The New Abolitionists

December 28, 2017 Dorchen Leidholdt Spotlight 
Sex Trafficking, Domestic Servitude, Forced Labor, Child Labor, Activist Stories, Awareness, Policy Making

When people think of abolitionist leaders, the names of icons like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Henry Ward Beecher, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton come to mind. A diverse cross section of Americans—black and white, enslaved and free—were in the forefront of the 19th century antislavery movement and responsible for its many victories. But America has a new generation of 21st century abolitionists, women and men committed to ending human trafficking here in our country and everywhere. Our gallery of portraits celebrates New Abolitionists and their determination to end slavery once and for all in our lifetimes.

New Abolitionists is much more than a collection of photographs. It is a campaign that teaches that slavery is neither a historical artifact nor something confined to distant lands. Sex and labor slavery happens in our midst to our girls and boys, to our women and men. Some of the victims are brought here from other parts of the world. Often lacking English and immigration status, they are at the mercy of the criminals who buy and sell them. Many more, however, are born and raised in our communities and enslaved by traffickers from our communities, usually for sexual exploitation that typically starts when the victims are young teens.

New Abolitionists, like our forebears, are dedicated to the protection and empowerment of trafficked people. Protection means safe harbor for all, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual identity, or immigration status. Protection means an end to the re-victimization of victims by the criminal justice system. Too often the justice system has failed in its mission, turning a blind eye to the perpetrators and punishing their victims. Too often society has reinforced injustice, stigmatizing victims as “prostitutes” or legitimizing their oppression as “work.”

Abolitionists are not only educators and thought leaders. We take bold action, as Henry Ward Beecher did when he staged a mock slave auction in Plymouth Church in 1860 and purchased an enslaved girl’s freedom. Like our predecessors, New Abolitionists take to the streets, petition our government, and stand at the bully pulpit to educate our peers and the public that all humans are equal and no one should be bought and sold.

Today’s abolitionists are neighbors, philanthropists, doctors, lawyers, social workers, students, actors, and business leaders. We are judges, teachers, political leaders, and community organizers. We are old, young, in the public eye, and completely anonymous. Some of us are survivors. We are united by our commitment to ending human trafficking, in our country and globally. Take a look; you might be surprised by the faces you recognize. Embrace our abolitionist legacy and help build its future. Join us!

Meet all of the New Abolitionists at

Topics: Sex Trafficking, Domestic Servitude, Forced Labor, Child Labor, Activist Stories, Awareness, Policy Making

About the Author

Dorchen Leidholdt

Director, Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services

Dorchen Leidholdt is the Director of Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, the largest legal services program dedicated to victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and gender-based violence in the country. Ms. Leidholdt co-founded the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women in 1998 and the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition in 2005. She teaches at Columbia Law School and is co-editor of Lawyer’s Manual on Human Trafficking: Pursuing Justice for Victims.


Related Actions

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The Aruna Project is working to end commercial sexual exploitation by bringing freedom and restoration to the many women and children sold into the trade. Help bring hope by hosting or participating in an Aruna 5k race in your area.