From an Expert in Anti-Trafficking: Sound of Freedom and Stories That Move Us Forward
Sound of Freedom is doing exactly what Director Alejandro Monteverde hoped it would: starting the conversation on the horrors of human trafficking. People everywhere are talking about what they can do, how they can help, and what comes next.
Angel Studios is a distribution platform and our aim is to amplify light through entertainment. Millions of people have seen Sound of Freedom, creating enormous awareness for the issue of human trafficking. Many want to learn more so we’ve invited Dr. Lauren Pinkston, an expert in anti-trafficking with over a decade of experience, to help us understand what trafficking looks like, who it affects, and how we can all increase our awareness together.
Over to you, Dr. Pinkston!
What Anti-Trafficking Experts Want Sound of Freedom Viewers to Know After Watching the Movie
By Dr. Lauren Pinkston, Pinkston & Co, LLC
It seems as if the whole world is talking about Sound of Freedom. While non-profit organizations often avoid dramatized versions of trafficking, my colleagues and I can’t help but be excited about the conversations Sound of Freedom has started. I want to create as much awareness about the horrors, yes, but also complications surrounding trafficking so that you feel empowered to help in whichever way you see fit. Let’s dive in and chat!
Like you, I am moved by a compelling story. And, like you, I am heartbroken with the knowledge of modern-day exploitation. I was initially drawn into anti-trafficking work because of movies and books following a similar storyline to Sound of Freedom and I’m grateful for the curiosity and awareness they sparked in my heart that helped me get involved and try to make a difference.
I have spent the greater majority of my career in the anti-trafficking field uncovering the nuances of this growing crisis—a task I had no idea would be so complex. As an academic, I was trained to ask questions that had not yet been asked. As a practitioner, those questions met real-life people who had experienced unthinkable harm.
Thanks to Angel Studios, those of us who spend our days learning from survivors of human trafficking are able to engage viewers eager to join us in the fight for freedom.
While our eyes and our ears are on the cries of some of the world’s most vulnerable, I hope we can open our hearts and our hands to better understand how each of us interact with slavery in our everyday lives.
I have spent the last week at anti-trafficking conferences in Indonesia. It was an honor to gather experts, leaders in the field, and survivors–all with a variety of intervention strategies–to discuss Sound of Freedom. Some of us practice search and rescue operations, many of us work in aftercare and rehabilitation spaces, and others use prevention and economic empowerment as a means of combating sex and labor trafficking.
To keep things fair and balanced, I asked everyone to move their chairs around to sit with fellow practitioners from different organizations. The task was to answer a simple (but complex) question:
What do you want viewers of Sound of Freedom to know about your work and the fight against human trafficking?
I would love to be able to take credit for the insightful comments that emerged from our whole-group discussion. It is critical, however, to honor the many individuals who work long hours to receive and rehabilitate survivors, and even more paramount to elevate the voices of survivors as they respond to this film.
The following are excerpts from an open letter drafted and signed by a number of survivors and practitioners. It invites viewers into a broader narrative of the realities of modern exploitation.
1. Human trafficking is multifaceted and extends beyond child trafficking, including various forms and diverse demographics of victims. Each year, millions of individuals are exploited for profit—both within their own countries and across borders. Sex trafficking, including child sexual exploitation, is a heinous crime that transcends diverse realms, encompassing both the hidden corners of the dark web and sacred communities of faith.
In addition, around 80% of human trafficking victims are individuals who are subjected to forced labor with meager or no compensation, working in harsh conditions in factories, farms, mines, construction sites, fishing vessels, and private residences.
2. Human trafficking is a global issue. Whether it is in urban centers or rural areas, exploitation takes place in each of the world’s regions, making it truly a global concern. Different regions face unique challenges and require tailored approaches to combat this problem effectively.
3. Trafficking is often perpetrated by those known to the victim, including family members. This form of trafficking can be challenging to detect. Complex vulnerabilities confuse a black and white narrative of villain and victim, making it difficult to define where a person’s exploitation begins and ends.
While kidnapping can occur, there are much more normative methods of trafficking like grooming, manipulation, and coercion.
4. Less than 1% of trafficking victims are identified. This statistic underscores the urgent need for prevention, aftercare, and sustainable solutions to address human trafficking in a way that centers survivors’ agency. Rescue operations, while important, should not be seen as the sole solution to the problem.
Self-liberation is a predominant way through which individuals escape trafficking situations. It is essential to recognize and respect that many survivors take courageous steps to free themselves from exploitation. Creating space for them to share their experiences and stories on their own terms can be a powerful way to elevate survivors’ voices and inspire others.
5. The anti-trafficking movement has evolved significantly over the last decade, which is a testament to the dedicated efforts of numerous individuals, organizations, and grassroots initiatives. The story featured in Sound of Freedom took place ten years ago. Since then, there have been significant changes in both methodology and language ensuring individuals with lived experience do not experience re-exploitation.
6. Creating pathways to freedom for trafficking victims requires collaboration and effort from multiple individuals and organizations. As a movement, we commit to ongoing learning and best practices. Many survivor-led and locally led organizations are doing incredible work, which is deeply connected to the communities they serve, providing culturally sensitive and relevant support. It is important to amplify their stories and engage with their work.
7. We must share stories responsibly, supporting survivors, and promoting meaningful change in the fight against human trafficking. It is paramount for us to tell the stories surrounding human trafficking in a way that respects the dignity of those affected. These stories carry immense weight and significance, and it is crucial to present them with sensitivity and empathy, avoiding any sensationalism or further exploitation. By doing so, we honor the experiences of survivors, victims, and their families, fostering a deeper understanding of the issue and inspiring meaningful action.
Survivor Statement - it is a survivor's right to control how their story is shared. Obtaining informed consent is of utmost importance. Children are unable to provide informed consent and it is our responsibility to protect them.
Survivor networks desire for those who engage in the movie to think more deeply about the realities of vulnerabilities that lead to exploitation, physical and emotional trauma caused by the actions of perpetrators and the way that every human is connected to this issue.
As a friend to many men and women who have so bravely found freedom from their abusers, I cannot thank audiences of Sound of Freedom enough for your energy and your willingness to walk into dark places of listening and learning.
My hope is that we remain in a posture of compassion as we share our financial, social, and spiritual resources with those who are still seeking to find freedom for themselves.
Dr. Lauren Pinkston is an academic, teaching through published writing, nonprofit coaching, facilitated workshops, and a newly released podcast. She holds a PhD in International Family and Community Studies from Clemson University. Previous to working in academia, Lauren lived in Southeast Asia researching the human trafficking crisis and starting businesses to employ survivors. She now consults for anti-trafficking organizations and small business startups, helping them institute trauma policies into healing-centered workplaces.
Lauren is the President of Kindred Exchange, a non-profit focused on establishing more ethical cross-cultural practices and expanding jobs in the Global South. She also sits on the board for Freedom Business Alliance and Rain Collective. Lauren enjoys traveling with her husband and four kids, cooking up a mean curry, and learning to be a good neighbor.