Slavery has not gone away, it has only changed form. That was one of the messages driven home at last night’s West Hollywood screening of the award winning documentary, Svetlana’s Journey, based on a true story of a Bulgarian girl sold into slavery. But slavery abroad is not the only place women, men and children are being victimized, in fact, human trafficking is second only to the illegal drug trade in profit across the globe.
Yesterday, January 11, 2010, the National Council of Jewish Women/LA and the City of West Hollywood, in conjunction with the West Hollywood Human Rights Speaker Series presented a special evening commemorating Human Trafficking Awareness Day to help educate and stem the tide of this global atrocity of human bondage. Also on hand was Michael Cory Davis, writer, director and producer, who has been involved in the fight to end modern day slavery since 2003 when he became a Goodwill Ambassador for the organization Face to Face Bulgaria. Through that organization, Michael met a victim of trafficking, a 13 year-old Bulgarian girl sold by her adoptive parents into prostitution, inspiring him to write this film, Svetlana’s Journey, based on her story. Davis has been able to use Svetlana’s Journey as a vehicle to raise awareness at home and abroad about the insidious nature of human slavery and prostitution.
And that slavery is taking place just blocks away from where the film was screened and might likely be in your own neighborhood. Under the guise of legitimate businesses in Hollywood and across Hometown USA, back rooms are being used as brothels and millions of women, children and men are living as slaves and forced to work against their will. In Los Angles alone, thousands are forced to work for little or no pay. They work 20 hours a day – forced to sleep on the floor just three to four hours at a time. They’re hungry, afraid, alone and abused. Victims are forced into silence through threats against themselves and their loved ones.
There are an estimated 27 million people living in slavery in the world today. It is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the 21st century – a nine-billion dollar industry. Los Angeles is known as one of the main points of entry into the United States for trafficked persons from all over the world. Victims arriving elsewhere in the U.S. may be transported to other regions and eventually find themselves in Los Angeles as well. Local immigration agents estimate that 10,000 women are being held in Los Angeles’ underground brothels today. This does not include the potential thousands of victims of slavery in domestic work, sweatshops and other informal industries. It is only by shedding light on these atrocities and raising awareness this is not something that only happens in poor third world countries we might begin to curtail this human trafficking industry around the world.
After the screening of Svetlana’s Journey, the director, Michael Cory Davis shared some of the aforementioned statistics and took questions. A women’s rights activist in the audience posed this question: Considering their extremely loud voice, energy and money expended by religions institutions to influence public opinion to take away women’s reproductive rights and deny gays their civil rights, do you believe organized religion is mustering their bully pulpit in equal proportion to help influence this social injustice? In perhaps an attempt to be politically correct Mr. Davis answered by gently saying religious groups were funders of overseas missions but he would like to see more help here at home with the problem of not enough beds or support for victims being repatriated back into society.
For more information about human trafficking or to see how you or your group might lend your help and support, check out the websites of organizations on hand at last night’s West Hollywood Human Rights Speakers Series and the resources below:
*Artists United for Social Justice – www.ausj.org
*For more information on obtaining DVDs of Svetlana’s Journey contact AUSJ.
Human Trafficking 101 – Presenter’s Kit – www.istoptraffic.com
CAST – Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking – www.castla.org
Special thanks goes out to the following organizations for sponsoring West Hollywood’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day event: Artists United for Social Justice, W. Hollywood Women’s Advisory Board, W. Hollywood Russian Advisory Board, National Council of Jewish Women/LA, West Hollywood City Council, including Mayor, Abbe Land and the Mayor Pro Tempore, John Heilman, who were both on hand for the screening and reception.