Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending a screening of the documentary Not My Life, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Robert Bilheimer and narrated by Glenn Close, at American University in Washington D.C. Filmed on five continents over a period of four years, Not My Life brings the horrifying practices of the human trafficking industry to life through the stories of a handful of survivors. The screening was coordinated by the End Trafficking team at UNICEF, along with our Global Citizenship Fellow Aarti Singh, and was supported by American University’s UNICEF Campus Initiative. We were honored to have Polaris Project, a leading organization in combating trafficking, as our co-host.
During a segment in the film about sex trafficking in the U.S., viewers were especially struck by footage of K Street in downtown D.C., shown as a hub for exploitation. At one point, you could hear gasps of disbelief. "I had no idea human trafficking is so prevalent in my area," a student said afterwards. This is exactly what our project aims to achieve: help people understand that trafficking is not just something that happens in developing countries, but takes place in our own country as well. As important as raising awareness is, our plans do not end there. In the panel discussion that followed the screening, we highlighted the toolkits, discussion guides and educator resources that our team is developing. These tools are for grassroots volunteers to use as they take action in their communities. We also highlighted our child trafficking advocacy alert, which is a way for everyone to get involved by writing to their representatives and urging them to renew protective legislation. During the discussion, we talked about UNICEF’s leadership in child protection around the world. At least one participant now understood "...that UNICEF provides more than just clean, safe water." Indeed, UNICEF works in more than 150 countries to help children survive and thrive, and to protect them from violence, exploitation and abuse—including trafficking. To combat child trafficking, UNICEF works to reduce factors that put children and families at risk. The End Trafficking project is a U.S. Fund for UNICEF initiative that raises awareness about human trafficking and mobilizes communities to take meaningful action to help protect children. Working together with concerned individuals and groups like the Polaris Project, the End Trafficking project aims to bring us all closer to a day when this abhorrent practice no longer exists.
End Trafficking Fellow Emily Pasnak-Lapchick, DC Global Citizenship Fellow Aarti Singh, and Polaris Project Fellows on the campus of American University. Photo by Jennifer Chan.