http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Trafficked_Slavery_in_America/70223870?trkid=2361637 — Watch it on Netflix
Given that trafficking is still such an underground issue in our city, state and even country, it is difficult to find sources that depict the actual prevalence of trafficking right here at home. “Trafficked: Slavery in America” is a documentary narrated by Natalie Morales (of the Today Show) released in 2011 that exposes the sex and labor exploitation literally hidden in plain sight in American cities. While it has a few short comings, it’s an eye opening 44 minutes and I would strongly encourage any Netflix users to take the time to sit down and watch it.
The film is split about 2/3 towards sex trafficking and 1/3 towards labor trafficking. What struck me right away was how normal the places appeared that fostered the trafficking. The first case of sex trafficking they covered took place in a shopping center that looks nearly identical to a place I go every week to buy groceries. The second location featured was next to city hall. The forced labor trafficking they featured took place in an upper class neighborhood that looks just like so many neighborhoods here in Cary and North Raleigh. The purpose of the documentary is obviously to shed light on the presence of trafficking in the places where we live and work, but, perhaps unintentionally, it also exposes the injustices victims endure even once they are “rescued”.
Throughout the entire documentary, you’ll notice that the Johns’/offenders’ faces are blurred and they are allowed to simply walk away from the cameras. Meanwhile, the victims are filmed for long stretches at a time, corralled together into a small room, wearing next to nothing and looking ashamed as they are questioned by the police. I understand the shock value of showing the victims like this, and that the Johns likely have the right (as legal citizens) to demand privacy that the victims don’t, but this perfectly illustrates how the offenders of trafficking can so easily hide in anonymity while the victims are exploited and humiliated. After the police finished with their questions and their investigation of the brothel/massage parlor, the victims were handcuffed and arrested. One police officer expressed a hope that the girls might find a new lifestyle after their arrest, but surely there is a better way of helping them do this than taking them away in handcuffs and sending them to prison. The girls were taken away while still scantily clad, and would undoubtedly be further humiliated and exposed to people in the prison system who might want to harm them.
In the second segment covering forced prostitution, the documentary follows the Human Trafficking Unit in Seattle as they attempt to shut down brothels in the city. It is almost too frustrating to watch as you realize that the traffickers have found clever ways around being caught in the act, and the police unit can only pursue them for running a massage parlor without proper permits, not for the forced prostitution of the girls they hold captive. The signs of trafficking are obvious. The documentary shows hidden rooms behind the walls of the parlor, suitcases hidden under massage tables, men exiting the building not fully dressed, and cramped living spaces that have housed up to 8-10 girls. Unfortunately, there is next to nothing the police force can do except shut down the parlor on a technicality, and wait for another one to pop up somewhere else.
Though not specifically highlighted in the documentary, I found it shocking that all the brothels they featured appeared to be run by women, not men. Sexual exploitation is undoubtedly fueled by a demand from men for cheap sex, but both men and women are equally capable of capitalizing on that to turn a profit.
In the case of the forced labor segment of the documentary, the offender is neither shown, nor mentioned by name. You find out that he is a Diplomat, and because of his diplomatic immunity, he will evade prosecution even though the forced servitude he imposed has been fully uncovered. Even worse, you find out that his victim is afraid to even bring charges against him because his diplomatic immunity would allow him to harm or kill her family back home without any legal consequences. Individuals who perpetuate trafficking can typically exercise a lot of influence, be it from the money they have amassed from trafficking, or a political position, or both. It is hard to believe that this man, and his wife and children, could lock someone up in their house and force them to work up to 22 hours a day with a clear conscience, but they did. And like so many traffickers, they had enough money and power to get away with it.
The only major issue I have with the film is the huge lack of emphasis placed on the forced aspect of forced servitude. They told the back story of the victim of labor trafficking, and explained how she was pulled into trafficking, and why she couldn’t run away. When it came to the sex trafficking, there was little explanation regarding the coercion used to pull the girls into trafficking or their inability to run away. Instead, I felt like they were portrayed as the guilty party along with the traffickers themselves.
All in all, this is definitely a documentary worth watching. With a run time of less than an hour, it covers a lot of the unknown aspects of human trafficking and can help spread awareness about this sorely under-recognized issue.