Breaking the Chains of Modern Slavery

From Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide collection, lesson plan 5 of 5

Grade Levels: High School (grades 11-12), Community College, Youth Development Organizations

Time: Two to three 50-minute class periods + assignments

Subject Areas: Women’s Studies, Social Studies, Global Studies, Media Studies, English Language Arts

Purpose of the Lesson:

Modern-day slavery is relatively unknown, in part because it does not fit our historic image of slavery. Contemporary human slavery can take many forms, including forced labor, child marriage, debt bondage, and commercial sexual slavery. Modern slaves can be garment workers, domestic help, agricultural workers, and prostitutes. They might work in factories, build roads, or harvest crops.

Although slavery was officially abolished worldwide at the 1926 Slavery Convention, it continues to thrive thanks to the complicity of some governments and the ignorance of much of the world. Sexual exploitation is the most widespread form of human trafficking, making up 79 percent of all recorded human trafficking cases. One in five victims of human trafficking are children and two-thirds of victims are women. Gender-based discrimination and the devaluing of women and girls are at the root of this exploitation, which is compounded by religious and cultural traditions and other social and economic inequalities. Sexual exploitation and trafficking exist because it is acceptable for those in the society with more power — often adult men -– to purchase and use those with less power: women and children, and among them especially, ethnic minorities, the poor, and the disabled.

Through this lesson students will learn that there are more people living in slavery today than at any time in history and consider the causes and consequences for women and children, who are disproportionately victimized by the commercial sex trade and who constitute the vast majority of the estimated two million people sold into sex slavery around the world every year.


Students will:

  • Understand the status and context of modern slavery;
  • Develop a working definition for human trafficking;
  • Consider the global impact of the modern slave trade and the role that gender plays in human trafficking;
  • Understand what it means to be an Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, and Survivor; and
  • Examine the complex relationships of individuals who are affected by the sexual trafficking of women and girls and how their interactions with that issue and with each other overlap using the lenses of Upstanders, Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Survivors.


Please note: Download teacher and student handouts in PDF format by clicking "Download lesson materials" at left

  • Film module: Intergenerational Prostitution in India (10:44 minutes)
  • LCD projector or DVD player
  • Student handouts:
    • Student Handout A: What Is Modern Slavery?
    • Student Handout B: India in Context
    • Student Handout C: Film Module Screening Guides
    • Student Handout D: Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, Survivor
    • Student Handout E: Responsibility, Culpability, and Understanding
  • Whiteboard/blackboard and markers/chalk
  • Pens/pencils and writing paper
  • Computers with internet access
  • Wall map of the world with country names (free printable maps are available here)

Note for Teachers about the Lesson Plan Breaking the Chains of Modern Slavery: Sex Trafficking and Intergenerational Prostitution and Its Contents:

This lesson and the accompanying film module from Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide address the challenging issues of sex trafficking and prostitution directly and honestly, but the discussions and topics might not be suitable for all audiences. Teachers should prepare for the lesson by reading all the materials thoroughly and watching the complete film module to determine if this topic and lesson are appropriate for their class. Teachers should also brief students on what they will be viewing in advance and identify students who might be personally or adversely affected by this material. Prior to launching the lesson, please contact your school counselor or social worker to discuss policies and procedures for addressing a disclosure of violence or abuse and be prepared to provide students with support or the option of not participating in the lesson where appropriate.

For additional information about the documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and the global crisis of human trafficking and violence against women and girls, please download the free Sex Trafficking and Intergenerational Prostitution Discussion Guide from the Women and Girls Lead website, visit the official transmedia project website, and read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Standards: This lesson aligns to key Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. For a full list of standards, please download the lesson materials above left.

Curriculum Writer: Allison Milewski

This curriculum is endorsed by the National Council for Social Studies. To learn more, visit


Time: 40 minutes

You will need: Student Handout A: What Is Modern Slavery?; Student Handout B: India in Context; Teacher Handout A: Mapping Modern Slavery; a wall map of the world with country names; pens/pencils; writing paper; and map pins, stickers, or small Post-its

Goal: Students will challenge their preconceptions about slavery and discuss the status and nature of slavery in the 21st century. Students will develop working definitions for modern slavery and human trafficking and an understanding of the different forms that trafficking takes. Students will brainstorm contributing factors and complete the activity by considering the role that gender plays in human trafficking.

Part 1: What Does Slavery Mean to You?

  • Ask the class to consider the following question and give students one minute to quickly write their responses: What does the term slavery mean to you?
  • Ask for volunteers to share and discuss their answers, and use the prompts below to further explore their responses:
    • Do you think slavery still exists? Why or why not?
    • What do you imagine modern slavery looks like?
  • Record the responses on the board to refer to them later in the activity.
  • Divide the class into small groups of two to three and distribute Student Handout A: What Is Modern Slavery? Give the groups seven to ten minutes to read and discuss the summary of modern slavery using the questions in the handout.
  • Ask the pairs to share the results of their discussions with the class and track the groups’ speculations about question #4 (Where in the world do you think modern slavery exists today?) on a wall map with pins, stickers, or small Post-its.
  • Distribute two Fast Facts from Teacher Handout A: Mapping Modern Slavery to each group. Each Fast Fact will contain a brief summary about slavery in a different country of the world. The groups will discuss their facts and try to identify which country they think each fact applies to.
  • Each group will share their fact and the countries they believe they represent. Once the correct countries for each fact have been identified, groups will mark their countries on the map.
  • The class will review the map and compare their speculations with the reality of the modern slave trade suggested by their country facts.
  • Complete the activity by sharing the following information:

Trafficking affects all regions and the majority of countries in the world. Both men and women may be victims of trafficking, but the primary victims worldwide are women and girls, the majority of whom are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Traffickers primarily target women and girls because they are disproportionately affected by poverty and discrimination, factors that impede their access to employment, educational opportunities, and other resources. (

Part 2: India in Context

  • In preparation for viewing the film modules, ask a volunteer to locate India on the wall map.
  • Provide students with the fact sheet Student Handout B: India in Context. Have them read the fact sheet and discuss briefly with a partner.
  • Variation: This handout can be provided in advance of the lesson for students to review as homework.


Class time: 35 minutes

You will need: Pens/pencils, writing paper, LCD projector or DVD player, Student Handout C: Film Module Screening Guides, the Intergenerational Prostitution in India film module.

  • Distribute Student Handout C: Film Module Screening Guides and instruct students to take notes during the screening using the worksheet as a guide.

Part 1: Intergenerational Prostitution in India

  • Screen the film module Intergenerational Prostitution in India, then review the students’ notes and follow with the discussion questions below:
    • Based on the stories in the film, what are some factors that contribute to women in the Kalighat district of Kolkata becoming prostitutes?
    • What strategies did the brothel owners use to keep them obedient?
    • Why do they remain prostitutes?
    • What impact have their experiences had on their expectations for their daughters?
    • In the film module, Basu relates a common parental fear: “Maybe someday when my child is empowered and educated and moves away, he or she is going to abandon me.” What other factors contribute to the parents’ or community’s reluctance to see the next generation change their fate? How would you react if someone more privileged than you were to offer to take your children away to a better life?
    • Can you give examples of quotes from the film that stood out the most for you?


Time: 50-65 minutes

You will need: Student Handout D: Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, Survivor; Student Handout E: Responsibility, Culpability, and Understanding; pens/pencils; whiteboard/blackboard; dry-erase markers/chalk

Goal: Students will discuss the film modules and share their notes. They will then consider what it means to be an Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, or Survivor and examine the roles that subjects from the film play in relationship to each other and to the broader global crisis of sex trafficking.

Part 1: Postscreening Discussion Questions

Use the following questions to guide the class discussion:

  • What did you think of the film? Was there anything that surprised you?
  • How does the film represent modern slavery?
  • Do any of the women’s families play a role in their trafficking? Can you give some examples from the films?
  • Based on what we saw in the films and our earlier discussion, why do you think the families (and the girls themselves) may see prostitution as an option?
  • In the film, America Ferrera says, “It’s not just saving them from prostitution, it is saving them from a world where these women themselves have never been taught to value their own lives.” What do you think she means by this? Do you agree with this statement?
  • How is sexual exploitation connected to the cycle of poverty?
  • What role, if any, could access to education and economic empowerment play in combating this form of gender-based violence?
  • Nicholas Kristof says that one of the “global paradoxes is that countries with the most conservative sexual traditions tend to have the most prostitution.” Why do you think that is? What value do women have in these societies?

Part 2: Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, Survivor

In this activity, students will consider what it means to be an Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, or Survivor and examine the roles that each of the subjects from the film plays in relationship to the broader crisis of sex trafficking.

  • Divide the class into small groups of three students and distribute Student Handout D: Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, Survivor.
  • Ask the groups to review the definitions for each term and rewrite each in their own words using the handout as a guide. Have each group share its results with another group and refine its own definitions and understanding of the terms based on the discussion.
  • Distribute Student Handout E: Responsibility, Culpability, and Understanding and have each group identify a collection of three subjects from one of the films to focus on for the activity.
  • Ask each member of the group to select one individual from their collection of subjects and have each student complete a copy of Student Handout E with their character in mind. While completing their handouts, the students should consider the complex relationship that each subject has to sexual exploitation of women, using the lenses of Upstander, Bystander, Perpetrator, and Survivor, and how their interactions with that issue and with each other overlap.
  • When the students have completed the handout, have each take turns sharing their subject’s profile with the other members of their group. Ask the members of the group to imagine and share how their own subjects might respond to the others’ responses and statements.
  • Complete the process by instructing each group to discuss how the subjects who were Bystanders or Perpetrators could make different choices in order to be Upstanders. Have students share what they think the benefits and consequences of different choices might be for him or her and for the other subjects involved. Students can draw on their own experiences and share the tools they might use to be an Upstander in this situation.
  • If time and resources allow, provide a large sheet of kraft paper to each group and have them create and illustrate speech bubbles for their responses to the discussion. Give the class five minutes to walk around the room and review each group’s work.
  • Review the results of the activity and discuss as a class using the following prompts:
    • What surprised you most about this activity?
    • Did any of your subjects play more than one role?
    • What role do factors such as gender, age, and economic status play in the options each subject had and the choices available to them?
    • In what ways does understanding the subjects’ relationships to each other help you better understand the circumstances that led to the violation of these women’s rights?
    • How has your understanding of slavery changed since the beginning of this lesson?
    • There is a culture of silence surrounding sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children. Survivors often experience social stigma, fear of retribution, and emotional trauma and are reluctant to share their stories. What are some of the ways that New Light in India are breaking those taboos and helping Survivors become Upstanders and challenging Bystanders and Perpetrators to reconsider their choices?
    • What are the consequences of being an Upstander? What are some of the consequences for survivors who come forward to speak on their own behalf?
    • Now that we know about this issue, what responsibility do we have? How can we be Upstanders for the Survivors of sexual trafficking?


Select one or more of the following assignments to complete the lesson:

Assignment 1. The Institution of Sexual Slavery

One of the primary reasons that sex trafficking and sexual slavery continue to flourish is that there are too few penalties for traffickers, brothel owners, and the patrons that keep this economy running. In what ways do governments and social institutions participate in these issues? How might their collective actions make them Upstanders, Bystanders, Perpetrators, and/or Victims of the trafficking industry?

  • Instruct students to work in groups and research and review domestic and international policies and agreements aimed at preventing and eradicating trafficking, including the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, The UN General Assembly’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the United Nations’ (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Using the U.S. Department of State’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012” as a resource have each group identify a country from each of the three tiers described below and read the country summary.
    • Tier 1: Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.
    • Tier 2/ Tier 2 Watch List: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
    • Tier 3: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
  • Instruct each group to compare and contrast the Protection, Prosecution, and Prevention policies described in each country’s summary and find areas of overlap and difference.
  • Groups should supplement their research for each country by examining their countries’ economies, education systems, social services, and status of women.
  • Ask students to consider how trafficking flourishes in some regions and not in others.
    • What role do equal opportunities for women, a strong civil society, a robust economy, access to education, lower rates of government and private sector corruption, the rule of law, and educational opportunities play in the rate of trafficking?
    • Why are some countries the suppliers of trafficking victims while others are the destinations?
    • What are the economic forces that are driving the trafficking industry and how might these forces impact countries’ responses to the crisis?
    • What role do social and religious restrictions on women’s status play in their vulnerability to trafficking?
  • Ask students to consider how governments and social institutions can function as Upstanders, Bystanders, Perpetrators, and/or Victims of the trafficking industry. What role can individual citizens play to eradicate an institutional culture that allows trafficking to flourish in their own country and in other parts of the world?
  • Students should report their findings by creating a profile for each country and developing an infographic that illustrates the factors that contribute to the country’s success against or struggle with trafficking. They should also identify at least three actions that students in their community can take against human trafficking and sexual slavery and develop fliers, brochures, and a social media site to spread the word about their campaign.
  • Students can use the following websites for additional research, resources, and information:

Assignment 2. Epistolary Poems: An Open Letter To…

Building on the postscreening activity, students will write two epistolary poems (poems in the form of letters) in the voices of two characters from the films.

  • Ask each student to select an Upstander or Survivor from one of the films and write an epistolary poem to one of the story’s Bystanders or Perpetrators. In the poems, have the subjects explain the impact that the Bystander or Perpetrator had on their lives, why they made the choices they made, what they hoped to achieve, and how they feel about their choices.
  • Ask students to watch the module again and write down words, quotes, and actions that speak to the themes of their poems. Let them know that they can speculate when needed but should draw from the actual words and actions of the characters as much as possible.
  • Next, have the students write a response epistolary poem from the Bystander or Perpetrator. In the poems, have the subjects explain why they made the choices they made, what their motives were, and how they feel about their choices.
  • The following websites provide detailed information about and resources for developing epistolary poems:

Assignment 3. Human Trafficking at Home

Sex trafficking is not just a problem in the developing world. Approximately 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year. What impact, if any, do you think sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are having in your community? What more could or should the United States do to combat sexual exploitation on the national and international levels?

  • Divide the class into groups and instruct each group to research and examine the impact of human trafficking in their community.
  • Have them identify and connect with local and national groups that are working to help survivors and eradicate trafficking and find out how they and their peers can contribute to and participate in those campaigns. Students should examine what impact, if any, that trafficking is having in their region, what forms trafficking takes in the United States, which communities are most affected, and the effect of the growing sex-tourism industry among Americans traveling to places like Thailand, Cambodia, and the Dominican Republic.
  • Instruct each group to develop an action plan to address the problem in their community or region.
  • Groups should complete their projects by designing websites and creating social media campaigns that will provide fact sheets, resources, and information about the issue and how survivors and volunteers can connect with service providers. The following websites can be used as resources:

Activity 1: Buying in to Slavery

When we think of modern slavery, we often imagine that it is something very separate from our own lives being perpetrated by criminals and thugs operating in a world very different from ours. In reality, we encounter the products of slavery every day in our grocery stores, shopping malls, restaurants, and the buildings we live and work in. How do our daily choices contribute to modern slavery?

  • Display a range of items (a pair of sneakers, a cotton shirt, a chocolate bar, a cup of coffee, a photo of a car, a silk scarf, a bowl of rice, etc.) and ask students what they think the items have in common. Explain that each of these items is directly or indirectly the product of modern slavery.
  • Ask students to select one item and research its production and distribution from its source to the stores where we buy it.
  • Where possible, students should contact the companies and individuals involved with the production and conduct interviews about their relationship to the product.
  • Have students document the product’s journey and their research process with video, photos, interviews, journal writing, and social media sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. Their process documents and research can be compiled into a multimedia presentation.
  • Students can also create an interactive map of the story of the product’s journey and the ripple effect of its production using Google Maps.
  • The following websites can provide resources and information for the projects:
  • This website can calculate your individual “slavery footprint”
  • Stories of modern survivors of slavery
  • Prezi
  • Weebly for Education
  • TodaysMeet – Microblogging for the Classroom

Activity 2: Caste, Class, and Women’s Rights

Urmi Basu describes the cycle of intergenerational prostitution thus: “Women who are in prostitution have very little ability to make their daughters aspire to do something different. It’s not that trans-generational prostitution happens because they want to make it happen. It’s because they have no option, they have no escape.”

  • Have students research the caste system in India and how it intersects with intergenerational prostitution.
  • Ask them to examine that system in relationship to the United States, which is among the least socially mobile of the industrialized countries.
  • Once the students have completed their research, have the class discuss and debate the following questions using the “fishbowl” teaching strategy, which helps students practice being contributors and listeners in a discussion.
    • Is there a caste system in the United States?
    • What impact, if any, does our lack of social mobility have on women’s rights?

Activity 3: Legalize It?

Should prostitution be legalized? There is an international debate raging around the subject of prostitution and whether women will be better protected — and more empowered -- if it is made legal and regulated by national and international laws and policies. Some believe that legalizing prostitution legitimizes the commercialization of women’s bodies and increases practices such as trafficking, slavery, and child rape.

  • Screen the complete India: Intergenerational Prostitution and have students consider what they think the impact that legalizing prostitution would have.
  • Ask students to share their feedback and what they know about the debate. What are the main points of those who oppose legalized prostitution? What are the main points of those supporting it?
  • Have students work individually or in groups and assign each student/group one side of the debate to research.
  • Following their research, have students engage in a formal debate about the issue. Education World offers a selection of debate resources that provide guidelines and rules for classroom debates.

Activity 4: The Modern Triangular Trade

Hillary Clinton states in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide that "A lot of the brutality against girls and women is rooted in deep cultural stereotypes about the worth of women. And it's not that different from the way African American slaves were viewed in 18th- or 19th-century America or Europe. These [people] were not fully human, these were some other kind of being that under the Bible or under a convenient social rationale were put on Earth to serve somebody else." From the late 16th to early 19th centuries, the transatlantic slave trade carried slaves, cash crops, and manufactured goods between West Africa, North America, and the European colonial powers. The use of African slaves was fundamental to growing colonial cash crops, which were exported to Europe. European goods, in turn, were used to purchase African slaves, who were then brought by sea from Africa to the Americas, a treacherous journey known as the Middle Passage. Today, women and girls are trafficked around the world in exchange for money, goods, weapons, etc. and they are kept in slavery to provide sex and cheap labor. But today’s trade routes are often more complex and more difficult to track.

