Written by TCole – via flypapernews.com
While flipping channels I came across a story on CNN entitled “American Slaves: Hiding in Plain Sight” on AC360. Listening to the stories of young girls who were brought here from Africa with the promise of a better life, but who live horrifying nightmare made me cringe. I think of all the times I have gone into an African Hair Braiding Salon, got my service, paid and left with little thought to how the business might be run or how the funds might be distributed. On the surface, this might seem like a reasonable action, like minding one’s own business. It is exactly this type of disconnected thinking that makes human trafficking a successful business.
The young African girls I am referring to were brought to the United States as young as age 9 and forced into slave labor in the form of braiding and weaving hair in salons with no pay. Often working 16 hour days, seven days per week in plain view of the public in salons, these young girls lived in horrendous conditions sleeping in groups on mattresses on the floors of homes with little food and no amenities. Starting as young as age 9, the girls were trained to state that they were age 18 if asked by customers. The girls were forced into submission by being beaten, having food withheld and even sexual abuse. The young girls were kept in total isolation from the public whenever not working and under constant watch. In this particular trafficking ring in Newark, NJ Akouavi Afolabi; her husband, Lassissi Afolabi; and their son, Dereck Hounakey, were convicted of running the trafficking ring. Akouavi Afolabi was the ringleader, while her husband and son were accomplices. Akouavi was well connected in Ghana and Togo, where she would find families of young girls and promise them an American education. Over a period of five years the AFolabis made $4 million off of the work of the girls and the girls received zero percent of these funds. In September of this year, a Newark court sentenced Akouavi Afolabi to 27 years in prison, while her husband received 24 years and their son received 4½ years. Fortunately for the 20 or so girls in this case, the story has a happy ending and there are programs who have helped them move on with their lives and complete the education they were promised. One of the girls has even been accepted to college!
But what of other girls like them? How often have you gone to get goods or services from a business and the person rendering your service seemed a bit young? How many times have you visited a business and something seemed not quite right, and you shrugged it off? It is important to note that in the above case a tip to Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to the investigation that freed these girls, there was never a single tip from any of the hundreds of customers that patronized the salons. What does this say about American culture, home of the free, land of the brave? Are we too afraid to ask questions to make sure our communities are safe for all who inhabit them? Are we too self-involved to care if the workers of the businesses we patronize are treated not only fairly, but humanely? We have to open our eyes to every aspect of our communities, ask the hard questions and using the power of our almighty dollar by only patronizing businesses that provide good service and fair pay and working conditions. Simply put, we have to build our communities by merely caring enough to pay attention to what happens there.