In December 2011, Impact ran a feature on Taken (2008), a film about human trafficking that was shown as part of the SEEN (Student environment and ethics network) film festival. The article questioned the ethics of how human trafficking was portrayed and a comment on this article pointed to an Australian film The Jammed. Writer, directer and producer Dee McLachlan found this comment and sent us a copy of the film. Here are our thoughts.
The Jammed (2007) was inspired by Australian court transcripts. It follows Ashley, a young Melbourne woman bored of her office job who becomes tangled in a Chinese mother’s desperate search for her daughter, Ruby. Meanwhile, Ruby and two other young girls have been taken to Australia with illegal papers and forced into prostitution. Harrowing, brutal and at times difficult to watch, the film deals with trafficking honestly and the result is a powerful exploration of a city’s sinister underbelly.
Low-budget but elegantly directed, The Jammed‘s strength lies in the reality of its portrayal. Instead of the Hollywood spin of Taken, this film is a window into the real-life workings of every large city in the world. Ashley, the insurance clerk who is reluctantly drawn in, is a fantastic entry point for the audience. Instead of a world that belongs to criminals, gangs and foreigners, this is a horror that operates on the streets of her beautiful city and becomes something she can’t ignore.
Taken’s trafficking victims are middle-class and affluent, a bold choice that could make viewers think twice about who trafficking victims are and can be. The Jammed‘s victims are non-English speaking, a truer portrayal of the majority of sex slaves. As well as being more realistic, this choice shows why a foreign country and language barrier creates the power traffickers have over their victims.
Promised a well-paid job to send money to their families, victims are taken abroad by traffickers who then confiscate their passport and money. Told they are in extreme debt, sometimes to the tune of $10 000, they are locked up and trapped in an unknown location with little knowledge of the local language. Victims are often beaten and raped by the brothel-owners. They have no choice but to ‘earn’ their debt through prostitution. Denied access to their passports, victims rarely receive any money.
This horrific process is commonplace in trafficking and The Jammed does not hold back in its portrayal. It is painful to watch but most importantly, it is true.
The problems surrounding trafficking are also shown in a true-to-life manner. Neighbours and officials are unhelpful to the point of rudeness and layers of bureaucracy cause a rescued victim to be placed in detention, even after the trauma she has endured. The traffickers themselves are likewise realistically portrayed. Unlike the generic foreigners of Taken, the brothel-owner of The Jammed is a husband and father. Memorably, he asks his young child to put Mummy on the phone whilst a screen flicks through security footage of prostitutes and their customers in the rooms below.
Trafficking happens in all cities, including Nottingham, and concern is rising over the London 2012 Olympics. Large sporting events like the previous Olympics and the Superbowl have shown an increase in trafficked victims, due to the increase in demand. Films like The Jammed send an important message about modern day slavery; that it is active in affluent, cultured cities.
Looking at Taken I questioned the ethical obligations of film. The Jammed shows that an honest portrayal can make emotional contact with those for whom trafficking is a vague or unknown issue. More than that, it shows that sex slaves are not part of a different world. It happens on our streets, in our communities, and if we only opened our eyes to it, we could help to prevent it.