th-century Eastern Europe and Russia, with a focus on women and war, women in communist societies, the Soviet Gulag, nationalism, anti-Semitism and human trafficking.

“Slavery has existed since at least 6,000 BC,” she said. “In the modern world, the following have led to its increase: the collapse of communism, the global increase in income disparity and the feminization of poverty, globalization, environmental damage and the ballooning of organized crime. State-sponsored forced labor continues in North Korea, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other countries. In other cases, entire families are held in debt bondage, sometimes for generations.”

According to Jolluck, human traffickers around the globe exploit victims for labor, sex, human organ harvesting, adoption and petty crime.

“Ethnic minorities and females are the most susceptible victims,” she said, with 71 percent of victims women, children and infants, and 29 percent men and boys.

Human trafficking includes all forms of exploitation, Jolluck said, whether victims are taken across borders or used within one country.

“Victims need not be kidnapped, but are often deceived, with false promises, into going willingly,” she said. “Under age 18, it is impossible to give legal consent to be exploited.”

Raising awareness

Excepting state-sponsored exploitation, Jolluck noted that all forms of human trafficking occur in the U.S. today, including in the Bay Area. There have been cases in Humboldt County, she added, where teenagers were used as forced labor to cultivate cannabis.

Active in the Bay Area anti-trafficking community, Jolluck has written three free short courses to raise awareness of human trafficking, accessible at Stanford Online.

The situation is not hopeless, according to Jolluck.

“Although human greed knows no bounds, there is hope,” she said. “The modern abolitionist movement is beginning.”

In late 2000, Jolluck noted, the United Nations issued a protocol to end human trafficking. The U.S. became alarmed about modern slavery in the 1990s, and in early 2000 enacted its first anti-human trafficking laws. In 2015, President Barack Obama created the first advisory board for human trafficking.

Awareness is spreading.

“Lawyers are getting compensation for victims,” she said. “Some police departments – including San Jose and San Francisco – have instituted human-trafficking units. Importantly, public awareness of human trafficking is increasing.”

But there is still much work to be done, she added.

“Thus far, results of these efforts have been abysmal because victims – vulnerable, afraid of retaliation and believing no one will help them – refuse to come forward, and because rampant corruption is universal,” Jolluck said.

Although the task is huge, she concluded, “we must abolish all forms of human enslavement.”

The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. Subscriptions are open to new members. For information, visit

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