Short film takes unflinching look inside the world of human trafficking

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'The Veiled' feature film is based on true stories and aims to educate viewers about an issue that affects more than 20 million people worldwide.

Iranian immigrant and Australian actress Janet Shay had been donating to an anti-human trafficking organisation for years, but it was a brief conversation with friend and cinematographer Karl Jenner that sparked the idea for her short feature film The Veiled.

Together, Janet Shay and Karl Jenner decided to get in touch with the founder of The A21 Campaign, a not-for- profit organisation that works in 11 countries to combat human trafficking. Soon after, The Veiled was in full production.

Actress Janet Shay
SBS News

Iranian born advocate for human rights

Ms Shay grew up in Iran where she was exposed to human exploitation. Her personal life experiences led her to become an advocate for human rights.

“The underlying element in my life will always be to try and be a voice to the voiceless,” Ms Shay told SBS News.

“What we call human trafficking as far as children are concerned, they call child brides... This is something that has been around me all my life.”

Ms Shay plays the character of Cassandra, a fashion photographer who catches a glimpse into the brutal world of human trafficking.

Fellow actor Marie Kamara plays a young girl abducted from Sierra Leone and forced to serve as a sex slave in Greece where the film is set.

Actress Marie Kamara
SBS News

Playing the victim

Ms Kamara is an actress of African descent. In order to convey the young girl from Sierra Leone, she had to read real accounts from victims of human trafficking as part of her direct characterization.

“Trying to put myself into that person’s shoes, it was really heartbreaking for me,” she said.

“I did my best to show this person’s story, so the world can hear them and hear their cries.”

Glenn Fraser is the script writer and director behind the 29 minute film.

"They had a lot of sessions with people that lived that life as victims and workers in the domain of human trafficking," Mr Fraser said.

"So it had an essence of real truth in it anyway.

"It just needed to be shaped into a story we could get our teeth into as far as an audience is concerned."

The often brutal human trafficking cases depicted in The Veiled are taken from real life victim accounts.

"The stories that Janet and I looked at were just horrific," Mr Jenner said. "These were the most sanitised versions, to not make it too graphic... We wanted this to be a story that anybody could watch."

The strategy behind the film is to raise public awareness about the severe acts of labour and sexual exploitation in Australia and around the world.

The world's most profitable industry 

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that human trafficking generates profits of around $150 billion annually for traffickers. 

The ILO also estimates there are 20.9 million victims of globally - around 68 per cent are trapped in forced labour, while 25 per cent of them are children and 55 per cent are female. Only one per cent is reportedly rescued.

Thai police stand guard as suspects in a human trafficking case arrive at a Bangkok court on 19 July 2017.
Thai police stand guard as suspects in a human trafficking case arrive at a Bangkok court on 19 July 2017.
AP

The A21 Campaign's chief operating officer Ade Feben is based in Sydney and told SBS News that his organisation's goal is to end human trafficking. He said he hopes The Veil will raise the profile of an often forgotten issue in western countries like Australia that have proper labour laws.

“We reach the vulnerable, we rescue the victim and we restore the survivor,” he said.

“The film portrays the issue that is going on right under our noses in many of the countries that we exist in.”

The mobile phone is a strong theme in the film and shows how powerful technology can be in identifying, tracking and prosecuting those involved in the illicit trade.

16-year-old Sadik Hussein, left, and 17-year-old Noor Alam, right hours after escaping from a human-trafficking boat in Myanmar.
16-year-old Sadik Hussein, left, and 17-year-old Noor Alam, right hours after escaping from a human-trafficking boat in Myanmar.
AP
Ending human trafficking

Script writer Glenn Fraser said he hopes The Veiled  will empower people to "get out there and film something," drawing reference to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“When people actually have imagery on their phone of an actual attack you can’t deny that anymore suddenly," he said.

“If you see something, say something, do something.”

Perhaps the most powerful scene comes at the end of the film when the young African girl looks at Janet Shay’s character and asks “what took you so long?”

The phrase is taken from a real victim account of the moment she was rescued.

“It crushed me," Ms Shay said.

“And to this day it gives me goose bumps, and it literally makes me quiver.”

For more information about how to become a human trafficking volunteer, visit http://www.a21.org/

 

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