In 2005, photographer Kay Chernush went on an assignment for the U.S. Department of State that opened her eyes to human trafficking. Traveling to Europe and Southeast Asia, Chernush documented the horrors and realities of modern-day human trafficking and slavery. “I was gripped by this human rights tragedy,” Chernush said.
“What surprised me is that although it is illegal in every country, it exists in every country. The most common misperception about human trafficking is thinking it doesn’t happen in your country.”
Human trafficking is a human rights violation involving force, fraud and coercion. Many victims become enslaved and bound to exorbitant debts by trusting the wrong people. Escaping is especially dangerous and difficult.
Chernush founded ArtWorks for Freedom in 2011 to raise awareness about modern slavery and human trafficking with art. “I feel that art is very powerful,” Chernush said, “Art can deal with nuance and complexity — it can crack open the heart.”
Last month, the EU Delegation hosted the exhibit, After the Fact | Borderless Captivity, in collaboration with ArtWorks for Freedom as part of their ACTION DC! awareness campaign featuring six weeks of performances, workshops, panels, films, and art exhibits centered on human trafficking. The Embassy of Sweden joined in hosting an opening reception and two public viewings of the exhibit, which was curated by Anita Nilert.
The exhibition highlighted global perspectives of human trafficking and modern slavery from three artists. On display were a collection of photos taken by Chernush depicting scenes of child labor, debt bondage, forced labor, and sexual exploitation from Thailand, India, Brazil, and Ghana. Swedish artist Ann-Sofi Sidén’s images of women trafficked on the borders of Western Europe told another side of the story. And drawings produced by self-taught Cambodian farmer turned painter, Prum Vannak, illustrated his experiences being enslaved on a Thai fishing boat and Malaysian palm oil plantation. Collectively, the three artists demonstrate how pervasive human trafficking and modern slavery is.
“In Europe, and much to the credit of the European Union,” Chernush said, “there’s a lot of attention on human trafficking.”
Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are core values of the European Union. EU human rights policies promote the rights of women, children, minorities and displaced persons. We oppose the death penalty, torture, human trafficking and discrimination.
From advocating for an end to gender-based violence in the “Say No! Stop Violence Against Women” campaign to encouraging the inclusion of LGBTI populations across the EU in the “Share Your Dream” campaign, the EU continues to work toward the advancement of human rights through outreach campaigns and new policies. On December 4, 2017, the European Commission stepped up its response to human trafficking with concrete actions to better prevent trafficking in human beings.
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said:
“It is not acceptable that in the 21st century human beings are still being trafficked as commodities and exploited — not in Europe, not anywhere. […] I call on all Member States to urgently step up their investigations and prosecutions against ruthless trafficking criminals, better protect the victims and fully apply the EU rules towards their protection. I also call on all to work more closely with international partners. Human trafficking is not just a European problem — we must do everything to eradicate it everywhere it happens.”
Whether you live in the United States or in Europe, human trafficking is an issue that affects us all. “Human trafficking is not hidden,” Chernush said. “We just don’t know what to look for.” As we approach Human Rights Day tomorrow and human trafficking awareness month in January, we encourage you to learn more about human trafficking and how you can help combat it. ArtWorks for Freedom’s online toolkit provides 30 simple ways that you can take action to end human trafficking and modern slavery.
Written by EUintheUS intern Halley Rogers.
The EU Delegation hosted the exhibit, After the Fact | Borderless Captivity, in collaboration with ArtWorks for Freedom as part of their Action D.C. campaign featuring six weeks of performances, workshops, panels, films, and art exhibits centered on human trafficking.