Photographs Tell the Story: Images of Human Trafficking

We have all heard the expression: A picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of human trafficking—the buying and selling of human beings for the sake of profit through forced labor, or the sex trade industry—it might be more fitting to say: A picture is worth a thousand tears. Welcome to her world.

Through the Eyes of a Camera Lens

Those who document the stories behind the stories–through the eyes of their camera lens–share other worlds with the rest of us, worlds that we would not have access to on our own. They are our eyes, ears and feet on the street in so many of the dark places that exploit women and children throughout India, Thailand, Italy and Hong Kong, and beyond.

They are visual artists, who through their photographs, tell stories—people like Kay Chernush who traveled on behalf of the U.S. State Department to document the lives of exploited girls (and boys) who are used as pawns in the illegal web of human trafficking. Make no mistake, human trafficking is playing out on a global stage, but her assignment was to tell the story through images captured on film in the areas where she traveled.

The photographs in this gallery were taken to accompany a U.S. State Department’s report on “Trafficking in Persons.” The special report serves as the primary diplomatic tool through which the U.S. Government encourages other countries to help fight forced labor, sexual exploitation, and modern-day slavery.

Sexual Exploitation

The majority of girls and women moved across borders are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Commonly, their families are lied to by the traffickers and told that they will help provide an education or legitimate opportunities to better the girl’s life and/or her families.

Many are held captive as sex slaves working in brothels and prostituted to men from all over the world. The girls/women may be forced to have sex with between 10-40 or more men a night. They face violence from beatings by pimps and customers, rape, and a myriad of diseases. Sadly, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction, suicide and murder are common in the lives of these modern-day slaves.

Slave Labor

It is not uncommon to be forced to work 20 hour days, sleep on the floor and receive little food. Many of the victims are plucked from the poorest and most underdeveloped areas and sold. With no means of escape, and unable to speak the local language, the family is isolated and lives in terrible conditions.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to enslave a person. Some traffickers use a bond, or debt, to keep a person trapped, and sometimes in bondage from one generation to the next.

Street kids, runaways, or children living in poverty are all easy targets for traffickers who force them into begging rings. Children are sometimes intentionally disfigured to attract more money from passersby. Victims of organized begging rings are often beaten or injured if they don’t bring in enough money, and are also vulnerable to sexual abuse.

At Risk, Rescued and Sheltered

The story is so often the same. A girl is told there is a job or educational opportunity awaiting her. Longing for a better life, she (or her family) puts her trust in those who have come to deceive. When she arrives at her destination, she discovers that she has been sold a bill of goods. She is forced into prostitution through coercion, threats against their families at home, voodoo rites (in some cases), and physical violence.

Organizations and shelters share a common goal: to help reintegrate these girls and women into society so that they can lead productive lives. They do that by providing practical assistance and services such as counseling, legal and psychological support, food, basic job training, and some cases, spiritual counseling.

“Modern slavery – be it bonded labor, involuntary servitude, or sexual slavery – is a crime and cannot be tolerated in any culture, community, or country … [It] is an affront to our values and our commitment to human rights.”

–Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State

This gallery was prepared by the Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and managed by the Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Electronic 
Information, U.S. Department of State. Click here to view the gallery. Once you have seen with your own eyes, you can now share in the cause.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Kay Chernush who was commissioned by the U.S. State Department for the G/TIP Special Report. Photograph locations include: India,Thailand, Italy, and Hong Kong.)

Sources: Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. State Department, G/TIP (Global Trafficking in Persons) Report

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