Peter Greenberg: A few weeks ago, I traveled to Luxor, Egypt to give a speech at a UN-sponsored event hosted by the First Lady of Egypt on Human Trafficking.
It’s the fastest-growing crime in the world involving a tremendous amount of travel, as you can suspect.
We’re talking about child prostitution and the exploitation of children, the 2011 version of slavery.
There, they premiered the documentary by Robert Bilheimer, Not My Life. As much as I thought I knew something about trafficking, I was amazed at how little I knew when I saw that movie.
It recently premiered in New York and it will be coming to a city near you soon. I can’t encourage you enough to see it. Bob, I have to say that watching that movie, and I say this to you as a compliment, it was disturbing.
Bob Bilheimer: It is hard not to be disturbed when you see some of the things we depicted in the film. We tried to talk about some of the hopeful things that are being done to alleviate if you will, or fight the war against this astonishing series of crimes that are being committed all over the world against, not interestingly enough when you think about it, against children.
Human traffickers—whether they recruit or exploit children for sexual purposes, for slave labor purposes, or for domestic servitude purposes—you know they go after the most vulnerable people. And of the millions and millions of human beings that are being exploited in this manner around the world today, most of them are kids. It’s just a frightening, devastating reality.
What we tried to do with Not My Life for the first time is give audiences like yours and people over the world a kind of an overview of what in fact is happening. And it is, you just can’t escape, it’s hard, difficult stuff to contemplate.
Find out how to help: What Travelers Can Do In The Fight Against Human Trafficking
PG: Share with me where you shot this movie.
BB: We quoted the United States’ first Trafficking in Persons Ambassador John Miller early on in the film. When we first started making the film in 2004-2005, John said, “Look, human trafficking exists in every country in the world. And there are over 200 countries, as you know, in the world today.” So to give a global overview, we basically traveled to five continents and about 18 countries, and a dozen states right here in the U.S.
PG: I think one of the things that came out of the movie was how much the United States was involved with the problem itself. It’s the fastest-growing crime in the world, and sadly one of the least successfully prosecuted.
BB: Absolutely. When folks see these great plagues of the 21st century and these great tragedies, be it the AIDS epidemic or issues surrounding poverty, hunger or human trafficking, people immediately go to obviously where there are poor people. They go to India, their minds go to Africa, etc. But when you look at the human trafficking issue we were very determined to point out to folks that, especially crimes of sexual violence against young girls—and when I say young I mean 10 to 14—are being committed in the United States. You know, every single day of the year.
The most conservative estimate right now is that there are 100,000 kids out there that have been zeroed in by pimps looking out for them. And this isn’t your stereotype pimp.
This is a cool-looking guy who befriends a vulnerable young girl whose parents are going through a divorce. He says he is going to be your best friend and the next thing you know she is in the truck stop performing 40 sex acts a night, and turning all the profits back to this guy who will threaten to kill her if she doesn’t do it. I mean it’s just absolutely astonishing stuff.
PG: One of the stories we learned about happened in Philadelphia. There was a flight going from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach, Florida. There was a guy there with about a 9-year-old boy. They were checking in for a flight at the ticket counter.
There was a woman behind him and she noticed that the boy didn’t seem to be very attentive to what was going on, and the man didn’t even know the boy’s name. She thought that was sort of curious, but didn’t really put all the pieces together at that point. Then when the ticket agent gave the man the boarding passes to West Palm Beach, the boy said, “I thought we were going to North Carolina.”
She thought this was even worse. When they got on the plane she talked to the flight attendants and said there is something wrong going on here, and nobody did anything. She insisted on talking to the captain. And the captain who was the father with kids, thought this was curious as well, called ahead, and thankfully when the plane landed in West Palm an arrest was made of that gentleman.
BB: That is a great, great story. The fact of the matter is there are things that people can do and be on the look out for. One of the things that we’ve done with this film is refer people to NotMyLife.org. There, you can immediately go to some of our partners. These are NGO partners that are on the front line of doing this kind of thing. In the United States there is an organization called the Polaris Project that has a national hotline. You can find a list on things to watch out for. This is also a $32 billion a year industry trading on human lives.
PG: As a traveler I have to be concerned about it. As you showed in your movie, it is not just sexual exploitation, it is the people who pick your vegetables, it is the people who are cutting down trees. There is a responsibility that is needed to be displayed at the hotel level, at the travel level, so that people do not do business with people who are involved in the exploitation and trafficking of children. Please go to their Web site and when you see the movie playing in your neighborhoods please go see it. It will make you a more aware traveler and you can vote with your wallet.
- End Human Trafficking Now
- End Slavery Now
- International Justice Mission
- Polaris Project
- Somaly Mam Project
- US Department of State Diplomacy in Action
By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Learn more about this serious issue in the Jan. 22, 2011 radio show.