Salma was born into slavery in Mauritania, one of the last places on earth where hereditary chattel slavery is practiced. She smuggled herself across the Atlantic on a cargo ship to freedom, arriving in the US in 1999. The following year, she sought legal asylum through the New York Association for New Americans. An immigration judge ruled that Salma was a slave entitled to US protection.Salma first told her story in 2003, and updated it here in 2009.
Like her mother and grandmother before her, Salma Mint Saloum was born into slavery in Mauritania. Slavery was first abolished in Mauritania in 1905, by colonial French rulers, and again when Mauritania joined the UN in October 1961. It was abolished for the third time in 1981 by the Military Committee of National Salvation. But the situation didn’t fundamentally change: masters don’t have to pay their slaves or provide any sort of social security; the ban did not address how masters were to be compensated or how slaves were to gain property; and there was no provision for enforcement. This arrangement allows the legal fiction of slavery’s abolition to continue. In 2003 Mauritania passed a law that made slaveholding punishable by fines and imprisonment but no slaveholder has been prosecuted. As Salma explains in her narrative, “[i]t doesn’t matter what the laws say there, because there they don’t apply the laws.” In 1997 Salma decided not to wait any longer, and liberated herself. She crossed the river border into Senegal, but still didn’t feel free. As she notes, “I was free. I still wasn’t free.” She felt that to be “truly free,” beyond the danger of re-enslavement, meant going to the US, and so began a journey that retraced the route of the transatlantic middle passage, though with a very different outcome. In the US, Salma observes, she experienced “total liberty.” Her narrative includes a long section that compares her life as a slave with her life as a free person, and Salma defines this new freedom. She focuses on freedom of expression, and being able “to talk with people I choose to talk to…to be free to go where I want, to eat what I want, to sleep where I want.” Freedom also means being able to “make decisions concerning my own children,” for in Mauritania she “never had the right” had to “watch the children of the master’s wife” instead of her own. Most importantly, however, freedom means being paid for her work. This, she emphasizes, is “really liberty.”Salma first told her story, as printed here, in 2003, and updated it in 2009.
In 1999, Roseline Odine reached the turning-point where she could be a slave no longer: “That’s it. That’s it,” she said. Roseline’s narrative features a long escape sequence as she moved through the turning-point from slavery to freedom. Roseline spent two and a half years as a domestic slave in Washington DC. Promised an American education and a babysitting jobs, she was tricked into leaving her family in Cameroon at the ages of 14. Upon arrival in the US she worked long hours for no money, was not sent to school, and was beaten and verbally abused. Roseline was also sexually harassed. She recounts a process of indoctrination and mind-control that eventually meant she “didn’t want to talk to the cop because of what she [her enslaver] had told me in the house—that America’s no good.” After escaping, Roseline met Louis Etongwe, a cousin of the man who drove her to safety. She told him that there were two more Cameroonian slaves in the area. Louis helped them to escape, then took tapes of all three girls to Cameroon to show their parents and gather evidence against the traffickers. Roseline’s captors, Louisa and Kevin, were eventually convicted, sentenced to nine years in prison, and told to pay her $100,000 in restitution. Kevin was also convicted of attempted sexual assault.
Miguel’s narrative marks a clear turning-point when he knew he could remain in bondage no longer: “A week before Easter it happened.” He told other workers: “Now is our time to leave.” Miguel had arrived in the US from Mexico in 2001, and ended up as a slave in a labor camp run by the Ramos family in Lake Placid, Florida, after being recruited in Arizona. He and several others were transported to Florida and then told they owed $1000 each for transportation. The Ramoses also deducted from their weekly pay for food, rent for substandard camp housing, and work equipment. Miguel sometimes ended up with only $20 a day, and had no control over records of payment and credit. His employers were armed with guns, watched for workers trying to escape, and cut off access to the outside world. Relatives of the Ramoses owned the stores where workers were taken to shop.Miguel reached the turning-point from slavery to freedom in 2001 with the help of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based worker organization of over 2000 members in Immokalee, Florida’s largest farmworker community. Between 1997 and 2000, CIW helped end three modern-day slavery operations, resulting in freedom for over 500 workers, and in 2001 it began investigating the Ramoses. In November 2002, three members of the Ramos family were convicted of conspiracy to hold 700 workers in involuntary servitude. In May 2004 they were sentenced to a total of 31 years and nine months in federal prison.
