This describes an awareness event that took place on the University of Richmond’s campus in September. SSTOP (Students Stopping the Trafficking of People) used a prominent window in the Student Commons to create an awareness display for students during the week leading up to the showing of the prominent documentary “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls” on UR’s campus. SSTOP members used the real UR students (as models) in the window to represent sex trafficking victims, talk to other students who walked by about modern-day slavery, and encourage a significant number to come out and watch the documentary on September 21st. The passion and urgency expressed by the SSTOP members about the topic of human trafficking pressed many UR students (myself included) to leave our comfortable lives for a few hours and view an entirely different reality: that of the modern-day, global sex industry.
It is estimated that there are 27 million individuals enslaved around the world today – some in labor trafficking, some in sex trafficking. Many people, even on college campuses, are just learning about this global injustice. Benjamin Nolot and Matt Dickey, the directors of “Nefarious”, do an incredible job shedding more light on and uncovering the unfortunate truth about this topic through their documentary. They do this not only by featuring actual victims and perpetrators of the sex trade in their documentary, but also through scripted scenes. These scenes illuminate the evils that could not be caught on camera such as physical and psychological abuse that the pimps inflict upon their victims and the process of purchasing these girls for sex. In this way, they are just as heartbreaking as the scenes that show the actual victims telling their stories.
Some of the stories that stood out to me the most were not of the girls who were forced into prostitution but who actually seemed to “choose” the occupation for themselves. These women were Americans, living the “glamorous” life (or so they had thought) of a prostitute in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is unfortunate how highly sexualized our culture has become and how it serves to objectify women as instruments for sexual pleasure. Many women are prey to the ploys of traffickers because they buy into the idolized images of pimps and prostitutes in American culture. Our culture glorifies the life of a prostitute who is pictured as sexy, free, and in control – case and point being Pretty Woman. What these women in prostitution find out after working for a time in the industry is that it gives them the opposite of what they were looking for. They loose sight of their value as actual human beings and become trapped in the cycles of manipulation-“love”-abuse-and-violence. Regardless of if a woman “chose” to enter prostitution, the exploitation occurring in the sex industry must be addressed if we are ever to restore the dignity of women across the globe.
How can we do this? The tears and the utter silence by the end of the film clearly demonstrated that everyone in the audience was weighted by the horrors of the film. However, while the documentary was filled with much anguish and despair, it also offered a shining beacon of hope regarding the end of human trafficking. Toward the end, the movie cites William Wilberforce, an anti-slavery activist in the 18th century who spent fifty years of his life fighting towards the termination of the British Slave Trade. He wisely said, “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large”. Just like William Wilberforce who was ultimately successful in his campaign against the slave trade, we must all be “incurable fanatics” regarding the abolition of modern day slavery. This is the only way we can stop the largest growing criminal industry in the world and turn around our highly sexualized culture that so tightly upholds the objectification of women.
After the film a member of Exodus Cry (the documentary’s producing organization) led everyone in a group prayer towards the abolition of sex slavery. Once we were dismissed, University of Richmond students signed up to become more involved in SSTOP and Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI) outside the auditorium. In showing “Nefarious”, SSTOP was able to widen the circle of “incurable fanatics” regarding the issue of human trafficking, which will undoubtedly only grow in the coming weeks, months, and years amongst the UR student body. ~ Hannah Jacobsen, University of Richmond Student