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#sextrafficking | Charlotte Gainsbourg on How Motherhood Opened Her Eyes to Human Trafficking | #tinder | #pof | #match | romancescams | #scams


On screen, Charlotte Gainsbourg is fearless. The kind of performer who disappears into demanding roles, she has balanced collaborations with directors like Michel Gondry, Lars von Trier, and Gaspar Noé with a successful music career. Gainsbourg may be known for her contributions to entertainment, but her latest role may be her bravest. As a spokesperson for the international humanitarian organization, Stop Trafficking Of People, (S.T.O.P.), Gainsbourg has committed to fighting against human trafficking. According to 2017 report from the International Labour Organization, an estimated 40 million men, women, and children are victims of sexual exploitation and forced labor. The issue touches people of all ages and walks of life, but young women and children are the most vulnerable. Victims face psychological trauma and long-term difficulties, even when they can be reunited with their families. This lifelong struggle is part of what drew Gainsbourg to the cause. “We’re at a time where everyone is aware of the violence against women,” shared Gainsbourg on the phone from her New York home. “The #MeToo movement brought so much to light, but there is still more to be done. [Trafficking] is the worst thing that I can think of happening to children, and it feels like now is the right time to be conscious of that.”

Founded in 2004 by journalist and United Nations correspondent Celhia de Lavarene, S.T.O.P. works locally to solve a global issue. Its rescue and support centers would provide victims with a safe space in regions where the problem is especially prevalent. Geared to reintegrating those impacted back into society, these centers will provide medical and educational assistance, including vocational and English language training. According to De Lavarene, the goal is to provide people with a means to move forward. “I will not say ‘go back to normal,’ because they may never have one,” she says. “Still, they can feel better about themselves and reclaim some of what has been lost. Many of the girls we’ve encountered don’t see themselves as human beings, so it’s tough to tell them otherwise. None of this is their fault. We want to teach them skills and offer them medical and psychological help so that they can go back to their country when they feel ready and can find work.”

As a former correspondent for Jeune Afrique and for Radio France Internationale, De Lavarene regularly wrote about issues pertaining to human rights. Still, her first trip to Bosnia in 2000 was eye-opening. “We met more than 3,000 girls during our time there, and not one told me that they chose to be there,” she says. “They had been lured with false promises of work then locked away with their passports taken. People believe that this is like the movies, escorts in pretty dresses who use sex to make money. The reality is that these girls have been drugged, beaten, and taken from their homes.”

In Paris, De Lavarene works one-on-one with women who have survived exploitation, but the problem is truly international. Its intersection with regional politics and economics adds another layer of difficulty. Unstable economies, war, and even health crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic can create a breeding ground for traffickers. Rates of exploration rise during periods of chaos, and more than 75% of the world’s humanitarian organizations are on hiatus, according to the Global Protection Cluster. For De Lavarene, these situations give rise to lasting problems. “When there is conflict, unrest, or war, you have no structure [and] the vulnerable become targets,” she says. “Traffickers know that smuggling people will always get the money. We saw it in Nigeria with Boko Haram and in Syria with Daesh. One of the reasons the problem is rarely addressed is because the industry consistently generates a lot of money. As such, there is an absence of political will to fight this.”

When it comes to charitable initiatives, many celebrities opt for easy-to-join movements; in the age of Instagram challenges and charity singles, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a famous person who isn’t trying to draw attention to a worthy cause. Still, issues like human trafficking come with a layer of controversy and ignorance. Often conflated with sex work, the topic is considerably more complex, intersecting with other offenses like kidnapping, drug smuggling, and child pornography. As such, trafficking’s impact is rarely fully appreciated; outside the human-rights community, it isn’t a trending topic despite its prevalence. Misconceptions abound, and Gainsbourg admits that even she had to educate herself about the topic before grasping its significance. “It was quite a surprise to me, learning how big of a deal it was and that it was not prostitution,” she says. “Before I would have mixed them up, but after getting to know Celhia, I came to understand that these girls are not receiving any money. They’re drugged, raped, and forced into this life.”

Gainsbourg and Lavarene’s meeting was serendipitous. Introduced by mutual friends while Gainsbourg was searching for her family’s cat, Milo, they became fast friends. “It was luck. When we met I had just lost Milo and I didn’t know what Celhia was doing,” says Gainsbourg. “I’m new to this whole enterprise, [but] I was immediately interested; I started thinking of what I could do and how I could be involved.” Gainsbourg follows in the footsteps of the late U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and opera legend Jessye Norman. In her new role, she hopes to raise greater awareness via the reach her platforms afford her. “I do a lot of interviews, but they’re [for] films and music. I’m hoping that I can also speak about S.T.O.P.,” says Gainsbourg, who hopes to volunteer in S.T.O.P.’s forthcoming relief center in Bosnia. “I intend to visit and see how things operate on the scene. It’s one thing to talk about something and another to be directly involved. I think I need that next step.”

As a mother to three children, including a teenaged daughter, Alice, Gainsbourg was struck by the link between trafficking and child sexual abuse. “When I was shown the documentary about S.T.O.P. and began to see what was happening to these girls and boys and could see that it could be my daughter, the [revelation] was mind-blowing,” she says. “It was very violent to see and understand. The issue of age was troubling, which is not to say that it is any less terrible when it happens to a woman, but when you understand that there are 13-year-olds forced into being sex slaves, it’s the most revolting thing.” The film, which detailed sex trafficking in Bosnia, served as a wake-up call for the star. “I felt very shocked,” says Gainsbourg. “Even though you know about it and this isn’t a new issue, to realize that it’s happening right now in so many countries was heartbreaking.” Add to this the knowledge that many survivors deal with lifelong mental-health issues resulting from their trauma. “The psychological aspect is interesting,” says Gainsbourg. “You can’t push a psychiatrist on these people because that can feel like another form of violence. It has to come from them; they have to feel comfortable enough to open up. There’s a great deal of psychological mending that has to be done to move past something like this.”

Together, de Lavarene and Gainsbourg plan to raise awareness and funds so that additional centers can be built, and victims will have a place where they can receive help. “I cannot do it by myself, but it’s what I would love to do,” says De Lavarene of the Sarajevo relief center. “Without the finances, we cannot do the work.” For her part, Gainsbourg hopes that in the age of #MeToo, when issues of consent and sexual harassment have never been more mainstream, the conversation can shift to include those whose needs are rarely heard. “It’s true that we’re in a time where everyone here can speak up, and that is just wonderful,” she says. “I believe this issue can go in the same direction. It’s a problem that can feel foreign, like something that is happening far away, but it impacts everyone.”

Watch Now: Vogue Videos.

Originally Appeared on Vogue

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