Modern Day Slavery

Recently in class we have been discussing Judith Shklar and who we believe she would include as a “citizen” of our country. This got me thinking about whether or not she would consider a group of young men and women, whom of which I have been working with for years now, citizens or not. This group consists of saved child sex slaves currently residing in a safe house in Arizona. These young men and women have been pulled out of a life of sex trafficking and sent to a non-profit known as Streetlight as opposed to going to jail. For the purpose of this blog post however I want to clarify that I will be taking into considerations the lives they had before they were saved and where Shklar may put them in the spectrum of citizenship.

                Initially, when thinking about this question I thought that there was no way Shklar could consider child sex slaves as citizens because all the money they earn goes straight to their pimps and I know for a fact none of them practiced their right to vote. Based off of Shklars criteria this would mean that they were not citizens and even though these victims did not choose to enter this horrific life, no other judgment could be made. This, at first, got me to be rather irritated with Shklar and I began to not care for her theories anymore. However, I then began to think of the situation in a new way and started to consider what these young men and women were going through as modern day slavery. In this regard I believe it is safe to say the Shklar would feel the same way about this group as she did about slaves of Americas past. They had no voice, no say, and no choice but what their master or, in this case, pimps tell them. Therefore, they are not citizens but they also have not been given the opportunity to try and become citizens. In Shklars book, American Citizenship, she uses a quote by Elizabeth Stanton on page 59 that says, “to deny political quality is to deny the ostracized self respect.” This quote hit it home for me that Shklar does not consider it fair for a human in a situation of slavery, who cannot choose for him or herself to be a citizen, to be placed on any spectrum whatsoever. Also, if you look at Shklars views of cruelty, she clearly has strong sympathies for those who are not given a voice, “Every adult should be able to make as many effective decisions without fear or favor about as many aspects of his or her life as is compatible with the like freedom of every adult.” and that this “is the original and only defensible meaning of liberalism” (The Liberalism of Fear). Therefore, although it is rather ambiguous, the answer to my original question of whether or not child sex slaves would be considered citizens is that they are not according to her original criteria, but in the situation of modern day slavery they are prevented from actively having the choice. Thus, they cannot be considered one or the other.


this photo is of the original streetlight youth section, when we were going from school to school

spreading awareness about the issue. (im on the far right)

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6 Responses to Modern Day Slavery

  1. kdmflag says:

    You have hit the nail on the head squarely in this post. These trafficked children are modern day slaves, and definitively no citizen in Shklar’s view. It is true they are bound into a horrid iteration of chattel slavery, and denied the basic human rights of freedom, liberty through expression, and earning.
    However, now that we have agreed such restrictions on human potential as the denial of citizenship, I encourage us to explore other demographics hamstringed from full citizenship by their economic means. When we look not to the trafficked sex slave, but the man or woman pressed into prostitution out of a lack of viable jobs within the community. For the sake of argument, let us exclude those which turn to prostitution to support drug habits, and examine the ‘willing’ prostitutes, few of whom operate without a pimp.
    The pimp is essentially a cruel employer: demanding unfair working conditions, excising disproportionate profits for given contributions, and limiting the voice of their employees by force or violence. The prostitute earns, keeping a ‘living wage’, and even manages to vote with his or her dollar, one of the requirements for Shklar’s vision of citizenship. Yet we all know the pimp takes enough of the profits to keep their whores in check; this modern ‘citizen’ is never allowed to earn sufficiently to break the cycle or elevate their status. Without the agency that comes with earning and saving, you are merely surviving, never fully a citizen, just a unit of production struggling to maintain.
    What then do we say for the millions living off a disproportionately low minimum wage, are they quasi-citizens, never capable of earning more than a survival wage? The Poverty in Chicago documentary we watched in class ( ) raised the claim that it requires a 120 hour minimum wage work week to maintain an one bedroom apartment in the city. This cycle is just as vicious as those trapped in prostitution. A minimum wage so divorced from the basic cost of living offers no more agency than the pimp on the corner.

  2. pjshield says:

    Interesting blog post here. Before I read this post I did not consider the issue of whether sex slaves would be considered citizens or not. I also have a question about the beginning you said that sex slaves could be sent to jail but I think thats prostitution rather than sex trafficking. I’m not saying that some sex slaves aren’t also prostitutes but for the most part I think prostitution is voluntary. I never read Shklar but her criteria for being a citizen seems pretty simple. I think at this point in time there needs to be more gray area. I think she needs to be updated to understand in these terms who is and who isn’t a citizen.

  3. jamietraxler says:

    I think that you are right in the fact that Shklar would definitely feel that these children needed their rights in order to even start thinking of becoming a citizen. And she would feel that they have suffered a grave injustice but I think it’s important to focus on their ages and what constitutes an adult and child because Shklar focuses on adults and if these children are still not of age then Shklar would still not categorize them as citizens. I think it’s also important to point out that through Thursdays reading of Douglas we pointed out many holes of Shklars argument so it’s hard for it to even be considered valid.

  4. I agree that Shklar would consider these innocent victims citizens only once the harsh term of slave is added. I agree with you in the beginning when you said, “This, at first, got me to be rather irritated with Shklar and I began to not care for her theories anymore.” To me Shklar seems to be very “label happy” on the term citizenship. People choose to show there citizenship in anyway they seem fit.

  5. beyers2013 says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and, like you, I was becoming severely disillusioned and irritated by Shklar the more I thought of our in-class discussion involving her theories. However, I believe she would consider the group you speak of as citizens because they are in fact victims of oppression.

    For some reason, the issue of modern-day slavery has been slow in rearing its head before the American public. Some seem to think that because Blacks are no longer in direct bondage slavery just simply does not exist in these times. However, as we all know, THIS IS NOT TRUE. Whenever someone is held against their will and forced to participate in activities that may be detrimental to their fundamental liberty and overall wellbeing, regardless of race, creed, or gender, we are all slaves. Whether it is in this country (as Streetlight Phoenix clearly demonstrates) or anywhere else in this world, we are all held captive–directly or indirectly. But what is even more sad is that thousands of children and adults will never fully realize the freedoms they should have be it in America or abroad. While some may escape the torture of slavery, many will retain the scars of their enslavement as they struggle to recapture their dignity, sanity, and become independent and what some may call “productive” members of society. Although as a political science major I appreciate many of Shklar’s theoretical perspectives, I would hate to think that she would not consider modern-day slaves to be in the same class as those who are permanently woven into American history. If so, she and those who would agree with her, would be sadly mistaken.

  6. haleyschryver says:

    I think there are a lot of flaws in Shklar’s argument, and I think you did a great job of illustrating that. The people you mention who are involved in prostitution were not given a choice in that matter, so it isn’t fair to say they aren’t a citizen when they didn’t have a say in it. If they are over 18, they have the right to vote, and they are certainly earning, even though their earnings go to their pimp. The fact that they don’t have the independence that comes from earning is not of their own volition. For Shklar to say that these people are not citizens is just sad.

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