Are you in the mood to read all about the worldwide sex trafficking industry this morning? Probably not: the global sex trade is one of those horrible, overwhelming issues that's hard to get a grasp on, no matter how many heartbreaking documentaries you watch or longform pieces you read; it's easier to dissociate from suffering that has nothing to do with you. But the BBC's new, relatively bite-sized feature is like a CliffsNotes guide to understanding the complex problems within the industry, and it's necessary viewing/reading for everyone.
Sure, human trafficking might not affect you personally, and there are lots of crises that need our attention. But since the industry brings in $32 billion by trafficking 800,000 people across borders every year — which means large numbers of these women (and men) are more likely than not trapped in your city, even though you can't see them — we all need to understand exactly how the system operates, especially since many people contribute by unknowingly paying to sleep with sex slaves.
It's obvious that the BBC put a lot of tough, investigative work into "Trafficked: Sex slaves seduced and sold," but it's equally clear that the producers' goal was to make an impact on the average consumer, not on people who are already experts on the subject. The series is told in four segments — Traffickers' Town, Mexico City Hub, "Brothels on Wheels," and "John School" — and each piece has a brief video segment, a paragraph-long description, and four clarifying statistics. After twenty minutes or so, you feel like you understand how the global sex trade operates and what's being done — and isn't being done — to make things better.
The feature begins in Tenancingo, a small Mexican town where, according to the BBC, all 10,000 people are involved or at least have information about the sex trafficking trade — one local charity estimates that 1 out of every 10 people in the town is a trafficker. Women from traditional families that don't discuss sex with their daughters are wooed to Tenancingo by pimps who show them huge mansions while professing their love. Once they're raped, they're not only shocked but guilty, which makes it even harder for them to escape. "Don't trust a man. Don't let them lie to you. Don't believe all the pretty things they say," a former sex slave tells the BBC.
Next, Mexico City is in the spotlight, where we meet Maria, who was kidnapped into the sex trade at age 17 but now lives in a women's shelter and is training to be a football player. Although she's one of the "lucky" ones, she doesn't have faith in government officials, because she was sexually abused by one of the immigration officers that rescued her. Although there are 100,000 Latin Americans trafficked across borders per year, there were only 47 new prosecutions in Mexico City in 2010, and out of those, only 4 trafficking offenders were convicted.
Then, we follow the traffickers and their captives to Arthur Avenue in Queens, New York, where people can order "chica cards," which are often disguised as "free delivery" for flowers or chocolate but actually link customers with chauffeurs who deliver women to their doors. Sometimes, the chauffeurs arrange house parties, aka gang rapes, or set up mattresses in the backs of their vans to make things run even more smoothly. The average age of victims is 14-19, and they're expected to service 25-30 customers per 10 hour shift. Brothels make around $5,250 per woman per week.
The last section — "John School" — is actually somewhat uplifting. The Brooklyn DA runs a school for men who have been caught buying sex so they can learn about the women they're paying to sleep with, with the goal of reducing the demand for prostitution and convincing the men that ignorance is no excuse for contributing to the industry. "I was a throwaway to you," former sex trade worker yells at the men during one lecture. "You want to act like you're not part of the downfall of the community for your behavior." Some told the BBC that the class was "a revelation," like the one man who said, "I really didn't think it was such a big thing in the country, but now that I know at this point, the only thing I can do is spread the word and prevent anyone else from getting into trouble."
Will you feel awesome after reading and watching the BBC's investigation? Of course not; you'll still feel pretty shitty and helpless, since this is no Kony2012 campaign, designed to make the viewer feel great about him or herself just for watching, sharing, and buying a t-shirt. But education — whether that means "John School" or breaking up more complicated, depressing issues into informative, thoughtful, well-produced pieces — is the only guaranteed way to work towards an eventual solution.