#131: Photojournalist Hazel Thompson On Sex Trafficking and Child Slavery in India

Trigger Warning: this episode talks about sex trafficking, sexual abuse, and slavery.

12 million people have watched the documentary “Caged until Broken: Life for Mumbai Prostitutes” – a series where one woman goes undercover to give voices to women who have been silenced, hidden, and exploited as human commodities. Every year, NGOs estimate that between 12,000 to 50,000 children are trafficked into India alone, and that does not include domestic trafficking within the country. This is a worldwide issue that is often overlooked.

I am privileged to be speaking with the creator of that documentary, Hazel Thompson. She is a photojournalist and filmmaker who has shed light on a dark and hidden sub-culture of slavery and sex trafficking for almost two decades. Her book, “Taken” has highlighted the experiences of young girls forced into prostitution. Her work on social justice and human rights is widespread and essential to awareness for these women, children, and their stories.

In this episode, Hazel shares her experiences of investigating the red-light district Kamathipura, in Mumbai, India. She touches on the stories of women and young girls who have been exploited in the sex industry, and the larger global implications that go unknown to people every day. 

Spencer introduces Hazel to the audience and begins by talking about how her life moved towards photojournalism and storytelling. (2:21)

Hazel touches on mentorship and its importance in her life and shares the story that compelled her to begin reporting on world issues. (5:18)

The story takes a dark turn as Hazel shares the history of red-light districts within India and the world goes into detail about the physical location of red-light district Kamathipura (9:56)

Hazel describes how girls are trafficked into the district and kept imprisoned. (17:18)

Hazel shares statistics from 2013 regarding the girls kept in Kamathipura. (19:29)

Hazel discusses how she was given access to the location and women she photographed. (23:41)

Recalling a conversation she had with a police officer about the Red-Light District, Hazel shares why it was not shut down. (28:33)

Hazel explains the research and investigations elements of learning about and reporting on human trafficking. (29:50)

Hazel discusses the contributors to sex trafficking. (37:35)

Hazel shares how the ‘value of life’ in developing countries and historic implications of slavery contribute to the issue of brothels, red light districts and sex trafficking. (39:22)

Spencer and Hazel discuss how the root of the problem is that human life is commodified. (41:02)

The interview closes with a discussion about how people can help fix such a problem, including supporting charities, such an International Justice Mission, and changing things in your daily lives that may be feeding the problem. (45:28)

“I read a story in a charity magazine about a 9-month-old baby being sold to a brothel… and I was like that can’t be happening, that can’t be true” [8:10]

“Often people talk about red-light districts and they think they are a place of pleasure. They’re not; they are a place of pain”. [12:35]

“These women were not seen as valued human beings who were tricked, lied to and trafficked into this area and didn’t choose to be there and they are actually enslaved but they weren’t seen” [29:00]

“When you’re watching porn, you’re actually funding that industry. We worry about the clothes we wear on our back, we worry about where’s that piece of clothing made in that factory, is that someone who’s been forced into labour? We’re starting, in a good sense, to question our food sources, but actually what are the drivers behind sex trafficking? And I think it’s something really important we need to start safeguarding. We’re grooming people towards it”. [36:18]

“[When] you start trading flesh for labour, to get your needs met at the cost of someone else’s life, at the cost of their dignity, at the cost of their value for you to gain. So, in sex, to have your need met or in labour, to get your product made cheaply, that is the root of the problem.” [40:44]

“And there is a very small percentage of people who may choose to go into prostitution, but I don’t know many girls. Do your daughters lay in bed at night and dream about selling their bodies?” [43:08]

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