Slavery Exists Today

Originally published in editorial column of The Hullfire #March2017

Sold is a film about modern day slavery and sex trafficking. It was recently screened in Hull as part of the nationwide Taught, Not Trafficked tour which is being run by Childreach International in an attempt to raise awareness about the issue. It follows the story of a young girl, Lakshmi, trafficked from her home in Nepal to a Kolkata brothel where she is forced to work in the sex trade.

It is a harrowing and affecting film which whilst being a fictional account, highlights a very real problem of similar stories that occur all over the world. 12,000-20,000 girls are trafficked from Nepal alone, every single year and this has increased by 300% since the earthquakes in 2015. But it’s also right under our noses in our own towns and cities. With an estimated 11,000 – 13,000 slaves still working in the UK it is highly likely that even in Hull, the birthplace of William Wilberforce, slavery still exists today.

The tour of the film, which is co-produced by Emma Thompson and not yet on general release in the UK, visited Hull as part of the Woman of the World festival, a City of Culture event, that ran from 10th-12th of March. The festival was celebrating and raising awareness of women’s issues around the world. As was made clear from the Q and A panel that followed the screening, the primary way people can help to avert the situation is making people aware of what is a highly clandestine and covert industry. It is estimated that only 8% of the UK are really aware of this ongoing issue.

The film is based on the acclaimed novel by Patricia McCormick and sees the main character sold by her father and mother in the hope that their daughter can earn some money. They are not necessarily fully aware of what awaits their daughter but have no choice either way due to the poverty that they are experiencing. Brothels often appear to offer jobs of cleaning or housework in an effort to reel in those who are desperate for an income. Lakshmi soon finds out that not only is the prospect of a new roof for her family a long way off but she must do far more than she was expecting in order to earn it.

The toll on all the working women but particularly the young girl at the centre of the film is clear and the scenes in which she is forced to give up her body to men paying for the privilege are harrowing. The film is very good at showing the lies and deception that occur in order to make this industry work, as well as the police corruption that undoubtedly occurs in many areas where this is happening. Sold ultimately has a happy ending and one criticism that could be made of the film is how this comes about.

Gillian Anderson and other white actor David Arquette make an appearance as individuals involved in helping escaped slaves and victims in the area. Whilst Anderson’s character is based on Lisa Kristine, a real life photographer, it could be argued that the protagonist only really gets out because this character happened to find her and initiate a rescue effort. That’s not to take away from the importance and value of Western organisations working in regions such as Nepal but it was easy to be cynical about the relative ease in which the on screen situation was sorted out and the fact that famous white actors were the ones to do it. The representative from Childreach, Dan Ashcroft, did point out that in order for this film to achieve its main goal of reaching a wider audience in America, it is helpful to have a recognisable face in the cast.

In reality, few sex workers and slaves are rescued in this way and if they ever manage to get out it is mostly through escape. As is shown in the film, they often face further struggles, being seen as a disgrace to their family due to them being prostitutes and often shunned from their homes. Whilst the situation is perhaps different here, there are many cases of slavery occurring in the UK with a reported 11,000-13,000 slaves in the UK. In reality though this is just an estimate and it is almost impossible to know exactly how many slaves there are or where they are working.

The panel, which consisted of other charity workers working with former sex workers, abuse victims, slaves and Dan from Childreach, spoke of the ways in which people can help to alleviate the problem, such as raising awareness of the issue and looking out for signs of it happening in your local area. A film such as Sold, although not perfect is one way that people can learn more about the issue and be educated on the different aspects of the industry which is reported to have a $99 billion annual turnover. The thing repeated a number of times throughout the Q and A was how prevalent poverty is in the issue. Poor people are in desperate need and this vile and exploitative industry can often seem like the only way out.

It might appear to be a helpless issue and almost impossible to solve, like finding a needle in a haystack. However, it is a harrowing crime and possibly the greatest human rights injustice happening today with an estimated 55 million people being trafficked around the world. Girls as young as 10-12 and quite possibly younger are ripped away from their lives in a flash and forced to sell their bodies in squalid environments; losing their dignity, their childhood, their innocence and self-worth. Many girls around the world are trapped in this nightmare and may never get out, in some cases ending it themselves because life is seemingly not worth living. In the wider issue of slavery however it’s not just women and girls but males too that are forced against their will to work for nothing. Slavery still exists today and this is a problem. The first thing we can do to help is wake up to that reality.