One day you return to your home, tired from the stress of your job as a cashier, secretary, accountant, domestic servant, student… You walk through the same terrain full of dirt and gravel you have known since childhood. A woman you recognize from a year ago or so sees you in the street, as if it were an extraordinary coincidence. She tells you the story of her life, and in return, and perhaps in a gesture of empathy, you end up telling her yours.
She seems to be in good spirits, chatting with you about how well she is doing. When you least expect it, you have told her that you finished school a few years ago, that every day you go to your family at home, that you struggle every day to survive on a meager salary.
She offers you a business proposal. Easy, simple, and consistent, with good benefits, and a pretty juicy salary —not to mention the idea that with it you could soon bring your family out of misery. She requires you to go live to another state for a few months. You don’t really ponder her proposal.
You pack your bags and wait for the bus employees, who promise to take you to the proper destination; you are not alone, but you do not know anyone else. The journey will be overnight, and the next day you will arrive at a luxury hotel. But when you wake up at your destination, things do not look good at all.
Scared, you ask the driver if this is the final destination. You imagine horrible scenarios. Your heart beats faster; blood rises to your head. He does not answer, but another man brings you inside a cellar, telling you that everything is fine. You believe him because there is no other option, but deep down you know that life as you know it has changed forever.
We cannot imagine that slavery and sexual exploitation are things that still happen today. In ancient Rome, slaves were the basis of their society, yet they were considered objects, lower than animals. But nowadays, we claim, our advanced technological and scientific society would not perpetuate such a problem. However, reality is quite different.
In Europe, America, Africa, and Asia some things still seem to belong to the Middle Ages. Women, men, and children disappear without a trace; relatives hope for a sign of life, a night call, a longed-for letter, perhaps even news from a neighbor who knows the fate of the one who disappeared. But there is rarely a happily ever after.
Human trafficking is a daily occurrence, and those human beings who are abducted provide this society with a constant flow of capital. Traffickers deceive the vulnerable with false promises of a better future. They tell them of plans that seem like a dream, but after stacking their victims in warehouses, dehydrated and nearly incapable of moving, they sell them to the highest bidder.
Extremely powerful men and women profit from one of the most shameful crimes of humanity. Through mafias and by purchasing power, they manage to make absurd amounts of money flow into circulation, money that will never reach those who work for it.
Forced labor or sexual exploitation are the main reasons behind the traffic of human beings, an international criminal business that destroys the lives of millions of victims. The profits amount to about US$3 billion per year, yet victims do not receive a cent. The most marginalized people end up being the easiest preys, for those who kidnap them promise them a better future.
It's not just about working for free. Victims have to deal with the brutal beatings, the constant fight for a place to sleep, the lack of hygiene, health services, and a stable living condition. This can hardly be called life; there is only existence and survival.
Others are forced to be part of millionaire auctions and be slaves of the highest bidder; perhaps it is a fat man, a millionaire, and a pervert who will surely buy a girl for sexual services. Many simply receive a sequin dress, high heels, and makeup; they know they will have to remain awake almost 24 hours a day and live drugged to survive the intense physical strain they suffer because of some crazy fetishist.
Other men, destined for the worst jobs, await a closed-door future, perhaps without any chance of seeing daylight again. Their bed will be next to their workplace; their hopes of survival will appear occasionally, when they can rest from the dizzying labor of pasting fake labels to sumptuous garments or fishing in pools from morning to night.
Children, kidnapped and basically left to their fate on the streets, will use their charisma, big tearful eyes, the power of coercion and the ability to provoke pity to receive more money than the child on the other side of the street, whose function is exactly the same: to beg for coins or sell candy to passers-by.
In Asia, this fruitful and atrocious business was portrayed by the photographer Sandra Hoyn, who has captured the harshness of this existence in her vivid photographs. With each series, she tells us different tragedies around the world, about lives we would never want, and situations we would like to stop.
Photo essays such as the brothels in Bangladesh , titled The Longing of the Others, show the lives of those who have no choice but to pay off their debts by prostituting themselves, waiting to fall in love with someone who will pull them out of their misery. Her series about Indian children being held in orphanages is an evidence of the cruel business behind; also The Last Orangutans and Living with the Volcano speak of society's problematic relationship with nature and the consequences that various communities, both human and animal, suffer around the world.
In a photo essay titled Import-Export, referring to people entering and leaving a country as a human commodity, Hoyn displays the atrocious crisis that is generated by one of the most prolific illegal businesses in the world. "In my travels through Asia, I met many people who lived in these circumstances. I began the first part of the photo essay in Thailand and Cambodia. Cambodia is a place where people who are part of trafficking in the Mekong subregion are sent, received, and shipped."
The two countries are widely known for sex tourism. In fact, ANESVAD (an NGO that protects human rights and works against severe forms of gender-based violence) says that 22% of tourists in Cambodia go there for sexual motives. Language barriers become the best ally for kidnappers, who easily drug victims, abuse them, and turn them into the perfect bait for those who visit the country.
Pederasts often travel to places that are either poor or enveloped in conflict, where trafficking and human slavery abound. If per capita incomes are considered to be $260 per year and a virgin girl can be sold for $150, it is not surprising that children become victims of their own families, who only want a better future for the other children they must support.
Those who are kidnapped are often forced into domestic work, but most into sex slavery. Approximately one-third of women and girls in Cambodian brothels are from Vietnam, while Cambodians are sold to other countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia for the same purposes. No one knows anyone, and they have no way to escape.
The horror is not seen just in prostitution. In Indonesia, for example, psychiatrists display the most inhuman and savage side of a society that does not know how to control its patients. Andrea Star portrayed them in her series Disorder.
If you want to know more about Sandra Hoyn's work, you can visit her website.
Translated by Joseph Reiter