On the 4th of July, cinemas in the United States opened with two premier films, the highly anticipated Hollywood blockbuster movie “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and the underdog movie about child trafficking, “Sound of Freedom”. In a surprise turn of events, Sound of Freedom grossed an astonishing fourteen million dollars on opening compared to Indiana Jones which made eleven million dollars. The film is a retelling of the story of Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad and his daring mission to save a group of trafficked children from the Columbian jungle. However, the media backlash has been immense with some within the media attempting to undermine the film by referring to it as a conspiracy theory.
Child trafficking is a deeply disturbing reality that unfortunately goes beyond mere conspiracy theories. Even though “Sound of Freedom” provides a limited glimpse into the intricate network of traffickers and the hidden population of victims who suffer daily, it falls short of fully exposing the gravity of the issue. Critiquing films like “Sound of Freedom” should not involve drawing comparisons to “QAnon,” but instead focusing on the misleading sense of security they may impart. By portraying child trafficking as confined to remote corners of the Colombian jungle, where victims are held captive by cartels reminiscent of the Pablo Escobar era, these movies perpetuate the illusion that the problem is distant from us, whilst we are comfortably seated in Western cinemas.
Based on the latest data released by the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), it is distressing to note that a significant 75% of UK nationals referred to the NRM between January and March this year were children. The majority of these children, mostly boys, were subjected to various forms of exploitation including criminal, labour, and domestic slavery. Conversely, for girls, sexual exploitation continues to be the prevailing type of modern slavery they endure. It is crucial to recognise that the NRM’s findings only provide insight into a fraction of the victims, as a considerable number remain hidden, unaccounted for, and unknown.
The trafficking and enslavement of children is happening within our own urban jungles, on our own streets, within buildings we may pass by on the way to work, or in the same parks where our children play. The faces of victims are not as invisible as we think, rather, they are hidden in plain sight. Most often, they are not waiting for the next Tim Ballard to knock the door down and set them free. Instead, they are going about their daily lives the same way you and I do. For many, the chains are internal and circumstantial rather than consisting of locked rooms.
For victims who fit this description, there is no door to knock down, and rescuing is ultimately more difficult, but it is not impossible. Efforts to rescue these victims require a deeper understanding of their complex circumstances. Unlike the sensationalised portrayals we see in movies, real-life victims of internalised chains require a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond physical liberation. It demands comprehensive support systems, including psychological and spiritual healing, education, and vocational training, and a caring community to help them break free from the invisible bondage that confines them.
Each one of us has a role to play in this fight against modern-day slavery. By refusing to turn a blind eye and acknowledging that these heinous acts occur within our own communities, we can foster a society that is vigilant, compassionate, and committed to eradicating child trafficking and slavery in all its forms. Remember, rescue is possible, even for those hidden in plain sight. Together, we can create a world where every child is safe, where their innocence is protected, and their futures are filled with hope rather than despair.