Kate Bosworth is a source of inspiration in countless ways. Personally, she inspired my brief stints with colored contacts and surfing; she's been an endless well of stylish outfit ideas and career advice; and, most importantly, she's a leading voice who reminds us all to think beyond ourselves and use whatever power we have to create positive change. Unsurprisingly, her latest work on the film Nona does just that. Using the medium she knows best, Bosworth humanizes an often overlooked and misunderstood epidemic, human sex trafficking, by telling the story of a young woman who is trafficked from Honduras to the U.S. when she thinks she's setting out on a journey to reunite with her mother. The title itself is an acronym for "no name," speaking to the ways in which sex trafficking invisiblizes and brutalizes.
So when we had the opportunity to speak with Bosworth about her experience working on Nona and how it prompted a deeper dive into humanitarian advocacy against sex trafficking, let's just say we were ready to take notes. And we were able to do so right when she was en route to receive an award at the Sun Valley Film Festival, which will be followed up with another honor at the Richmond International Film Festival later this month. Nona was "born out of an idea between [Michael Polish] and myself from concept through to delivery" because "we felt a responsibility as artists to bring humanity to something that can be perceived as statistical in many ways," she tells MyDomaine.
In fact, Bosworth believes that one of the reasons many people "don't know how to tackle" sex trafficking is because they don't know how to conceptualize it, something she hopes to dismantle a little with the personal story in Nona. So if you're eager to hear more from Bosworth and want to better understand the forces behind human sex trafficking in the U.S., including how to work against it, read through the breakdown of the basic players, statistics, and mechanisms involved below.
Understanding the Statistics
Frequently referred to as "forced labor" or "modern-day slavery," human trafficking encompasses any form of labor exploitation, which means making someone work against their will through force, fraud, or coercion. According to the 2017 report from the International Labour Organization, 24.9 million people are trafficked into forced labor annually, with 4.5 million of those people being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Globally, 71% of forced laborers—and 99% of sexually exploited forced laborers—are women and girls. In the U.S., about eight in 10 cases of human trafficking involve sexual exploitation, as the Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reports. Forced labor generates $150 billion a year worldwide, and each person trafficked for sexual exploitation generates about $100,000 annually.
And one of the reasons it's such an obscure, difficult-to-understand epidemic is because those who are targeted by the crime are usually marginalized members of society. Specifically, "60% of child sex trafficking victims recovered through FBI raids across the U.S. in 2013 were from foster care or group homes." Additionally, 73% of child trafficking reports have been linked to Backpage (a site that's similar to Craigslist), and "in the United States, victims of trafficking are almost exclusively immigrants and mostly immigrant women," says the ACLU.
Breaking Down the Issue in the U.S.
Understandably, people with financial hardships or anyone in a desperate situation, tend to be most vulnerable, which, in the U.S. often manifests in immigrant demographics. This is just one of the reasons Polish and Bosworth chose to hone in on the experience of a young woman from Central America for their film. As the ACLU explains, "In the U.S., immigrant women and children are particularly vulnerable to the deceptive and coercive tactics of traffickers because of their lower levels of education, inability to speak English, immigration status, and lack of familiarity with U.S. employment protections."
Bosworth also mentions that "it's a brainwashing crisis in many ways because [trafficked people] don't have any idea what to expect." Beyond undocumented immigrants' status in an oppressive political climate that breeds fear, she says sex trafficking is hard to track and stop because it often involves a "mobile ring of slavery and abuse," meaning both the traffickers and trafficked "keep moving around to different areas." But that doesn't mean it's too big of an issue to tackle.
Changes We're Starting to See
"One of the things that's improving a lot is educating the police department that, when you're coming upon these situations, it's better not treat the girls as criminals," says Bosworth. Many of the victims of sex trafficking become criminalized either because they are undocumented or because they are charged with prostitution, which exacerbates the issue in every way imaginable. This is why it's such a big step that city officials are actually starting to rethink this approach and see the value in protecting those being trafficked rather than vilifying them.
Another major step forward is the government's crackdown on sites like Backpage, which knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking. Of course, prosecuting one company can't completely eradicate an elusive global epidemic, but it does set a new precedent for holding corporations and advertisers accountable. And as the statistics demonstrate, human sex trafficking is all about making money. There are also a ton of incredible organizations designed to help rehabilitate survivors, legally advocate for them, and educate others. That's where we come in.
What We Can Do
"I'm a very solution-oriented person and want to help a situation in any way I can, and a lot of people ask the question of what can I do, what can I do?" says Bosworth. Of course, this is a deeply complicated issue that's massive in scale, but there's still a lot we can do, and it feels a lot less intimidating once you're informed. As Bosworth advises, "I would just say that if anyone wonders what they can do, go to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking's website and try to find community and vital voices and just try to educate yourself because it's something that's a global epidemic that we don't often understand as a global epidemic. Keep the humanity at the forefront of the mind with this issue."
Another action you can take is to meet with city council to put more pressure on them to train police officers, federal agents, and other people who actually have power in those situations, to focus on protecting the victims of sex trafficking rather than criminalizing them. When there are more eyes on this issue, there's more pressure on government officials to really take action. This will also result in more women and girls coming forward to report these crimes rather than living in silence or continuing to be exploited as indentured servants.