Christina Elangwe spent five years as a domestic slave in Washington DC, held by Cameroonians. Promised an American education and a babysitting job, she was tricked into leaving her family in Cameroon at the age of 17. Upon arrival in the US, she worked long hours for no money, was not sent to school, and were beaten and verbally abused.A man called Louis Etongwe helped Christina and two other women to escape, then took tapes of all three to Cameroon to show their parents and gather evidence against the traffickers. Christina’s captors received five years probation and were ordered to pay her $180,000 in back wages. So far she has received about $2000.
Maria Suarez marks the turning-point in her decades-long journey from slavery to freedom as the moment when a bird knocked at her window. She had no idea she about to be freed, but when the bird came she knew that she “was going to have some good news.” She waited, and minutes later officials told her she was going to be free. At the age of 15, in 1976, Maria immigrated legally to the US from Michoacan, Mexico, with her father. She was soon approached on the street in Los Angeles by a woman offering work as a cleaner. But instead the woman sold her to 68-year-old Anselmo Covarrubias for $200, and Covarrubias made her his domestic slave. For five years he held her in bondage in his house in the Los Angeles suburb of Azusa, raped and beat her, and threatened her with black arts wizardry. Maria believed that he read her mind, possessed her soul, and would hurt her family if she told anyone about the abuse. In August 1981, Covarrubias was bludgeoned to death with a table leg by Pedro Soto, who was renting a converted garage on the property. Maria washed the weapon and hid it under the house, as directed by Soto. She was arrested, along with Soto and his wife. Soto was convicted of first-degree murder, and his wife was convicted of soliciting murder and being an accessory to a felony. Maria was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, sentenced to 25 years to life, and incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Corona. Officials eventually confirmed that she suffered from battered woman’s syndrome — allowed as a legal defense in California after in 1992 — and she was paroled in 2003, after five years in slavery, and 22.5 years in prison. But Maria still wasn’t free: according to federal law, non-citizens convicted of violent crimes must be deported upon their release, and she was taken directly to a federal detention facility. She spent more than five months fighting deportation, then was certified as a trafficking victim eligible for a T-visa—a new status for victims of slavery and trafficking in the US. She was freed in May 2004.
The Be Her Freedom campaign is part pf the A21 movement which comprises of individuals, organizations, government officials, and members of the public who are committed to abolishing injustice in the 21st century. The image replaces the shackled pleading hands of past antislavery campaigns with a clenched fist - a symbol of self-determination and self-liberation.
The image promotes the work of the Bakhita Initiative which is the Roman Catholic Church in England's response to the issue of contemporary human trafficking. The key stakeholders of the Bakhita Foundation are the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Caritas Westminster, and the Metropolitan Police. The image depicts Josephine Margaret Bakhita, F.D.C.C., (ca. 1869- 8 February 1947). Josephine was born in Darfur, Sudan. She was kidnapped into slavery as a girl in c.1877. In 1883, in Khartoum, Bakhita was purchased by the Italian Vice Consul Callisto Legnani. Bakhita eventually left Sudan with the family. She was taken in by the Canossian Sisters in Venice and refused to rejoin the Legnani family. On 29 November 1889 an Italian court ruled that Bakhita had never been legally enslaved because Sudan had outlawed slavery before her birth and because slavery was not recognised under Italian law. She became a Canossian sister and lived and worked in Italy for 45 years. She was eventually made a saint and has been adopted as the only patron saint of Sudan.