Human trafficking is one of the nation's largest unregulated industries, impacting thousands of men and women in the United States every year. While the practices of sex and labor trafficking are carried out in motels, brothels, and restaurants all over the world, Atlanta is not immune to the influence of the pervasive underground industry.
In fact, Atlanta topped the list of eight different cities impacted by the sex trade in a study conducted by the Urban Institute, a public policy think tank, and the Department of Justice. The city falls prey to a burgeoning human trafficking industry due to its prominence as an international travel hub, providing access to the same commercial air and ground routes that draws business and travelers — and potential customers — to Atlanta.
Students and professionals in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication seek to bring light to the issue of human trafficking through the use of film by portraying the personal narratives of those affected and providing a call to action.
“The main thing that was so surprising for me was that human trafficking is happening right in our backyard. I mainly understood it as a global issue. But it’s happening in Atlanta, right under our noses," said Jack McRee, an undergraduate student who took part in an internship collaboration between LMC Chair Richard Utz and advisor Jill Ann Hertel (LMC), the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (NCCHR), and the International Human Trafficking Institute (IHTI).
During his internship with IHTI, McRee created a video focused on getting people involved in the human trafficking prevention movement through the Do Something campaign, encouraging students to host a film screening, inviting a speaker to come talk about human trafficking prevention, or helping to raise awareness.
"Working on my film I saw places that I had visited where human trafficking is happening only a block or two away. That’s what sparked my passion for it. If it’s happening so close, why aren’t we doing anything about it?" said McRee. "The video [aimed to get] students fired up about learning about human trafficking and how they can get involved in the fight."
After the video's positive reception, McRee was invited by the NCCHR to speak at the National Student Convening for Human Trafficking Activism to students from all over the country seeking to make a difference. He spoke about the power of using visual media to create social movements and engage people in social justice activism, a merging of disciplines already familiar to those who learn, teach, and practice in LMC.
The School's video production coordinator, John Thornton, is embarking on a documentary project of his own, leveraging the personal narratives of trafficking victims to bring awareness to the issue in Atlanta. Growing out of an interview Thornton heard on the radio while commuting to work, the project is currently titled Not for Sale and follows the triumphant stories of three sex trafficking survivors.
"This young lady was telling her story and I thought it was very compelling. She ran away from home and got caught up with the wrong person, and that person forced her into sex trafficking. She was able to escape," Thornton recalled. "I listened to that interview for about forty-five minutes and I just kept thinking, 'This is a fantastic story to tell. I wish I could do more.' So I decided to make a documentary about the issue as it relates to Atlanta."
"Human sex trafficking is a really big problem in Atlanta because we’re a destination city. People want to travel here, and they can enjoy themselves illegally by participating in sex trafficking. We also have one of the world’s busiest airports so it’s easy to get people in and out.”
Thornton plans to explore the supply and demand for commercial sex acts, exposing the individuals who traffic women and the jobs that support trafficking women.
“My goal with the documentary is to make people so angry about the issue that they go out and do something about it. If that occurs, then I count that as a success,” Thornton said. “It’s important to be aware and to understand the signs of people that are trafficking. It’s important to know what the average person can do to shine a light on the situation and do something about it."
Edited from an original article by Whitney Rudeseal
Interested in learning more? A joint minor in Social Justice Studies, a collaboration between the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and the School of History, Technology, and Society, maps the evolution of race, gender, and environmental issues in relation to new scientific and social realities. Contact Lisa Yaszek for more information.