By Lee Hyo-won
MTV, one of the world's largest and influential television network, has launched "End Exploitation and Trafficking" (EXIT), a global campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking. Along with Thai star Tata Young, Korea's pop singer Rain
has joined in the action as the front man for the Asia Pacific region.
"This is a form of slavery that still exists today, and I don't think enough people are aware of that", said Simon Goff, 30, campaign director for MTV EXIT, told The Korea Times at MTV Korea in central Seoul, Friday.
Individuals are denied their basic human rights and are usually tricked or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude or other labor, according to the United States Trafficking Victims Protections Act (TVPA). After drugs, it is the second largest illegal trade in the world, and generates about $10 billion every year. Its total market value is around $32 billion.
The U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 2.5 million people worldwide are victims, of which over half live in Asia Pacific. The majority of them are women and children, most of whom are sexually exploited, Goff said.
"It is shocking and sad that the majority of these trafficked and exploited people are women and children. I hope I can be of help to those battling for these people", Rain
was quoted as saying, according to MTV Korea.
Goff explained that the issue "was getting some attention from the media but certainly not directed toward young people… We're the biggest broadcaster in the world so we have the ability to target messages and target our audience, so on a pro-social level it works very well".
"It's also part of MTV's overall commitment to not just entertain our audiences but to educate them on social issues that are going on, and affecting young people around the world", he said. Launched in 2003, MTV EXIT's campaign theme was inspired by a music festival in Serbia. It receives support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
"In every country, (celebrities') involvement increases the impact on massive messages immeasurably. If you put out a documentary, x number of people will watch it; if you put something with Rain
in it… it will quadruple the number of people tuning into it", he said.
Actress Angelina Jolie, for example, hosted a documentary titled "Inhuman Trafficking" and supermodel and photographer Helena Christensen and Pelle Almqvist from Swedish rock band the Hives presented short films for MTV EXIT. Last summer, there was also a large-scale concert tour across Europe.
On Saturday and Sunday, a series of street performances featuring highlights of the documentary and live skits created a buzz in Daehakno and Hongdae, two hot spots in northern Seoul.
Trafficking in Korea
In countries like Korea and Japan where human trafficking is less reported, "it is a difficult issue. We have these issues in Western Europe as well", said the British native. "Nobody likes to be told they're an exploited country… but it's important to acknowledge that it's happening".
According to the June 2007 U.S. State's Trafficking in Persons (T.I.P.) Report, Korea is classified as a Tier One country, meaning that the government fully complies with the TVPA. But Korean men flocking to Southeast Asia for sex has recently been gaining media coverage. With the escalating number of foreign brides here, traffickers have been abusing the brokered international marriage system. And yet, Korea is primarily considered a source country.
"The biggest surprise I've found while looking into this is the fact that there are still Korean women being trafficked -- especially given that Korea is a developed country", Goff said. Korean women and girls are trafficked internally to the U.S., Canada and Mexico, according to the T.I.P. Report.
"As soon as you start talking about prostitution you are obviously in a quite sensitive area that in any culture nobody really wants to acknowledge what's going on. So with the campaign we try not to go down into it too much", he said.
The MTV documentary provides a broad spectrum of the issue. Though only 30 minutes long and very fast-paced, the film gives viewers an in-depth look at the matter and makes it approachable at an individual level. It features seven people: three victims, a trafficker, a consumer (a young man who buys sex), a policeman pursuing traffickers and a social worker helping survivors of trafficking.
As these individuals courageously testify to the horrors of human trafficking, the documentary touches the core of the issue -- how it petrifies individual lives. Its music video-like audiovisual also speaks well to an audience whose attention span is rather short. Rain
fans should not expect to see his signature smile as he narrates the film.
Future of Trafficking
As for the future of the human trafficking issue, Goff said, "I think it'll get through there… Obviously 20 years ago, HIV/AIDS campaign started coming out and it was a bit taboo at the time. But the government began to understand the importance". The director had also been part of MTV's 2002 HIV/AIDS campaign "Staying Alive", in which stars like Diddy and Alicia Keys participated.
"This is tied in with national security issues so governments are interested in doing something about it... But now it's time for the guy in the streets to do something about it so they can start to sort of make as stand against it as well", he said.
However, Goff pointed out that organized criminal networks primarily run the lucrative trafficking business in countries like Korea and Japan, which not only makes it difficult to gather exact statistics but also makes it challenging to crack down.
It is thus up to individuals to initiate a change. "As a consumer you're part of this issue", said the director, explaining that consumers in Korea and elsewhere could well be eating shrimp that involves forced labor.
As Bridget, a social worker helping victims recover says in the film, "If everyone is aware that we are part of the problem and part of the solution then we can exercise our responsibility to uphold social justice for all".
Tune into the documentary, to premiere on Korea's MTV channel at 10:20 p.m., Oct. 27 (Sat.). Catch the reruns at 9:20 p.m., Oct. 29 (Mon.) and 5:30 p.m., Oct. 31 (Wed.). No English subtitles.
For English and other language versions, visit www.mtvexit.org. You can view video clips, links to related organizations, as well as ways in which you can become involved. The Korean version featuring Rain
is yet to be posted.
Based in Bangkok, MTV EXIT Asia was launched across Thailand, India, China and the Philippines. After Korea it will continue on to Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.