The Underground Fighters Who Are Working to End Slavery Today

March 7th 2017

WGN America


Slavery still exists—but it’s much less visible than you think.

Unlike Civil War era slavery, a time where the struggle was fought by early freedom fighters like Harriet Tubman, slavery has gotten much more subtle. Accordingly, the persons fighting back are risking their lives to do the right thing, becoming new heroes much like the historical figures depicted on WGN America's “Underground,” from executive producer, musician, and activist John Legend.

Reminiscent of early abolitionists, people who fight slavery in 2017 are using myriad tactics to end human trafficking. Anti-slavery organizers in 2017 must go underground to the source of the problem while simultaneously raising the issue to top government officials to help legislate against modern slavery.

Here are five individuals who are fighting slavery today.

Tim Ballard, Founder of Operation Underground Railroad

Ballard and his team of former CIA operatives, Navy SEALs, and others pose as potential buyers of at-risk children in sting operations to catch enslavers in the act.

"Despite our organization’s successes, we realize that nearly 2 million children are still out there being abused and trafficked in the worst form of slavery imaginable," Ballard told Forbes in 2015. “It is our hope and prayer that they all will be freed someday.”

Ballard and his team have rescued more than 600 victims since 2013, leading to the arrest of nearly 300 traffickers.

Ai-jen Poo, Founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance

Many immigrant workers find themselves in situations of involuntary domestic servitude. Poo confronts the problem by advocating for the rights of domestic workers.

NDWA’s Beyond Survival campaign highlights how forced labor results from a lack of rights for domestic workers and immigrants.

“Human trafficking renders people invisible—regardless of age, gender, race, or country of origin,” Poo wrote in The Huffington Post in 2014.

“But, too often, when the victims are women of color, their stories take too long to be heard" Poo said. "We are deeply familiar with this inequality—domestic workers, many of whom are migrant women of color, have long been invisible in the economy, despite the critical role of our work in supporting families around the world.”

Ashton Kutcher, Co-Founder of Thorn

You know Ashton Kutcher for his acting work—but he’s much more than that.

Kutcher made headlines in recent weeks by challenging Washington on the subject of human trafficking.

Many people have no idea that Kutcher is working to stop the problem with the help of technology. Kutcher and Thorn are helping law enforcement investigate the underground slave economy on the Internet with digital tools that identify victims and traffickers. The group takes credit for saving more than 6,000 victims of trafficking and identifying 2,000 traffickers to date.

Matt & Laura Parker of Exodus Road

Like Operation Underground Railroad, Matt and Laura Parker of Exodus Road work with local communities to find and rescue victims of child prostitution by penetrating underground trafficking operations to liberate victims.

Exodus Road works in the United States and Southeast Asia. It has enlisted the help of high-profile volunteers such as Adam LaRoche of the White Sox and Christian musician David Zach.

“The problem feels both far away, incredibly complicated, and too large to make a dent in,” Laura Parker wrote in Relevant. “The latest data estimates 45.8 million people are in modern slavery today worldwide, and impacting change in such a lucrative and exploitative system of oppression feels a bit like fighting the transatlantic slave trade of the 1800s.”

Be sure to watch the groundbreaking series "Underground" on WGN America, Wednesdays at 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT