As National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month (January, initiated by President Obama in December 2011) came to a close, DC-SMS and CapCity College at George Washington University teamed up for a film viewing of the documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.
I was drawn in by the humility of the filmmakers; their purpose was to learn about a topic in which they were not experts, rather to present or lecture. Through interviews, the documentary provided an impressive interweaving of perspectives – survivors, families, ex-traffickers, journalists and researchers, psychologists, and activists, to name a few. Bit by bit, we followed the team as they began to unravel the mystery of modern slavery.
They began in Moldova, a smaller Eastern European country located between Ukraine and Romania, often considered to be the epicenter of human trafficking. The team then moved on to the red light district of Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal; but as they discover, legality is sometimes hard to recognize through a store window. The film switched gears for a bit to southeast Asia, specifically in Thailand and Cambodia, where they learned more about family-fueled human trafficking situations. Nefarious brought it home to Las Vegas, U.S.A., for the next section, emphasizing important similarities and distinctions between human trafficking in the United States versus other countries they had explored. To wrap it up, the film briefly highlighted Sweden, where the purchase of prostitution was criminalized in 1999.
Here are a few points, statistics, or anecdotes that struck me while watching Nefarious:
- Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry. It is profitable second only to drugs.
- Wherever the filmmakers went, they encountered girls trafficked from Eastern Europe.
- In Amsterdam, 60% of prostituted women report being physically assaulted.
- Industries need two things to survive: money and government (or some form of authoritative) support. Where human trafficking thrives, it has both.
- In regards to human trafficking, is poverty certainly a correlation but not necessarily causation.
- In the United States, it was more common for women to admit they were lured by the glamour and prosperity of prostitution, and then later trapped in a trafficking spiral.
- The average age of entry into sex trafficking in the United States is 12-14 years old.
- The woman who sat next to me spoke with me briefly following the film and she shared that what surprised her the most was the statistics on parental complicity, particularly in Cambodia, where 80-90% of families sell their daughters as a source of income.
The film ended with a few William Wilberforce quotes that clearly meant a great deal to the filmmakers and the documentary’s message:
“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.”
Overall, this was a successful event for both DC Stop Modern Slavery and CapCity. We had to find more chairs so people could sit down!