Human trafficking is horrifying and complex: it includes forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex trafficking. It is a crime and a violation of human rights.
In most of the movies and television shows about human trafficking, the villains are disturbed, shady people out to make a quick buck buying and selling women and girls and/or belong to organized criminal enterprises. They don't seem like people we'd know. Of course, movies and television are often informed by a true story but simplify reality and often sensationalize it.
But the movie, The Whistleblower, which will be opening on Friday, August 5 does neither. It is based on a true story about sex trafficking but doesn't over-simplify or sensationalize what happened. In this story, while the traffickers are sinister people out to make money, they could be someone we know. Frighteningly, in this story, many of them work for international and national governmental entities and private contractors working for governments.
In the movie, Rachel Weisz plays Kathy, a Nebraska police officer who goes to Bosnia as a peacekeeper after the war has ended. Well, at least after combat has ended. The impact of the war still goes on for the young women who are trafficked into Bosnia because of the international presence, and sometimes by international soldiers, contractors and peacekeepers.
The movie, and the situation that inspired it, is tough and has no real happy ending. While Kathy gets the information to the media about various cases, she is fired by the contractor she worked for, one of the young women dies a brutal death and the trafficking continues. It's a compelling and maddening story, and reflects the complexity of how international institutions function and interact and the difficulty of accountability in a situation where people have immunity for their actions. But, it's also a story of gutsy people in tough and compromising situations making decisions that aren't in their personal best interest.
I applaud the movie, Kathy and others like her, but relying on individuals to do the right thing won't stem this problem very quickly or in the long-term. We need to continue to strengthen the international and national institutions that can fight trafficking and demand that they do everything possible to protect women and prosecute traffickers.
There are two tracks to follow in this regard. First, the UN Security Council has passed a set of four resolutions that commit every country to address multiple issues about women and war. These range from addressing peacekeeper actions such as set forth in the movie, and also including women as peace negotiators and developing mechanisms to punish those who use rape as a weapon of war. The UN has also adopted a zero tolerance policy toward sexual abuse by peacekeepers. These are needed steps forward, and as global citizens we all need to watch what our governments are doing to hold international institutions and themselves accountable.
Second, last month, the U.S. State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. It's a weighty document (literally), which sets out the progress, and lack thereof, that countries across the globe have made in combatting human trafficking. The 412 pages are sobering, and give you a sense of how pervasive these problems are across the globe. This is a place where we can track what countries are doing and not doing, including our own, and see how we can push them forward to make a difference.
Trafficking can happen anywhere, including the U.S. The TIP Report reviewed 184 countries, including the U.S., and contains detailed narratives about each country situation and responses to trafficking. The report evaluates how well governments are doing on the "three Ps": prevention, prosecution and protection of the maximum number of victims. Based on these three criteria, countries are placed in one of the following tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3. We're a tier 1 country, which doesn't mean there is not trafficking here, but that our government "has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the [law's] minimum standards."
There is a lot of work to do -- and it will take time -- but as we learned in The Whistleblower, the victims and survivors deserve our help and the help of institutions that were designed to protect them.