It's hard to believe that there would be enslaved Africans in America in the 21st century, but in one case, they were working in plain sight as hair braiders in Newark, N.J. If you've ever had the feeling that the price you paid for your microbraid extensions was "a steal," be warned: It very well may have been.
CNN tells the story of nearly 20 girls, some as young as 9, taken from the West African nations of Ghana and Togo, and forced to work in the U.S. for free between 2002 and 2007. "It was like being trapped, like being in a cage," explained one of the young women, now 19, who was identified by CNN as "Nicole." The girls were held in houses near the salons where they worked up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of their customers were people whose own ancestors had been brought over from Africa in bondage.
The girls' parents apparently let them go thinking that they would receive an education and good lives in America. Instead they were beaten, kept in squalid conditions, and in some cases sexually abused. Earlier this year, Akouavi Afolabi; her husband, Lassissi Afolabi; and their son, Dereck Hounakey, were convicted of running the human-trafficking ring. They received prison sentences ranging from 4 to 27 years.
Hear their story in the CNN video below or read it here. And if you suspect that someone is a victim of human trafficking, check out the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for tips on what to do.
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editorial consultant. Follow her on Twitter.