World Reaches Historic Record of 27 Million Slaves, Says Jada Pinkett Smith

By Melanie Arter | July 17, 2012 | 1:29 PM EDT

Jada Pinkett Smith, right, accompanied by her actor husband Will Smith, and their daughter Willow Camille Reign Smith, left, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on "The Next Ten Years in the Fight Against Human Trafficking: Attacking the Problem with the Right Tools" on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

( Actress Jada Pinkett Smith told a Senate hearing Tuesday that 27 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking – “more than at any point in history” with 40,000 people “enslaved on our soil at any moment,” although she failed to cite a source for her statistics.

Smith, an advocate for Don’t Sell Bodies, which is designed to increase awareness about human trafficking, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday at a hearing called, “The Next Ten Years in the Fight Against Human Trafficking: Attacking the Problem with the Right Tools.”

“There are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide – more than at any point in history,” Smith said, adding that victims of human trafficking represent “every nationality, ethnicity, age group” and can be found everywhere, including the U.S.

“Here, almost 150 years after the abolition of slavery in the United States, conservative estimates suggest that 40,000 people are enslaved on our soil at any moment,” she said.

Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large for the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, in a remarks made on May 8, cited the same 27 million figure that Smith did in her remarks.

“And this is a crime, first and foremost—one that victimizes about 27 million men, women, and children around the world. In the United States, the 13th Amendment guarantees our freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude, whether you’re a citizen or an immigrant, whether you’re a man, woman or child, whether you’re being exploited for sex or labor,” CdeBaca said.

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The epidemic of human trafficking was brought to Smith’s attention by her 11-year-old daughter, singer Willow Smith, who had watched a viral video about Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony. Willow and her father, actor Will Smith, were in attendance at the hearing.

“After watching the KONY 2012 video and learning that children in Africa were being stolen from their families, forced into sexual slavery or used as child soldiers, she started doing some research. She discovered that this wasn’t only happening to children in Africa or far-off places, but that children in every country, including our own, are being forced into slavery,” Smith said.

As a result, Smith began to educate herself on the issue. She brought three “survivor soldiers” to Tuesday’s hearing: young women identified as Minh, Monica and Jamm.

“Minh was sexually abused by her father beginning at the age of three. At age 11, her father began selling her to other men. At 14, Minh’s mother felt she wasn’t receiving her fair share of the money that Minh was generating, so she began selling her herself. All of this torture and abuse was taking place while Minh was attending public school, received straight A’s and played competitive soccer. It happened right underneath everyone’s noses,” Smith said.

Monica “ran away from an abusive home and was on the streets at the age of 15, where she was kidnapped by seven men. They all beat her, raped her and eventually turned her over to another man, who forced her to sell her body for his financial gain. Monica was constantly in and out of the juvenile justice system 16 times between the ages of 15 and 17,” she testified.

Jamm, an HIV-negative child born to parents with AIDS, who died by the time she was 10, “was forced to live with her mother’s sister, a woman who is a Unified District school teacher in Los Angeles public school system,” Smith said.

“There she experienced further sexual abuse from her aunt, her aunt’s husband, and her cousins. For four years, her aunt sold her to over 100 pedophiles and child rapists. Trying to escape, Jamm stole her aunt’s cell phone to try and call for help. Her aunt called the police to try and report her phone stolen, and the age of 15, JAM was arrested,” she added.

“Now today through hard work, perseverance and support of social programs, Minh is a graduate student at UC Berkeley, getting her MSW and PhD in social welfare. The recipient of a prestigious fellowship, Minh is studying the long-term impact of child abuse, trauma, recovery and studying the health and well-being of survivors of human trafficking,” Smith said.

“Monica was introduced to a wonderful program that serves commercially, sexually exploited children called MISSSEY. She progressed on to become a part-time MISSSEY staff member and began working part-time for Youth Radio,” Smith said.

MISSSEY, which stands for Motivating Inspiring Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth, is a community-based organization in Alameda County, Calif.

“During her time at Youth Radio, Monica was one of two key reporters that produced ‘Trafficked,’ which was later awarded the Peabody Award, Gracie Award, and the Edward R. Murrow Award. Currently, Monica is a full-time staff member at MISSSEY and a part-time student,” Smith said.

According to the MISSSEY web site, “The number of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) is increasing, while the average age is decreasing. Further, these youth are often considered criminals, as if they're seeking to be abused, rather than victims of domestic human trafficking.”

“And finally, we have Jamm, and she was finally recognized as a victim and offered the specialized help that victims of human trafficking need. She’s enrolled at West LA College for the fall term. She’s working hard so that she can transfer to USC in the fall of 2013,” Smith said.

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