  • Have students research the history of the Transatlantic Triangle Trade in relation to the contemporary slave trade.
  • Building on the earlier activity, have students create an interactive Google Map that tracks both the transatlantic slave trade and the modern movement of people, goods, and money.
  • Have them consider the similarities and differences between our historical understanding of slavery and its modern manifestation.
    • What challenges did abolitionists face during the transatlantic slave trade and what strategies did they employ?
    • How do those challenges compare to the ones faced by the modern abolition movement?
    • Are there strategies from the past that would be effective today?
    • In Mississippi in 1850 an agricultural slave cost the equivalent of fifty thousand to a hundred thousand dollars at today’s prices. An equivalent slave in India today costs just ninety dollars. If the average price of a trafficked human is at a historic low, how does that impact the way that slaveowners treat the people they are enslaving? For example, what is the incentive for traffickers to provide adequate conditions and health care when it might be more “cost effective” to allow their victims to die?

Activity 5: Hey Man, Keep It Real and Be Cool

What role do men and boys have in eradicating the sexual slavery of women and children? How can they collaborate in the international campaign? Antitrafficking efforts frequently address only the victims of sex trafficking, ignoring the force that fuels the trade – male demand for purchased sex. Without demand for purchased sex, traffickers, pimps, and brothel owners will be driven out of business. Have students check out the Demi and Ashton Foundation’s “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” Campaign and Apne Aap’s “Cool Men Don’t Buy Sex Campaign” and develop their own social media campaign using viral video, photography, and social media to help end sex slavery and the sexual exploitation of women and girls in their own communities.



Kristof, N., and S. WuDunn. 2009. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide: Filmed in 10 countries, this film follows Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde on a journey to tell the stories of inspiring, courageous individuals. Across the globe, oppression is being confronted, and real, meaningful solutions are being fashioned through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls. The linked problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality — which needlessly claim one woman every 90 seconds — present to us the single most vital opportunity of our time: the opportunity to make a change. All over the world, women are seizing this opportunity. Visit the website at

Women and Girls Lead film series: Women and Girls Lead offers a collection of films by prominent independent filmmakers. These films focus on women who are working to transform their lives, their communities, and the world. Visit the website to learn more about the films and explore our diverse catalogue of educator resources, lesson plans, and film modules. See for more details.

Websites This is the official website for the Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide film, book, and movement.

Women and Girls Lead website: Women and Girls Lead is an innovative public media campaign designed to celebrate, educate, and activate women, girls, and their allies across the globe to address the challenges of the 21st century.

AFESIP Cambodia: founded by Somaly Mam to care for those victimized by trafficking and sex slavery. The primary objective of AFESIP's work is to secure victims' rights by providing holistic care through a victim-centered approach, with the long-term goals of successful and permanent rehabilitation and reintegration.

Voices for Change: a project of the Somaly Mam Foundation “designed to give survivors an opportunity to help themselves by helping others, to have their voices heard in the courts of law and public perception, and to have influence and impact on effectuating change. It is our vision that from those who have struggled through the pain of slavery will arise a new generation of leaders who stand for justice and free will.”

Apne Aap: organizes “groups of women and girls who are at the risk of or are affected by trafficking” into self-empowerment groups and ensures their access to “three fundamental rights – education, sustainable & dignified livelihood, and legal empowerment” as per their 3L model. They also develop and participate in nationwide education and outreach programs to support victims of sexual exploitation and end trafficking.

New Light: provides shelter, educational opportunities, recreational facilities, health care, and legal aid for the children, girls, and women in Kalighat, one of the oldest red-light districts in the city of Kolkata.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC): responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives.

CARE International: an organization fighting poverty and injustice in more than 70 countries around the world and helping 65 million people each year to find routes out of poverty.

The Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA): works through local partnerships to give women tools to improve their lives, families, and communities. CEDPA’s programs increase educational opportunities for girls, ensure access to lifesaving reproductive health and HIV/AIDS information and services, and strengthen good governance and women’s leadership in their nations.

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS): the only organization in New York State specifically designed to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking and their work has put them on the forefront of the national movement to end the sexual slavery of women.

ECPAT International: a global network of organizations and individuals working together for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography, and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

UNiTE to End Violence against Women: launched in 2009 by UN Women to engage people from all walks of life to end gender-based violence in all its forms.

  • Film module:
    Intergenerational Prostitution in India
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