Human trafficking remains an entrenched—but not intractable—problem in the United States and around the world. According to the International Labor Organization, 40 million people suffered from human trafficking last year—most of whom were women and girls.
On October 13, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a screening of “Trafficked,” the new drama based on Siddharth Kara’s award-winning book, which follows the stories of three girls from Nigeria, America, and India as they lose and reclaim their freedom.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion of the root causes of vulnerability to trafficking, the role of the buyer in trafficking, police corruption and accountability, the psychological effects of trafficking on survivors, and the road to recovery.
In his opening statement, Siddharth Kara, Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, described his motives for writing and producing the film “Trafficked”.
“Above all, the goal of this film is to try to give some voice—some stirring voice to the millions of voiceless victims and survivors of human trafficking around the world.”
Mr. Kara hopes the film will remind policy makers and the public of the real-life consequences of anti-trafficking efforts.
“As much as we talk about policy, and talk about laws, and talk about steps that need to be taken, what should never be lost in those conversations is the human element in all this,” he said.
Marcia Eugenio, Director of the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, described her personal reaction to the film and praised it for shedding light on the uncomfortable reality of human trafficking.
“I think it is important to feel uncomfortable when you’re watching this movie. I think it is important because it reminds us that there are people out there who need our support.”
Ms. Eugenio emphasized the scope of human trafficking around the world, noting that by conservative estimates, there are 25 million people trapped in forced labor, 5 million of whom are being trafficked for sexual exploitation.
She also noted that trafficking is a complex problem with many causes. “Trafficking, forced labor, modern slavery, whatever term you want to use, is big business, and it’s underpinned by crime, by corruption, and in some cases, by good people turning a blind eye,” she said.
Solving it will therefore require the engagement of government and people from all parts of civil society.
Alex Trouteaud, Director of Policy and Research at Demand Abolition, described his organization’s innovative efforts to combat human trafficking by reducing demand among sex buyers.
In addition to focusing on the needs of the victims, he said, it is important to understand and take on the demand that drives trafficking.
“This is an issue where vulnerable people are used as supply to meet the demands of perpetrators. So to the extent that we want to reduce victimization, we have to be thinking about the issue in a totally different way,” he stated.
Good anti-trafficking policy, he said, provides services to rehabilitate victims, deter traffickers, and reduce demand for paid sex. He praised the Trafficking Victims Protection Act for addressing these three issues, and called for its reauthorization.
He noted that progress is being made, citing a substantial decrease in sex buying in the U.S. over the last few decades, but stressed that much remains to be done.