This blog post is written by my sister, Anisha, about the independent film 'Love Sonia'. The film is based on the issue of child and sex trafficking, which is currently a $32bn global industry. My sister was brave enough to see the film, so I asked her to write a post reviewing it and to share what she learnt.
Love Sonia, a film about the global sex trade
As a young Indian woman living in the UK, I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up in a country where I feel safe, respected and where there are equal opportunities for all. Children have a right to education, people of all social classes are looked after by the government and there is equality of the sexes. As a nation, I feel we often take this for granted and forget or turn a blind eye to the horrors people face in developing countries where corruption and extreme poverty strip them of these rights.
Growing up I always enjoyed reading books that gave me an insight into people and cultures from around the world and tap into global issues. Many of the stories I read were not for the faint hearted and when talked about with my family the usual reaction was “Anisha how can you read things like that!?” But for me it has always been important to gain a real understanding of some of the issues people face in other parts of the world rather than just seeing facts and figures in a newspaper and returning to my cushy lifestyle.
Another love of mine growing up was Bollywood which may come as a shock to many as I am what a lot of people in my culture call “a coconut”. Most of the Bollywood films from my younger years were themed around love and tragedy- the whole boy meets girl and they fall in love but there are various obstacles stopping them from being together scenario. However, today the face of Bollywood is changing which for me is an exciting time, with films focussing more on current issues in India which up until now have been taboo.
When I first read the plot for the film “Love Sonia” premiering at the Indian Film Festival and its focus on the issue of child trafficking and the global sex trade, I just had to buy myself a ticket.
“Love Sonia” tells the story of two young sisters, Sonia and Preeti, who live in a poor village on the outskirts of Mumbai. Their father a poor farmer, sells Preeti to a brothel in a desperate plea for money to pay off his debts. Sonia ventures out to rescue her but is beaten, raped, smuggle and forced into the dangerous world of global sex trafficking.
Directed by Tabrez Noorani, the film is inspired the real-life stories of women and young girls that had been forced into sex work. The film took Noorani a decade to make and began whilst he assisted in producing Slumdog Millionaire. By night Noorani would help non-governmental organisations and the police raid brothels to rescue women and minors that had been illegally trafficked. 'Love Sonia' brings their and stories and experiences to life in a way that leaves no stone unturned. Noorani does not shy away from showing each graphic and gory detail of how these girls are treated making it shocking, painful and at times unbearable to watch.
In the film, Sonia is also smuggled into Hong Kong and Los Angeles where she is forced to work as an escort, bringing the issue a lot closer to home for the viewer.
More than 2 million children are globally trafficked each year which is a shocking statistic but for me the real shock factor came from witnessing the agonizing experiences of the victims which have left me speechless and opened my eyes to how the issue is not only prevalent in poorer parts of the world but on our very own doorstep.
The film is a great way of raising awareness of an issue not spoken about widely enough and in encouraging the audience to immerse themselves in the untold stories of the voiceless.
Signs to spot a sex trafficker
Sex traffickers don't have a specific stereotype, they can be from any social, racial and ethnic group. They can be male or female and may be part of a gang.
They may be hanging around parks, malls, schools, bus stops, shelter and cinemas, preying on vulnerable looking people, especially girls.
Sex traffickers make the victims feel wanted by telling them that they 'love' and 'need' the victim and that their sexual acts are for their future together. To keep the victims under control, they emotionally blackmail victims, force them to become dependant on drugs, give the victims financial stability to make them stay, gang rape or make the victims work for them. Traffickers take advantage of vulnerable children and ask the child victims to refer to them as 'daddy'.
Signs that someone is a victim of sex trafficking
Noorani says "Everyone thinks it’s something that only happens in somebody else’s country, or happens far, far away. They watch the film and they realise it is down the street where they live".
Within 48 hours of a young person running away from home, it is likely that they have been bought or sold for prostitution or a form of commercial sex exploitation.
Here are some signs to watch out for if you think someone's being sex trafficked:
- Signs of physical abuse, such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
- Unexplained absences from class
- Less appropriately dressed than before
- Sexualized behavior
- Overly tired in class
- Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
- Brags about making or having lots of money
- Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
- New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
- Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
- Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
- Shows signs of gang affiliation (i.e., a preference for specific colors, notebook doodles of gang symbols, etc.)
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
- Avoids eye contact
- Lacks health care
- Appears malnourished
Victims of sex trafficking usually have their passport, birth certificate and any other form of identification taken away from them so that they can't be traced and are more likely to return to the trafficker. Also look out for these signs:
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
- Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
- Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
- Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/addres
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
- Loss of sense of time
- Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
Noorani is a board member of 'Coalition of Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking'. Feel free to support the survivors of sex trafficking by donating through their site.
Lots of love,
(Founder of Rani & Co.)