Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Problem We Refuse to See

On Saturday morning I went off to attend a movie at a local film festival. I knew the movie I was choosing to see would be disturbing as the subject was the sexual exploitation of children. Despite knowing that, I was unprepared for the visceral response I would have. Playground literally knocked the wind out of me. Director, Libby Spears has created a subtly nuanced film that balances unpalatable truths with the voices of children. My expectation was that I would see disturbing images of children in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, so I was surprised when Spears’ journey with the film led her back to North America. It is impossible to watch this film and to continue to believe that this problem is in the brothels of the developing world. Playground is the story of the North American underbelly.

But for me, as a parent, the most chilling statement was, “If you think this isn’t happening in your neighbourhood, you are simply choosing not to see it.” Even a little research into human trafficking in Canada reveals that the R.C.M.P. estimates that 800 foreign women are bought into the Canadian sex trade each year by human traffickers. Another 2,200 newcomers to Canada are smuggled into the United States from Canada for work in brothels, sweatshops, domestic jobs and construction work. It is widely believed that only 1 in 10 victims in trafficking report to the police, so the numbers are likely much larger

According to the US State Dept. “Canada is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. Canadian women and girls, many of whom are aboriginal, are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation...Canada has no national strategy for finding traffickers, no national plan for identifying and helping victims and little understanding of who the victims are.”

Both Playground and my cursory look at Canada`s involvement in sex trafficking have made me aware that the problem is monumental. The US Justice department claims that the world`s commercial sexual exploitation of children is the fastest growing form of organized crime. In the second decade of the 21st century the prostitution of children worldwide will net more than the sale of illegal drugs.

Playground raises questions that are extremely difficult to answer:
• How do we educate the public on crimes that can’t be shown?
• How do we change our systems so that the young and vulnerable are protected and not criminalized?
• How do we come to terms culturally with the ways in which we sexualize children?

The data that shows that Canadians are complicit in some of this activity reminds me of the diffusion of responsibility and the Kitty Genovese incident in New York – everybody thought someone else would do something. Is that the case here? I am left wondering how does one person make a difference...?

Written by Christine Bonney - Christine is a Managing Partner at The Acacia Group - Socially Responsible Leadership Experiences

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