THE THEATRICAL run of the local film Moving Parts has brought back into focus one of the most shocking practices of our times: human trafficking. It’s time to stop thinking of this problem as a theoretical one that has little to do with us. Instead, we should see it for what it is: the modern slavery.
One reason it has been so easy to dismiss this problem is the lack of reliable statistics. In fact, there have often been contradictory claims about the existence of the problem from high-ranking state officials.The plot of Moving Parts, directed by Emilie Upczak, sheds light on why.
Human trafficking by its nature is notoriously difficult to detect because its victims are vulnerable people, who often do not have legal standing to approach authorities. Nor do they speak English or enjoy connections with the local community that could help protect them. But, according to director of the Counter-Trafficking Unit Alana Wheeler, human trafficking is a fact that can no longer be denied.
Trinidad and Tobago is a destination, transit point, and source for trafficking women, and girls from countries like the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Venezuela and Colombia are often trapped into working for brothels and clubs, lured by lies.
“Observe the signs around you,” Wheeler said at Tuesday’s film premiere at the Central Bank Auditorium. “Observe the people around you. Look for what is hidden in plain sight and if you discover something that does not look right or doesn’t sound right identify it, report it and stop it from multiplying in our country.” But this is easier said than done. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is undoubtedly complicity by members of the law enforcement apparatus in the human trafficking trade.
According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report for Trinidad and Tobago, “NGO and police sources note that both prostitution and trafficking are historically dependent on police corruption.”
Further, the document, published by the US Department of State, notes that “law enforcement and civil society organisations reported some police and immigration officers facilitate trafficking and some law enforcement officials exploit sex trafficking victims.” The most recent report, for 2017, notes measures have been introduced “to increase accountability and minimise the opportunities for immigration officials to receive bribes.”
However, persuading members of the public that their tips will be acted upon and not result in some form of retaliation or evasive action remains a challenge. And it is also the case that there are no instances of human trafficking convictions, though several people have been charged. It seems, therefore, that the State has to be convinced first and foremost about the severity of this problem. Only then will ordinary citizens follow suit.