Posted by Dr. Lauren Pinkston

Every great story has a villain and a hero. We believe that the heroes of the anti-trafficking story are the survivors of sex and labor trafficking.

Shedding light on the issue of human trafficking is paramount, and while the movie Sound of Freedom aims to create awareness about trafficking, its portrayal perpetuates an oversimplified, dramatic depiction of rescue that reinforces outdated stereotypes.

As a movement, we acknowledge the significant investments that were made to bring this movie to cinemas around the world, and we welcome critical conversations about human exploitation and suffering.

There is potential for weak narratives, however, to widen the gap between general knowledge and the actual complexities of human trafficking.

We hope that Sound of Freedom acts as a starting point to initiate broader conversations about modern exploitation.

With this in mind, we have created a list of important things for viewers to consider as they process the movie’s content.

The following statements were drafted through roundtable discussions at the 2023 Asia Region Anti-Trafficking Conference, and informed by the voices of survivors and practitioners across the sector.

Human trafficking is multifaceted and extends beyond child trafficking, including various forms and diverse demographics of victims. Each year, millions of individuals are exploited for profit — both within their own countries and across borders. Sex trafficking, including child sexual exploitation, is a heinous crime that transcends diverse realms, encompassing both the hidden corners of the dark web and sacred communities of faith.

In addition, around 80% of human trafficking victims are individuals who are subjected to forced labor with meager or no compensation, working in harsh conditions in factories, farms, mines, construction sites, fishing vessels, and private residences.

Human trafficking is a global issue. Whether it is in urban centers or rural areas, exploitation takes place in each of the world’s regions, making it truly a global concern. Different regions face unique challenges and require tailored approaches to combat this problem effectively.

Trafficking is often perpetrated by those known to the victim, including family members. This form of trafficking can be challenging to detect.
Complex vulnerabilities confuse a black and white narrative of villain and victim, making it difficult to define where a person’s exploitation begins and ends.

While kidnapping can occur, sensationalizing such dramatic cases can draw attention away from the more normative methods of trafficking like grooming, manipulation, and coercion.

Less than 1% of trafficking victims are identified. This statistic underscores the urgent need for prevention, aftercare, and sustainable solutions to address human trafficking in a way that centers survivors’ agency. Rescue operations, while important, should not be seen as the sole solution to the problem.

Self-liberation is a predominant way through which individuals escape trafficking situations. It is essential to recognize and respect that many survivors take courageous steps to free themselves from exploitation. Creating space for them to share their experiences and stories on their own terms can be a powerful way to elevate survivors’ voices and inspire others.

The anti-trafficking movement has evolved significantly over the last decade, which is a testament to the dedicated efforts of numerous individuals, organizations, and grassroots initiatives. The story featured in Sound of Freedom took place ten years ago. Since then, there have been significant changes in both methodology and language ensuring individuals with lived experience do not experience re-exploitation.

Creating pathways to freedom for trafficking victims requires collaboration and effort from multiple individuals and organizations. As a movement, we commit to ongoing learning and best practices. Many survivor-led and locally led organizations are doing incredible work, which is deeply connected to the communities they serve, providing culturally sensitive and relevant support. It is important to amplify their stories and engage with their work.

W e must share stories responsibly, supporting survivors, and promoting meaningful change in the fight against human trafficking. It is paramount for us to tell the stories surrounding human trafficking in a way that respects the dignity of those affected. These stories carry immense weight and significance, and it is crucial to present them with sensitivity and empathy, avoiding any sensationalism or further exploitation. By doing so, we honor the experiences of survivors, victims, and their families, fostering a deeper understanding of the issue and inspiring meaningful action.

A note from a survivor:

It is a survivor’s right to control how their story is shared. Obtaining informed consent is of utmost importance. Children are unable to provide informed consent and it is our responsibility to protect them.

Survivor networks desire for those who engage in the movie to think more deeply about the realities of vulnerabilities that lead to exploitation, physical and emotional trauma caused by the actions of perpetrators and the way that every human is connected to this issue.

