A hard-hitting doc seeks to bring awareness to international human trafficking, writes Ilene Frankel.
Picture a young girl separated from her family, forced to live in a dingy cage, scarcely fed and is let out only to perform sexual services for customers. She is a victim of the sex trade – and this disturbing scene is happening all over the world.
Enter Laila Mickelwait and the Exodus Cry organisation. After seeing these horrors depicted in a documentary 10 years ago, Mickelwait was so moved that she decided to dedicate herself, professionally and personally, to the mission of combatting and preventing international sex crimes.
Mickelwait is Exodus Cry’s director of awareness and prevention, and serves as its spokesman. She is travelling the globe in a bid to promote the group’s documentary, Nefarious, with hopes of sharing its message with the public and ultimately seeking to bring both awareness of and action to international human trafficking. She says it isn’t just about raising awareness as ‘if you just raise awareness and that’s where it ends we really haven’t accomplished anything – raise awareness into action’.
The conceptualisation of Nefarious evolved when Benjamin Nolot, founder and president of Exodus Cry, ventured out on a Southeast Asian trip seeking to get a handle on the issue. After witnessing the severity of human trafficking first hand, Nolot embarked on a four-year journey to travel the globe, research and compile countless interviews and endless footage – all of which will eventually become a three-part trilogy.
The first installment, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, aims to present a well-rounded story from the vantage points of former ‘johns’ (men who paid for prostitutes) and traffickers, as well as enslaved prostituted women who were fortunate enough to escape. Some current johns are included as interviewees as well, feasible due to some impressive undercover reporting.
At the same time, Nefarious had to be carefully edited and crafted to deliver a cohesive, succinct and powerful message. End result… “Nefarious shines a light on the injustice of sex slavery and really unveils the horrors of the global commercial sex industry. It also presents a message of hope at the end of the film and ways that you can affect change and things that we can do about it,” explains Mickelwait.
So what sets this documentary apart? Mickelwait conveys that one main point of the film is ‘the link it makes between human trafficking and prostitution. It sounds kind of obvious when you talk about sex trafficking but many people don’t actually make that connection’. Furthermore, she adds: “It also makes the statement that in order to end human trafficking, we must stop prostitution and examine a way to do that.”
So far, there has been a range of responses to the screenings. “People are emotionally affected – people are weeping – they’ll just stay there. Some are angry because of what they see, particularly the men. The women tend to be more emotionally affected and broken by it – and you can see that with tears in mourning over the issue,” says Mickelwait.
A common thread between audiences is the instant inspiration to rectify this human travesty. “Part of the reason the film has been so successful is that, after people see it, most can’t sit there and do nothing about it,” says Mickelwait.
Mickelwait believes that the key to elimination lies in large part with proper legislative reform. As a prime example, she points to The Swedish Law, an addition to the penal code in Sweden implemented a decade ago. “It criminalises the purchase of sex and it views women who are prostituted as victims and it views prostitution as a form of violence against women.” The law now has a proven track record, evident in the diminished demand for prostitution, which seemingly has a direct link to the drastic reduction in prostitution – ‘now Sweden has the lowest rate of human trafficking in the European Union’. It boils down to the simple economics of supply and demand, Mickelwait feels. In a nutshell, focus on eliminating the demand side and the supply will inevitably dry up.
“If there is a demand for prostituted women and children, there will always be a supply. There will always be somebody willing to exploit another person in order to make a profit but when you really attack the demand side of this and focus on that, then I believe that is one of the most effective ways to stop trafficking.”
The most promising aspect of this legislation is that many other countries are jumping on the bandwagon and adopting laws similar to The Swedish Law for their own legal frameworks, with an end goal that targets human trafficking as well.
Nefarious gives a glimpse into the lives of the millions of women enslaved around the world and is not easy watching. Yet Mickelwait’s hope is that the rawness of its message and hard-hitting visuals will compel viewers into action. One thing she is certain of from personal experience – ‘the sacrifice of the uncomfortability of dealing with sexual slavery is definitely offset by the joy of knowing that you are making a difference for somebody else’.
Laila Mickelwait will be hosting upcoming speaking engagements and screenings of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls in Hong Kong. Gala premiere: May 10, 8pm, The Vine Ctr, 29 Burrows St, Wan Chai. Tickets: www.amiraculture.com/gala. Additional Screenings: May 11, 7.40pm, 9.40pm and May 12, 5.50pm, 7.50pm, Windsor Cinema, 407, 4/F Windsor Hse, 311 Gloucester Rd, Causeway Bay. Tickets: www.uacinemas.com.hk. For more information, visit www.exoduscry.com and www.nefariousdocumentary.com.