Mira Sorvino is an Academy Award-winning actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking. At this year’s Social Good Summit, Sorvino discussed her fight against human trafficking and her role in the film Trade Of Innocents.
People are not aware of the realities of the situation with regards to human trafficking. I have to believe that the public’s heart is by nature good and will be revolted and broken when exposed to the realities of modern day slavery, both labor and sexual (about 50-50 in the U.S.).
As the UNODC Goodwill Ambassador to combat Human Trafficking, my life has been indelibly affected by the many survivors I have met. In order to have that same effect on the population at large, perhaps we can find actual survivors willing to tell their stories, audio and hopefully video, and put them in PSAs on TV, on specialized websites, YouTube — you name it. This must be done very carefully and with the victim’s mature consent to avoid re-exploiting them — one survivor told me, “All people care about is my story, but they have no interest in hearing what is going on with me today, helping me get back on my feet” — so people can have the visceral connection to their horrendous experiences and feel more compelled to help the other 99% of victims who, at this juncture, have no statistical chance of being rescued. (Only 1 in 100 people living in slavery is currently discovered and rescued.)
We must take that awareness and funnel it into active solutions immediately — link to online petitions in our areas for legislative reform, or to Polaris Project or ECPAT USA to find out how we can lobby for legal change, or again to Polaris or NOT FOR SALE to be linked in to local organizations we can be a part of, volunteering whatever our special skills are.
Media can also support all feature films, documentaries and written word materials on human trafficking, especially those which not only decry the problem, but highlight achievable responses that combat the problem, such as our film Trade Of Innocents, which premieres this week.
Not Enough Money
Every month, the U.S. government spends twice as much on military marching bands as it does in a year to battle human trafficking, and more is spent in a single month fighting the War on Drugs than all monies ever expended domestically and internationally fighting slavery, even though the trade in people is tied for second most lucrative criminal enterprise, after the illicit drug trade, to the tune of $32 billion per year.
“Every month, the U.S. government spends twice as much on military marching bands as it does in a year to battle human trafficking.”
Organized crime is branching into the human trade big time. A person as commodity is obtained either for free or extremely cheaply, then sold and resold, sometimes reaping a return 200 times greater than its initial cost within the first year.
Media, both traditional and innovative, must cry foul at this blatant sin of omission by our own government and those abroad. As in everything, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and although there are vital caucuses growing here consisting of trafficking survivor activists (CAST LA has one), most of the 27 million slaves in the world today have no mouthpiece, save us.
Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, can we really stand by as slavery gets a free ride in the 21st century?
Money = Solutions
On the NGO side, the number of victims discovered, saved, supported through criminal trials to prosecute their traffickers, and ultimately rehabilitated so they may enjoy the destiny they were meant for is 100% dependent upon fundraising. I will shamelessly use this opportunity to call for donations to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund to aid victims of human trafficking. It is one of the only worldwide grants out there currently awarding NGOs who directly help victims on the ground, instead of advocacy grants.
In a recent case involving a pedophile in Pattaya, Thailand, a notorious stomping ground for the purchase of boys, I was told by the leader of an NGO that rescues street children:
He loved to sexually abuse children, and he was arrested. He paid off the lawyer, the police and the victim’s family so the child would not appear in court. On the other hand, the work that we [the NGO] are doing on this side of the case, we don’t even have money sometimes to buy the kids lunch. These criminal networks have so much power, so much influence, so much money … What [we need] are those people brave enough to take action against the opposing forces that influence.
Laws Not Being Enacted
In the U.S., only roughly 10% of police stations have any protocol to deal with human trafficking at all. In a recent UNODC Global Report on Human Trafficking, two out of five countries signatory to the Palermo protocol against human trafficking had zero convictions of traffickers on the books at all.
I propose more watchdog organizations to observe if laws are being put into use. In Spain, I learned from an NGO that the law concerning giving suspected victims of HT a period of reflection (crucial for recovering from trauma, separating from traffickers and finding the courage to cooperate with law enforcement) had not been put to use once in the year following its introduction, even though there was a well-documented case of a pregnant Nigerian woman who wasn’t given the period and was rapidly deported back into her own country, even though several NGOs had certified that she was a trafficking victim. When I informed local government officials of this disuse, they were absolutely surprised, having thought, once passed, they would be automatically put into practice.
Media should monitor the number of cases taken on per year by law enforcement, and follow through from the initial arrests to the court trials. I was personally following a trial in Thailand while we were shooting Trade of Innocents there, involving two Uzbek victims of HT, who were coerced by their embassy to change their testimony and perjure themselves on the stand. The real criminals went scot-free, and the terrified girls had to flee the country to avoid incarceration for perjury.