We encourage everyone feeling moved by this movie to get involved and take action. Here are some simple things you can do …

1. LISTEN — center the voices of survivors — those with lived experience have incredible insight and wisdom into effective preventative solutions as well as how to best offer support that leads to sustainable freedom.

2. LEARN — educate yourself about human trafficking through trusted resources.

My Slavery Footprint
Where Do We Go From Here? Podcast with Dr. Lauren Pinkston
Global Slavery Index

3. SHARE — use your platforms to share about the issue and build awareness.

4. GIVE — support organizations who are actively working for a slave-free world.

Together, we can work towards a world free from human trafficking.

The organizations who have created this statement remain dedicated to fighting human trafficking and supporting survivors. We commit to an approach rooted in compassion and evidence-based strategies. We strive to better understand and address the complexities of this global issue.

  1. Karen Schmidt, Executive Director, Freedom Business Alliance [Global]
  2. Dr. Lauren Pinkston, Consultant, Pinkston & Co, LLC [Global]
  3. Shandra Woworuntu, CEO, Mentari [USA]
  4. Julia Macher, CEO, Freedom Collaborative [Global]
  5. Rachel Luschen, Executive Director, Unbound Now — Indonesia [Indonesia]
  6. Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag, Director of Church Engagement, World Freedom Network [Global]
  7. Deborah Foti [Global]
  8. Lucy McCray, CEO, The Freedom Story [Thailand]
  9. Kelly Dwyer, Fire Fly USA [India]
  10. Andrea Stokes, Founder, Swahlee [India]
  11. Ida-Nur Cholidah, Co-Founder, House of Diamonds [Indonesia]
  12. Lila-Noor Fadillah, Co-Founder, House of Diamonds [Indonesia]
  13. Prima Riani [Indonesia]
  14. Erik Olsen, President, Dignity Coconuts [Philippines]
  15. Patricia Wan, Director of Impact and Research, Freedom Business Alliance [Global]
  16. Claudette Ogilvie, Clinical Psychologist, Victorious Minds [Global]
  17. Maarten Pansier, Clinical Psychologist, Victorious Minds [Global]
  18. Dr. Courtney Skiera-Vaughn, Executive Director, Free The Girls [The Americas]
  19. Dalaina May, Executive Director, Dark Bali [Indonesia]
  20. Helen Avadiar-Nimbalker, Founder and Trauma Therapist, The Whispering Willow [Thailand]
  21. Cara Strauss Contreras, SutiSana [Bolivia]
  22. Dr. Jason Pope, Founder, Rain Collective [Gulf States]
  23. Ruth Larwill, Founder/Director of Trauma Aftercare, Bloom Asia [Cambodia]
  24. Rachel Rose Nelson, Global Ambassador, Freedom Business Alliance [Global]
  25. Anu Karki, Social Worker, Joyya [India]
  26. Farah Ghinan, Peduli, Generasi Lombok [Indonesia]
  27. Helen Sworn [Global]
  28. Stewart Heath, Freedom Business Alliance Board Member [Global]
  29. Kwankamol Prurapark [Global]
  30. Bryan Prosek, Freedom Business Alliance Board Member [Global]
  31. Stephanie Mayer, Co-Founder, NARY [Cambodia, USA]
  32. Sheldon E. Schmidt, Social Enterprise Consultant [Global]
  33. Abby Littlefield, Executive Director, Kindred Exchange [Global]
  34. Julia Drydyk, Executive Director, The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking [Canada]
  35. Dr. Vanessa Bouche, Anti-Trafficking Consultant and Co-Founder, Savhera
  36. Dr. Celia Williamson, PhD, University of Toledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, Emancipation Nation Podcast (USA)
  37. Glenn Miles PhD, up! International (SE Asia)
  38. Ashley Franssen, Director Stakeholder Relations, The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking [Canada]
  39. Dr. Leah Edwards, PhD, Kaart Consulting [Global]

If after reading this article, you would like to add your name in support of survivors and the many organizations around the world doing brave anti-trafficking work, please do so by creating an account and “co-signing” in the comments. In addition, you can share a link to this letter on your social media to raise awareness.