Sex Trafficking

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

March 8th was International Women’s Day. In hopes of finding an uplifting and empowering video to share on Bell Tolling, I visited Vimeo and searched the word “women.”

Don’t do this.

What Vimeo retrieved by that one word (a word I proudly associate myself with) was a slush of sexualized films and images. Though I was looking to find the sight of a clothed, empowered, intelligent looking female, what I actually found was a preponderance of sexualization. I left the sight (site) discouraged and disgusted. It’s not that I haven’t recognized this trend of connotation in the word “women” before–or that I haven’t been offended by it–but the concentrated overdose on a popular media site was a bit much to bear.

This experience reminded me, in contrast, of a video I saw a few years ago by Dove, which lightly but poignantly touched upon the effects of sexualization and the female body in popular culture:

There is another video by Dove here, if you happen to be interested.

In the strange proceedings of memory,  my experiences with Vimeo and with the Dove commercial led me yet further to a video in the past.  Though I am two and  a half years late sharing it, this short film by Emma Thompson and Richard Jobson (link below) has nevertheless disturbed and impressed me since my first viewing. I disagree that it falls within the boundaries of sensationalism (though I remain open to debate). It’s shocking, no doubt, but it attempts to tell a tale of reality; and though any “short film” is bound to over-simplify, I contend that, given the time constraints for popular media, only so much can be said. This video catches the attention and hopefully sparks discussion where silence has largely reigned thus far.

Perhaps one would argue that  the topic of this film (sex trafficking) is not appropriate for a short film geared at the general public because of it’s complexity–that it should be preserved for the educated and informed. Perhaps others would argue that such a realistic portrayal of this topic is not appropriate for popular media because it is too offensive. I’m open to listening to these arguments. As for now, however, I think that relegating such topics to lengthy, erudite media alone–or to no media at all–is partly to blame for the lack of conscience felt by our society for these crimes. As one who researches and writes on this topic often, I have read and heard, but not seen, stories like this before. The film is the strongest thing to “stick” with me.4  Most media on this topic isn’t so vivid. But most media doesn’t catch people’s attention. Most media is easy to forget.

At the very least, this film called Journey (also was a traveling exhibit) succeeds by constructing a narrative that is compelling, introductorily informative, and inviting of further discussion. My main critique is that, as usual, the victims have no first person voice. Why do we so often prevent people from narrating their own history?  Nevertheless, here it is: LINK.

WARNINGThe video contains strong sexual and violent images that viewers may [should] find disturbing. For those judging by the American rating system, it is certainly “R” RATED–so view at your own discretion.

If you don’t want to watch, at least learn more about the issue of sex trafficking some other way. 

Educate yourself on this issue.1 Or on other issues surrounding the image of women in our societies. Get involved. It may seem that the answers should be simple–but you’ll quickly find that they aren’t. For instance, shall we legalize prostitution in order to regulate it? There are those who argue that this would raise tax revenue and thereby help girls off the street.  How has legalizing prostitution played out for the Netherlands and other countries? Have their estimated levels of trafficking fallen? Can we rely on these estimates? And how do the victims of trafficking feel about this issue?2 How does the general population of prostitutes feel? Does everyone agree? In fact, what exactly is trafficking (from a legal standpoint)? Does its definition differ from place to place? Is it separate and district from  illegal migration and human smuggling? Can we reasonably tell them apart in reality? What are the rights of a trafficked victim as opposed to an illegal migrant? What punishments do trafficker face for their work? How often are they punished? Why? What is the evidence for and where are the programs for rehabilitation and reintegration of trafficked victims? Do we know that they work? etc., ect., ad infinitum.

I have many sources to suggest if you would like (attempted) answers to these questions.

My stance on this issue must remain transparent: I do not think that prostitution should be legalized. However, I also worry that the term “trafficking” is now used to refer to so many different circumstances that its functionality is being worn thin, if it hasn’t decayed already.3

Don’t be ignorant. Ask questions, seek many perspectives before settling, and find your own way to engage.

Suggested reading on trafficking may include: Methodological Challenges by Brennan (I can email you the article, if you ask), Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered by Kempadoo, the Polaris website, and the blogs by Stella Marr et al.

Quick introductions can be found at: New York Times

A video also by NYTimes:

Interview with Mimi Chakarova, director and narrator of The Price of Sex at the Human Rights Watch film festival: Download Podcast

Rachel Lloyd, author and founder of “Girls Like Us” on the Diane Rehm show: Listen

A related post on Bell Tolling: Read

A follower of Bell Tolling and author of My Body the City: The Secret Life of a Call Girl, Stella Marr, has some interesting posts to share on the topic–as to her associates.

3 In a future post, for example, I will discuss the issue of “child trafficking” in regards to illegal intercountry adoption (i.e. does the abuse of adoption processes truly amount to “trafficking” as so many say?) Until that time, I encourage you to read up about this issue.

4After watching this video, I asked myself “Did it have to be so vivid?” As one who researches and writes on this topic regularly, I have read many true stories similar to the tale told in Journey, and that have likewise offended me. But this film jarred my senses and soul in a way similar to that described by Susan Sontag. It’s never been the same. And though I, like Sontag, claim no more grasp  or understanding of the reality of the victim because of this film, I least won’t forget or feign absolute ignorance anymore. But again, watch at your own discretion.


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