Saturday, July 20, 2024

(Image: Dmitry Ratushny via Unsplash)

March 14 is My Freedom Day (#MyFreedomDay), in which students participating across the planet in cooperation with CNN’s Freedom Project raise awareness of modern slavery.

There are many statistics that show why this is necessary. The most striking to this author: There are approximately 20.9 million victims of slavery across the planet, indicating 1 in 335 people are living in slavery, out of a total world population of 7 billion.

Human trafficking includes the smuggling of human beings for forced labor and sexual exploitation. This is acknowledged to be a global horror – but there have also been cases in recent years here in Boston and Cambridge of modern slavery in the form of nannies or household staff, often undocumented immigrants being forced to work out of fear of their “employers” reporting them to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and getting them deported.

I can confirm that undocumented immigrants who are victims of local sex trafficking retreat into the shadows due to fear of deportation and being torn from their families.

Through my work as liaison for immigrant affairs in Mayor Marc McGovern’s office, I am often asked to help. Recently, “Marta,” a local undocumented immigrant young woman and mother to a toddler, contacted me. I know her through my local Catholic parish; during those years, unknown to me, she was also being forced into the sex worker industry and severely physically abused by her male American citizen partner, the father to their child. She wanted out desperately. But in asking for my help she made me promise not to contact local authorities, an attorney, city hall or anyone she believed could jeopardize her leaving with her child. Her partner often threatened to not only turn her in to ICE, but to have her ripped from her American-born child.

The story has a happy ending. Her government of origin was able to help her directly and get her and her child to safety. “Marta” gave me permission to write about her as long as I did not identify her. My participation in #MyFreedomDay is telling this story to bring attention and raise awareness to the fact that modern slavery and sex trafficking occurs locally and is not something that happens only somewhere else.

Emmanuel “Manny” Lusardi is an East Cambridge resident and longtime advocate for immigrant rights, and serves as the liaison for immigrant affairs to the office of Mayor Marc McGovern.