‘We don’t see it’: Mexican TV series spotlights trafficking in plain sight

The creators of a documentary series about human trafficking in Mexico hope the TV show will educate the public about the abuse of workers in plain sight – be it cleaners or farm laborers.

The eight-part public television series ‘The Route of Human Trafficking’ tells the stories of survivors – most of whom are kept anonymous – and explores the root causes and drivers of labor and sexual exploitation.

“(Human trafficking) is there in broad daylight … and we don’t see it … maybe because it’s so obvious,” co-director and producer Hector Ortega told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has said there may be between 50,000 and 500,000 trafficking victims in Mexico – from sexual exploitation to forced labor – but academics say the real number is hard to pin down with concrete data lacking.

Human trafficking takes several forms in Mexico, from girls forced into prostitution to domestic workers in slave-like conditions and young men coerced into working for drug cartels.

The creators of the show said they decided against covering trafficking by organized crime groups because they thought it was too risky for themselves, the survivors and the specialists.

Co-director and producer Marilu Rasso said she wanted the audience to reflect on why and how cases of human trafficking occurred, rather than just focus on the nature of the abuse.

“Precariousness makes exploitation and trafficking possible, the thought that there are … people who somehow are worth less or are just there to produce,” said Rasso, who also runs a shelter for female victims of violence.

In one episode of the show – which first aired last month and runs until September – activists explain how agricultural laborers migrate from poorer parts of Mexico through a murky system of brokers and are mistreated, threatened and underpaid.

Rasso and Ortega said they had already been aware of the terrible conditions many farm workers suffered, but were surprised by the severity after interviewing some victims.

“We need to put up a big reflector to realize that what we’re so used to living is violence and that it allows something as cruel as human trafficking,” Rasso said.

The pair said opportunities for financing hard-hitting documentaries in Mexico were scarce but that they had managed to secure public funding after being rejected by big broadcasters.

From Bollywood to Hollywood, film and TV portrayals of human trafficking are often criticized for oversimplifying or sensationalizing the issue and miseducating viewers about a trade that has an estimated 25 million victims worldwide.

Yet Yuriria Alvarez, who used to run the CNDH’s anti-trafficking program, said the series showed how issues from sexism to discrimination fueled human trafficking in Mexico.

“Unlike other projects that usually just show you something super victimized or myths … (the show) paints a picture of all the violence beforehand,” said Alvarez, who advised Ortega and Rasso. “Human trafficking doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Kieran Guilbert Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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