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Micheline Slattery Addresses Modern Slavery; Shares Personal Experience with Human Trafficking

Members of the Phillips Academy community listened attentively as Micheline Slattery recounted her personal experience of modern slavery and human trafficking at Wednesday’s All-School Meeting. Although slavery was officially abolished in the United States in 1865 and worldwide in 1927, slavery is still a significant global issue. According to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs website, an estimated 27 million people are enslaved around the world today. 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked internationally every year, and approximately 80% of them are women and children. Ms. Slattery, a former child slave, now works as a nurse in Massachusetts. She is also a spokesperson for the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG), a nonprofit organization that strives to abolish modern slavery around the world with the motto, “Slavery isn’t history.” Alyssa Yamamoto ’08 invited Ms. Slattery to speak through an Abbot Grant after becoming interested in modern slavery through the Andover Modern Abolitionist Society. Of the general student body reaction, she said, “I think people were more shocked than anything… but it’s good to have that initial shock as long as you’re aware of the issues.” After Ms. Slattery was orphaned at the age of five in her native country Haiti, she was taken in by her aunt and uncle. She was then forced to become a child slave for their family. “At that moment, my childhood was gone,” said Ms. Slattery. She had to get up everyday before dawn to carry out strenuous chores such as cleaning the house, doing the laundry, and fetching water repeatedly over long distances. If she was unable to complete her chores, she would be whipped or beaten by the family; in one of her punishments that she described, her uncle forced her to kneel upon a cheese grater for several hours under the blistering sun. This torturous routine became Ms. Slattery’s way of life for nine more years, until one day her cousin came to visit and appeared horrified by the way she was being treated, then took Ms. Slattery away to live with her instead. “I thought my prayer had been answered,” she said. “The next year felt like paradise.” She was able to enjoy new luxuries such as her own room, tutoring and learning how to read and write, and being pampered. However, the illusion of paradise did not last long. Once her cousin became pregnant, Ms. Slattery returned to suffering abuse as a child slave and was forced to leave her bedroom for a cot in the outside bathroom. Her cousin turned out to be a trafficker, who created false papers for her admittance into the United States. Ms. Slattery believed that she was going there to see her brother and sister, but she soon discovered that she had actually been sold to another cousin in Connecticut for $2,500. “It hurts to hear that number—$2,500— because that was all I was worth to them. I started to believe that I was only worth that much too,” Ms. Slattery said. Although she was allowed to attend school in Connecticut, she was also expected to make breakfast, get her cousin’s children to school, do the laundry, and many more chores before leaving the house, making her constantly late for school. Even when she got a part-time job, her cousin took all of her wages. According to Ms. Slattery, her cousin told her, “Nobody lives in America for free.” “The people who should’ve loved me only used me and exploited me,” Ms. Slattery said. She became lost in the feeling of helplessness and loneliness; she had no friends at her school and her grades suffered. She said, “I tried to take my own life twice but that also ended in frustration. Not even death wanted me.” Finally, after years of being abused in slavery, Ms. Slattery was able to find the courage to run away at age 18. In 2005, she became involved with AASG and started telling her story to others to raise awareness. She addressed the PA community, “Many of you are shocked to hear my story, but there are many like it…it’s happening everywhere. It’s my responsibility to tell this story, and I am passing this responsibility onto you. You have a voice. Use your voice to raise awareness and spread the word.” Anabel Bacon ’09 expressed her thoughts on the presentation. “I loved her, but I think the response [from students] could have been more powerful because it took a lot of courage for her to share her story,” she said. For others, the speech was an eye opener. “I feel like even though I am aware of modern slavery now, I can’t do anything to help… I wish we knew more ways to improve the situation,” said Stephanie Yu ’09.