What comes to mind when you hear the term “slavery”? Do you recall history lessons in school of transatlantic slave trading? Perhaps you think of images of slavery right here in the United States consisting of plantation systems, where tobacco and cotton were grown. Those days are long behind us, right?
Slavery is more prevalent today than any other time in history and encompasses many different forms, including sex slavery, labor slavery, child soldiers and child slavery. Not only is slavery and human trafficking running rampant, both here in the United States and across the globe, but the amount of money it brings in to those running the operations is staggering – upwards of $36 billion in profit off the sale of human flesh has been made to date.
In 2007, slave traders made eight times the amount of the annual U.N. budget. It is estimated that approximately 27 million people are entrapped in some form of slavery today, and a slave is worth about $40,000 in today’s economy.
For Justin Dillon, a musician by trade, turning a blind eye to the situation, as many do, was unacceptable. While working on a record in Los Angeles several years ago, Dillon came across a disturbing New York Times article on human trafficking.
“I’ve always prided myself on having a wider focus, thinking about what the great challenges of our time are. I look at past generations and what people invested themselves in – the Nazis, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage – and I thought to myself ‘What is the great fight of today?” he shares.
“I read this article and was shocked that this is going on almost completely unnoticed, some of it right here in the United States.”
Getting called back in to finish his record, Dillon filed the article away in his mind, not knowing he would come face to face with the issue of human trafficking several months later. “I began traveling through Russia and Eastern Europe and I started meeting these young university students who would come and interpret for us. They were very Americanized and had a strong sense of the west,” explains Dillon.
“Then they started telling me that they were coming to America soon, and I was somewhat surprised because we weren’t traveling through very wealthy areas. I began to ask questions and the situation sounded similar to the scenarios that were discussed in the article I had read. These girls truly believed they would be headed to America or some other country to work as a nanny or in the service industry, but the reality they would truly face would be far worse. I couldn’t shake it; now it had become very real to me.”
When Dillon returned home, he ordered as many books as he could on the subject and started to call organizations throughout the U.S. asking how he could help. “Many organizations asked me to raise money, and so I put together many benefit concerts here in California, but I wanted to know what else I could do,” shares Dillon. “The best of me isn’t in my wallet; it is in my heart and in my passion.”
Determined to figure out a way to get more heavily involved, Dillon was led to film a mind-expanding and moving documentary which he describes as “a catalyst to engage the public in fighting human trafficking.”
The face of slavery
In the movie “Call and Response,” viewers get an up-close and personal look at the tragedies of human trafficking and learn how to get communities involved in increasing awareness and ending a global public health issue.
“Most of us believe we wiped this subject out many, many years ago. With almost 27 million people currently entrapped, we are living in a time where it is even more rampant, even though it is illegal. We are talking about people who are forced to work without pay, forced into being a sex slave, and the inability to walk away,” says Dillon. “I am not being an alarmist or a dramaticist. These realities are verifiable. When filming the movie, for example in Haiti, we were given an opportunity to buy a young child for $300.00 to do whatever we want with, and we would technically own this person from that point on. For a little extra money, people would have helped us get the child out of the country to bring back to our home.”
During the interview, Dillon continued to provide information on different human trafficking scenarios that take place around the world. He described Haiti’s deeper issues and said that although cameras from News stations have been flooding the country since the earthquake several months ago, their “lenses are so fogged and antiquated, they are not seeing what is truly happening.”
Dillon is speaking of Haiti’s “restaveks,” who are basically slave children. Currently, there are 300,000-500,000 of them living there. “These restaveks are complete slaves, and they are treated with the utmost disregard. They are forced to sleep on places such as the floor, under kitchen tables, and they are worked nonstop,” explained Dillon.
A global issue
Another major porthole where human trafficking takes place is Russia. Dillon explains that, “Human trafficking [occurs] where exploitation is available, and that is usually in places of poorer countries. These victims are offered shady opportunities and once they get to their destination, they have their passports and visas taken away from them. They are now refugees with no way to get back home. With some of the Russian operations, the traders have enough information on the girls’ families, so that if a girl tries to leave, they threaten or hurt the woman’s family back home.”
If you are curious as to why victims of human trafficking don’t speak up to authority figures and try to get out of their situation, Dillon’s explanation of the psychological sequence that takes place is enlightening. He stated that, “These people are psychologically and physically threatened, and are often brutally treated and systematically raped into submission. Many times, law enforcement thinks they are going to run out and say ‘help me’ but in reality they have been trained and brainwashed into submission and into not saying a word.”
The film, which consists of undercover footage shot from all over the world, derived from the musical concept know as “call and response,” which is a succession of two different phrases where the second phrase is a direct response to the first. Call and response, musically, corresponds to the human-communication pattern of call and response and is one of the basic elements of music formation, including verse-chorus formation.
“The movie is not just about information but also about action; you cannot have awareness without action, and you can’t have verses without chorus,” describes Dillon. “We use music as a storyteller, mixing it with interviews, music, people and undercover footage that we shot in brothels, slavery villages in Ghana and slave auctions in Eastern Europe. We use difficult information with inspirational music.”
A community effort
Dillon is encouraged by the fact that everyone who watches the film wants to learn more about the issue and get involved. Dillon feels that everyone who wants to jump on board should be able to use their talents, networks and skills.
To help people get started, he founded the website www.callandresponse.com, which includes a wealth of online and interactive platform opportunities.
“We want to make sure people feel employed. If you give someone the opportunity to act to their capacity and stay connected, progress increases exponentially. Whether we are talking about girls as young as four years old being used for sex, taken to the doctor at night to have their hymen re-sewed, only to be sold again the next day as a “virgin”, or local gangs in Brooklyn and the Bronx that troll junior high campuses and talk girls into prostituting themselves, every single case is a tragedy. The fact is, we need to be committed, more so than these traders, because they are some of the most committed people out there. They know that their business currently brings in more money than the run of arms,” says Dillon.
With donations that have been received, Call and Response has been able to buy child soldiers and bring an end to their tragic lifestyle, helped those in slave villages and brothels and raised over $200,000 for frontline projects.
Since its release, the activist film has gained substantial momentum and praise here in the United States. Dillon’s hope is that the movie is not only watched, but shared with groups of people.
A home screening campaign is currently underway, which includes a kit with each movie that teaches the viewer how to personally get involved and how to get their community involved in the cause. Dillon has also begun the “Slave Free Campaign,” which he calls “the most powerful way for people to start leveraging their consumption. It involves getting businesses to stop buying products from companies that employ slaves.”
He explains that “slavery touches all of our lives and we all add to the problem because we demand low prices, so we need to stand together and demand that these companies supply chains are clean.”
Dillon’s motto is “Justice is what love looks like in public” and he believes that people can’t just internalize how they feel about issues; action needs to be taken and ongoing.
In closing, he shares, “There is a quote that I think back to all the time that says ‘The death of a million is a statistic; the death of an individual is a tragedy.’ It is important that we stay committed to this. Although it seems fuzzy, it is one of the worst humans rights abuse and it will continue to thrive unless we give our full attention and commitment.”
For more information on Justin Dillon, Call and Response, and to order the documentary, please visit: www.CallandResponse.com .
For statistics on information on human trafficking, visit, www.state.gov/g/tip/