“If you run away, they will arrest you and throw away the key. In this country, you are lower than a dog.”
The traffickers enjoy an atmosphere of impunity, both here and abroad. The California sweatshop labor survivor told me her trafficker said, “If you run away, they will arrest you and throw away the key. In this country, you are lower than a dog; people have organizations set up to help them. No one here cares about you!” Sentenced to only one year of house arrest, the trafficker was soon back on the road, trying to find the victim again by bribing and threatening her family in Mexico.
Watchdog organizations need to make sure the laws are as tough on trafficking as they are on the other most severe crimes; Polaris Project can tell you where your state stands on that.
Solutions From the Business Community
Current laws in California and proposed on the federal level call for voluntary self-monitoring to keep slavery out of businesses’ supply chains, but I call for stiffer legislation that requires independent auditing.
It’s not all bad news: A Harvard University study found “sales rose for items labeled as being made under good labor standards, and the demand for the labeled products actually rose with price increases of 10-20% above …unlabeled ones.”
Media can also help consumers make choices to patronize vendors who have zero tolerance policies. At the checkout counter, they can ask for goods verified to be slavery-free and vote with their dollars.
The Internet’s Sex Marketplace
Commercial sex creates demand for slaves, and the Internet is a huge marketplace for it, especially for trafficked youth.
If you are a man about to engage in commercial sex, just don’t. There is no way to know if you are raping someone, and you will definitely create further demand for innocent women and children as sexual slaves.
When asked if mafias tried to control independent prostitutes, a survivor said, “Control, no. Get rid of them, out of the zone, yes, so they could put their own women in their place … They gave them such ferocious beatings that they ended up in the hospital, up to the point where this person, out of fear of the beatings, gave up her area, so they can bring their own girls.”
Use their own weapons against them. Let the incredible power of the Internet search out and destroy pedophilic activities before they can purchase a child and destroy his or her life.
I know that there are people working on efforts to profile pedophile behavior as a way to track the would-be criminals before they strike. Work on projects like Polaris’ Vision 20/20, which seeks to create a worldwide network of communication and synthesis of resources worldwide, linking activists, NGOs and law enforcement so that data can be shared, and that together (for cooperation is crucial) we can begin to get a leg up on the criminals.
In This Country: Huge Need for Training, Services and Safe Harbor
One of the most integral tools for the identification and rescue of victims and the prosecutions of perpetrators lies with in-depth training on human trafficking, not only for law enforcement, prosecutorial staff and the judiciary, but with all first responders, with the medical, educational, travel, educational, social services and foster care industries, so that they may all be able to recognize victims for the brief moments they surface, understand the laws they have at their service and the delicate treatment the victims will require.
Once these victims are brought in by law enforcement, it is absolutely critical that they are provided with all the services they need to recover and cooperate. Currently, foreign victims of human trafficking are entitled by federal law to some of these services, but our own domestic minors, especially those who have been sexually trafficked, are not immediately given any of these services, not considered “victims of extreme abuse and neglect” by the state unless they have been trafficked by a relative.
The states where this does not hold true are the 11 which have passed “safe harbor” laws. These immensely necessary laws define children under 18 as victims of the severest form of human trafficking, and not perpetrators of the crime of prostitution. Stiff penalties are assigned to the real perpetrators, and any criminal records that might otherwise haunt the victims are expunged. They are given rights to housing, counseling, medical care, education, legal help, etc., even though at current time, the money is not being spent specifically to enable those services to be given. Senator Ron Wyden’s bill, which has been incorporated into the latest version of the TVPRA, would be a step in the right direction. And I personally call for all Democrats and Republicans to stop throwing up roadblocks over mandatory minimum sentencing and reproductive health issues to the re-passage of this crucial act for the sake of the victims.
Child Sex Trafficking
This touches on the subject of our film Trade of Innocents and the final issue I would like to bring up — that of child sex trafficking. We made a film about children being sold for sex, and in the story, an American tourist is trying to buy the services of little Cambodian girls, but the fact is, it occurs all over the world. I have had my heart broken by children not quite four-feet-tall and teenagers alike who have been bought and used again and again. I must absolutely assert that no one under the age of 18, no matter what they may claim, has the mens rae, the legal, psychological or mental capacity to consent to their own sexual exploitation, and must never be treated as criminals.
I have met the most amazing survivors who always, when given a chance, try to help their sisters and brothers still in bondage. As a former sex trafficking victim told me in the shelter where she now volunteers for younger rescued girls, “The men thought we were nothing. That we were lower than cockroaches, that we were born for this. But we are not nothing — we were born for so much more than this!” She is now studying to be a prosecutor to fight trafficking.
Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:
Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/24/slavery-trafficking-tech-media/