How did you become involved in the movement against human trafficking?
While busy studying in 2008, I browsed around the web (as one does) and came across an article discussing the effects criminalisation and, alternatively, legalisation of prostitution has had in various countries. I was quite shocked to learn what conditions most of the prostituted women found themselves in – varying from being drug addicts, to suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, to being victims of regular abuse by both their pimps and clients.
Prostitution, of course, is only one channel through which trafficking occurs but as I browsed further I came across a short video clip produced by the A21 Campaign, in which the organisation’s founder, Christine Caine, explained how she first came to the knowledge of this worldwide injustice of slavery. What she was saying in that video touched something inside of me and led me to educate myself further on the issue of trafficking itself and also on various other issues creating a culture in which a demand for slaves exist.
I studied abroad at that time and only later settled back into Stellenbosch, my town of residence here in South Africa, where I later learnt of a local anti-trafficking initiative, STOP (Stop Trafficking of People), which was run by a group of local women, both older ladies and students. I communicated my interest to get involved and was taken on board.
What draws you to support and advocate for people enslaved by traffickers?
Personally, what drives me to speak out on their behalf is my relationship with Jesus Christ. My view on and duty towards humanity has been greatly transformed since I became a committed follower of Him in 2005. Scenes and stories of injustice have always upset me but up to that point my thoughts about these issues were very much shaped by cultural norms and my thinking, actions and silence around these issues were perhaps rather contributing to it than opposing it.
My eyes have since been opened to how society’s low view of both humans (women in particular) and sex are contributing to this abuse of people. In this way, I associate with, and am inspired by, a great role model of mine, renowned abolitionist William Wilberforce who was driven by his faith and view of life to speak against all forms of injustice and moral decay of which slavery was but one. But even with such a world view, one can remain ignorant towards reality if you’re not exposed to it, which is why I too, like Wilberforce as he was portrayed in the film Amazing Grace, had to undergo what I like to call my Equiano Moment.
It has mainly been through the hearing of personal testimonies from victims. and also those who assist victims, that the overwhelming statistics associated with human trafficking became real to me: real people with real families and real dreams having it all ripped from them – their personhood, their relationships and their future. It’s only then that one understands the reality of it all.
I have undergone a similar moment when listening to the testimony of one particular ‘porn star’ – with pornography being yet another channel through which sex slavery occurs – as she explained the life she then became free from. The realisation that these enslaved people are treated like lesser beings and that our culture subtly encourages it while Jesus has come to declare freedom to captives and the equality of persons, draws me to do something and engage the matter, to hopefully change someone or something somewhere in some way. I’m still growing in this myself but because I have been given freedom, I feel the need to speak out for those who do not enjoy that privilege.
What does your work involve?
My official title at STOP is ‘Web and Social Media Manager’ although many of us are involved with uploading articles and other information onto our Facebook page and blog. We are all volunteers who give of our free time towards the initiative and help one another where possible.
STOP initially started through a project that was launched to educate the nation on the reality of trafficking and the potential role it would play during the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa. From there, many of the ladies involved realised trafficking is a daily reality within and across our borders, and that it would not leave together with all the football fans.
Today, our main focus is on creating awareness among vulnerable youth and also creating material to educate people of various vocations (policemen, nurses, etc.) on how to recognise victims in transit, visiting hospitals, and so forth. We have been blessed to see young women rescued and the nation slowly but surely become educated on the reality of the issue and that which is driving it.
My role is largely, on the surface, managing content, while most of the ‘on the ground’ work, of which one may not hear or see too much, is done by many faithful ladies as they visit schools, meet with government, and distribute educational materials around the country.
Although we literally operate with an almost nonexistent budget, doors have opened to us in great ways and money always seems to arrive together with opportunity, and thus significant work has been done up to date.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish human trafficking?
In South Africa, prostitution has been illegal since the 1957 Sexual Offences Act, and the purchase of sex was added as an offence in a 2007 amendment. The hope remains though that law enforcement officials will operate according to these laws – as corrupt officials is a reality – and hold buyers of sex responsible for breaking these laws. Further, the passing of the Trafficking in People (TIP) Bill is still in process but once that gets through, the hope is that a clearer picture could be painted statistically as to how, where and why trafficking happens within South Africa, once people could be officially prosecuted as ‘traffickers’. When more accurate statistics become available, more effective action could be taken against trafficking.
Additionally to this, I hope to see opposition to, and also change in, media communications which objectifies women as sexual objects and men as sex-depraved animals at times. In a country where free speech and such are valued, I would hope for this change to occur through public opposition and also alternative, positive media communications, rather than through unnecessary legalistic processes. This is why I’m so thankful for more and more popular media communications now showing the reality of trafficking. I’m just thinking of the effect films like Human Trafficking, Taken and The Whistleblower had on me together with the documentary Nefarious and reading material such as your own Soul Destruction work. All these play a part in changing society’s thoughts about and attitude towards these things.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
I would say, first of all, recognise that there is a problem and that it is not only because of human depravity but also because it thrives in a cultural set-up which caters for it. Educate yourself on what’s going on and although it is happening all over the world, find out what is happening in your own country or city. I have, for instance, realised that although the process remains the same, factors involved in African and European trafficking operations are very different, as I explain in my review of the Another Side of Life documentary.
Ask yourself: What makes women, children, and men vulnerable to become victims of trafficking? Why does a demand for prostitutes/porn exist? Why do men see it as their right to use women for sex? Why is it okay for certain governments to turn a blind eye towards slave labour? These will speak to root causes which ought to be abolished together with the changing of cultural thinking.
Then, educate others along the way and challenge those things contributing to this injustice. Be creative and use what skills you have and where you are at. For instance, myself and a friend are keen runners so we took part in a running event and used it as a basis from which to promote STOP and communicate on the issues surrounding trafficking.
What are your plans for the future?
STOP will continue with the work we do but with the hope of, and goal to, put more organised structures in place and with the help of possible donors be able to cover more ground and grow our network of advocates across the country as we also partner with other organisations working towards these same goals.
Personally, I hope to continue investigating which ideas shape our societal definition of morality, how it affects our daily practises, ethical standards and measurement of the value of human life. In doing so, I believe practical solutions to these ills could be found or initiated. Although I do not consider myself a full-time abolitionist, I am sure I will continue to play some part in this as it is one of the great injustices of our time which cannot be ignored.
Recommended websites/further reading:
STOP – Stop Trafficking of People
Not For Sale – South Africa http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/global-initiatives/south-africa
Connect Network (STOP is an affiliated focus group of CN)
A21 Campaign http://www.thea21campaign.org