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Human trafficking: It's "hidden in plain sight"

May 10, 2016

It’s hard not to picture the movie Taken when someone says “human trafficking” – the women lured into a Frenchman’s car and Liam Neeson’s ensuing action scenes.

But filmmaker Laura Swanson said that narrow idea of what human trafficking encompasses is misleading.

“Certainly that does happen, but that’s not the majority of the cases,” Swanson said. “And I think people really need to start reframing the ways in which they see human trafficking so that we can amend our laws and legal system to accompany what we need to do to get resources and to provide the best support for victims and survivors.”

Swanson’s documentary film Break the Chain aims to do just that – to reframe how we understand human trafficking.

She said her film works to dispel several misconceptions about human trafficking, though there is one main one to pay attention to.

“It doesn’t look how we think it looks,” Swanson said. “I think everybody has this idea of a perfect victim and those don’t really exist.”

Behind the scenes of Break the Chain
Credit Laura Swanson

For that reason, she said it’s hard to generate realistic statistics about human trafficking.

“We haven’t had accurate representation and accurate reporting numbers because this is a crime much like sexual assault and domestic violence, where people don’t necessarily report it or identify themselves as being victims or survivors and most certainly don’t trust law enforcement,” she said.

One such survivor’s name is Debbie. She’s featured in Break the Chain.

“I didn’t identify myself as a victim,” Debbie said. “I was always told that it was my choice, that I wanted to be there. And so, after a while, you start believing it.”

Debbie told us that’s particularly true when a person doesn’t have an ideal home to return to.

“My father was not somebody that was concerned about me disappearing,” she said. “And then actually, when I was arrested and put into a juvenile home, he actually took me right back to that person and was paid, and then drove back off,” she said. “So, I mean, a lot of times people don’t talk about or say what’s going on in their lives because they feel this is the best it’s going to be.”

It’s for this reason, Swanson said, that human trafficking statistics don't match up with reality.

“You’re not going to get the appropriate statistics, but what you can say is we know that it’s a huge business because money is involved,” Swanson said. “We can see the connection through everything that we do with finances and our world.”


Listen to Stateside's full interview with Laura Swanson and Debbie here.