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An exhibition and public presentation around human trafficking and forced labor in the USA. Human trafficking, sexual slavery and forced labor, once thought of as international crimes, are now recognized as serious domestic issues, with thousands of cases reported each year across the USA.

As a Midwestern transportation hub, Chicago is a focal point for criminals looking to profit off of slave labor. This ease of access, in combination with large vulnerable populations of undocumented immigrants and impoverished, at risk youth, has made human trafficking and forced labor a pressing local problem. Despite engaged and progressive law enforcement at the local, county and federal level, Chicago still lacks necessary resources to provide immediate care for those fleeing brutal, violent forms of bondage. Only one safe house exists to serve the entire city.

In May of 2014,  Board members Nina Alvarez, Nina Berman, Jon Lowenstein along with artist Michael Genovese, mounted an exhibition and public presentation at Arts Works projects around the issue of human trafficking and forced labor.  Over 100 people were in attendance including several NGOs working on the issue.  





In Plain Sight: Modern Day Slavery in the United States


Nilda always dreaded Friday nights. The parties were the worst. Not only did she have to cook for the family, she also had to clean, prepare the house for all the guests, serve the food and clean up afterwards. 

It was also the only day when the lady of the house treated her like a human being. 

In front of company it was a grand show, and there was nothing she could do. For more than two and a half years Nilda, who was trafficked from Guatemala as a domestic worker, was confined in Plano, Texas, a wealthy suburb of Dallas. Her captors intimidated her with physical threats and stole her passport. She had nowhere to go. 

Nilda was a modern day slave. 

When we think of slavery, we think of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that, over the course of more than 500 years, brought millions of Africans out of their native countries and dispersed them into a living hell throughout much of the Western Hemisphere. 

Most Americans assume slavery ended with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  This made slavery illegal in the Confederate states, but it didn’t end it. 

There are an estimated 27 million slaves across the globe today: There are more people enslaved in the world now than at any other time in human history. 

More than 150 years after Lincoln’s fateful stroke of the pen, more than 150,000 men, women and children are still living in slavery in America. 

“In Plain Sight” is my effort to tell some of their stories. Many of the people I photographed were undocumented and had been duped by their traffickers to believe that a better life lay on the other side of the border. 

In Adela Lopez’s case, her family paid a small fortune of 140,000 Guatemalan Quetzales, or about $20,000, in an effort to find a better life in the U.S. As is often the case, the victims were seduced by someone familiar to them; by someone they trusted. 

In a nightmarish scenario, Adela and her family found themselves captives once inside the United States. For more than a year they endured undue hardship at the hands of their traffickers. All three were forced to perform domestic labor.  Her sixteen-year old daughter was referred to as “Carne Fresca,” or Fresh Meat. She was repeatedly raped and eventually had a son by her rapist/trafficker. 

Other women, like Christabelle, are American citizens. She endured forced labor in the form of domestic work, manual labor and forced sex acts both for her father and her father’s friends. This began when she was only six years old and lasted until she was 12. 

Modern day trafficking in America defies stereotypes: The victims come from all types of backgrounds, economic classes and education levels. What all of them have in common is that they were forced against their wills, and often under physical or psychological threat, to be enslaved. 

The people in this project are the lucky ones:  they escaped. Each year many are murdered by their captors. The others languish in the daily reality of modern day slavery.

These individuals have an amazing spirit and deep well of resilience that allow them to rebuild their lives and to continue living in spite of their past.