The 2008 film “Taken” is a typical thriller. It has beautiful women, a dramatic kidnapping, and a heroic figure swooping in to save the day. You might even walk away from the movie with warm, fuzzy feelings of happiness and security, not even noticing the serious problem portrayed in the film.
Liam Neeson’s on-screen daughter is kidnapped and sold into prostitution. She is trafficked into sexual slavery. Although this fictional character ends up happy, home and safe in the arms of her parents, the reality is that the millions of children sold into sexual slavery each year face a much bleaker fate to say the least.
Let’s start with the family on which the movie “Taken” is partly based – the Hillars. Like Liam Neeson’s character in the film, Bill Hillar tried to save his daughter when she was abducted while out of the country and forced into prostitution. Very unlike the smiling ending of the movie, HiIlar’s daughter was never rescued and was killed for trying to escape shortly after her abduction. She was just one of the estimated 12.3 million forced laborers worldwide (according to the International Labour Organization). Human trafficking is the world’s second-largest criminal enterprise, and the fastest growing, yet we rarely hear anything about it.
Last Sunday, a group of Gustavus students organized “Flash Mob for Freedom” at the Mall of America in an effort to change that. Hundreds of students from around the region, including many from Concordia, signed up to participate in the event. Although a lack of permission from mall administration prevented the group from demonstrating as originally planned, dozens of students walked around wearing shirts printed with various facts about human trafficking.
My shirt bore the fact that “27 million people are enslaved in 161 countries worldwide.” Even as shockingly high as that number is, it can be easy to write the problem of human trafficking off as one faced only in other countries. That’s simply not true. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that right now somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 child victims of prostitution live in the United States. Those numbers only encompass children involved in sexual labor; a number including all forced laborers in this country would be much higher.
Shared Hope International, a non-profit organization, has recently unveiled a report card campaign to evaluate state-by-state protection of children from sex trafficking. So far, Washington has received a C and Oregon a D, but don’t expect that Minnesota’s grade will be any better. According to the shirts of some of my fellow flash-mobbers, “Minnesota is the 13th leading state for human trafficking in the U.S.”
Shared Hope International, Polaris Project, HumanTrafficking.org and other non-profits that work to combat human trafficking, operate great websites that can help you learn more about the problem of modern day slavery. If you would like to help eradicate human trafficking today, stop by humantrafficking.change.org. That website maintains a list of petitions and other citizen efforts for change related to human trafficking. One of the most important actions you as a citizen can take against human trafficking is to look out for and report possible victims of sex trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, an undertaking of Polaris Project, operates a national hotline to report suspected instances of human trafficking. A full list of signs to look out for is available on their website (http://nhtrc.polarisproject.org/).
Before any progress can be made in combating human trafficking, we must first recognize the gravity and continued existence of the problem. Human trafficking is slavery, and slavery still exists in our world, in our country and even in our own state.
Movies like Taken might make us feel like sex trafficking is an ordeal a person can overcome, but the reality is not so warm and fuzzy. Sex trafficking and forced labor are real and complex problems that desperately need real and complex solutions.
Ayah Kamel is a senior Political Science and Global Studies major from Fargo. She has been verbally spouting opinions since she could talk and is happy to be able to write them down as a member of The Concordian’s opinion staff. Although Ayah does not yet know what the future holds for her, she has latent dreams of becoming the next Nicholas Kristof.