Friday Hoyden: Emma Thompson redux

Image Source: Reuters
Caption: Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik (L) and British actor and human rights activist Emma Thompson leave a container exhibit in Vienna February 11, 2008. ‘The Journey Against Sex Trafficking’ uses seven transport containers to illustrate the brutal and harrowing experiences of women sold into the sex trade.

HAT has briefly featured Emma Thompson before, because she is made of Awesome. Not just for her acting and writing talents, but also for her personal principles and how she acts on them. She has always been very vocally against the expectation that women in films should diet excessively to “look the part”, and is documented several times as berating directors/producers who try to inflict that upon her younger co-stars. But she has much larger principles upon which she acts as well.

She is a self-described “part-time activist” (balancing activism with family life and her acting career) for human rights generally and against the trafficking of women for the sex industry in particular, regularly speaking at conferences/symposiums about practical ways to make it more difficult for women to be trafficked e.g. ensure that infant girls are issued registered birth certificates – the most vulnerable girls and women are those for whom there is no official record that they exist. She is the sponsor of graphic art installations that confront people with the hidden horrors of trafficking. She is speaker for The Helen Bamber Foundation, an organisation dedicated to the couselling and rehabilitation of victims of the trauma and torture that is sex trafficking.

And last year she made this heartbreaking video [PTSD Trigger warning] about the realities of life for a trafficked sex slave, commissioned jointly by The Body Shop and The Helen Bamber Foundation, and based upon the experiences of a woman with whom Emma has worked extensively as part of her activities with the foundation.

Final text: Women enslaved by sex trafficking lose more than just their names. Trafficking is torture.

The focus of this activism is practical as well as simple awareness-raising – to change the way in which trafficked women are treated under UK law (and the law in many other countries as well):

Apart from spreading the message about trafficking, the participants hope to drive viewers to petitions, online and in Body Shop stores, which will grant reprieve from deportation for 30 days for women arrested when brothels are busted and sex gang rings are broken up. Currently, they are imprisoned and shipped home. The Helen Bamber foundation is seeking time to counsel and help as well as convince the U.K. government to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

This Public Service Announcement was shot in only a few hours, all that Thompson could spare from her schedule at the time. That rawness of an essentially improvised performance is what gives it much of its power.

(H/T to the TV program The Gruen Transfer, which discussed this video last week – I missed any original discussion of it online when it was released last year.)

Categories: gender & feminism, social justice, violence

Tags: , , ,

11 replies

  1. This article made me hunt down an image of Emma as the wonderful, noisy angel crashing through ceilings in Angels in America.

  2. Oh, nice one. I’ll let everybody see that here:

  3. That is a timely reminder because at the moment, Australia’s ability to deal with trafficking is being tested in the High Court as a conviction against a Melbourne brothel owner for debt bondage is appealed. It seems that they are arguing that debt bondage is a legitimate form of employment contract?! There was a discussion of the case on Background Briefing. The High Court has reserved its’ decision.

  4. It seems that they are arguing that debt bondage is a legitimate form of employment contract?!

    That crash you just heard? My jaw hitting the floor. WTF?

  5. I love that she’s funny, and doesn’t mind fooling around – she doesn’t try to look elegant and funny or sexy and funny, she’s just goofy.
    She amused me by taking the piss out of pole dancing on Ellen:
    There isn’t much Sybill Trelawney on youtube, but here she is in a crackvid set to Weird Al’s “Horoscope For Today”. Made me giggle.

  6. Yes. The arguments are complex but from what I understand in determining this case the High Court is reviewing the definition of slavery, as opposed to labour exploitation. There are some big differences in how debt bondage is being characterized by different groups. The Scarlet Alliance has argued that the majority of such contracts are entered into willingly and with full knowledge of the circumstances of repayment, are satisfactory to all parties and do not constitute slavery or even, necessarily exploitation.

  7. Should we be petitioning the High Court or something? What about GetUp? This sounds like a prime candidate for a campaign.

  8. su, your comment inspired me to go read the transcript (all two full days’ worth of it! although I admit to quite a lot of skimming) and blog about the case. Because there was too much for a comment here … But just to clear up a couple of things:
    Debt bondage wasn’t an offence when the events in the case occurred – so the defendant/respondent was charged with the slavery offences (you can’t be charged with a crime that didn’t exist at the time). Her lawyer argued, essentially, that what she did could at most be called debt bondage (he said it wasn’t even that), but certainly not slavery.
    From the argument in the case, I expect to see something in the judgment about both debt bondage and slavery, although technically, whatever they say about debt bondage won’t be binding (because it’s not necessary for the judgment). However, anything they say will be used by the lower courts. You can count on that.
    orlando, petitioning the court is never a very productive idea – there’s a pretty low likelihood that any judge would ever see it (ANY court’s registrars, secretaries and associates act as a pretty good firewall). And judges can only take into account the arguments of the parties and interveners.
    I say: wait and see what happens. If the High Court interprets these laws sensibly, the Scarlet Alliance can keep arguing, but I doubt Parliament is going to change the laws. If the court’s judgment is seen to be off, then lobbying Parliament to tighten the definitions could be a good idea, and I agree, it would be an excellent project for GetUp to get involved with.
    By the way, more info on human trafficking worldwide:
    Plus, see The Jammed. Excellent, excellent movie.
    Jo Tamars last blog post..Slavery and debt bondage in Australia

  9. That’s a great post, Jo- thanks for the info about debt bondage laws. One of the other cases that this judgement will influence is that of Trevor McIvor who will appeal his conviction for slavery. I assume that these offences also occurred before laws relating to debt bondage were enacted. In Mc Ivor’s case, six women were locked in overnight, had their passports confiscated, could not move out into the community without an escort and could not use the telephone unless it was unlocked for them and the calls monitored. They were required to work off a debt of $45 000 although McIvor only paid the Thai agent $15 000. They were drugged and forced to service clients that noone else would go near. His lawyer has likened the debt arrangement entered into by his client to the contractual agreeements of football players.

  10. Thanks su.
    Arrrgh, cases like that (McIvor) make me sick! So, for that matter, does Tang. But I’m used to separating the argument about the law from what’s actually going on factually, it’s part of the training. Never sure whether that’s really a good thing or not. I *do* think it’s a good thing that legal ethics mean that anyone, no matter how morally repugnant, can get legal representation (if you get asked, you are supposed to take the case – although there are a number of loopholes, hey, not lawyers for nothing 😉 ). However, there’s a limit that lawyers should stop at in defence of their clients. Not saying that McI’s lawyer has gone too far – but he does seem a bit self-aggrandising, doesn’t he?
    Anyway, if the High Court’s interpretation of this is unsatisfactory, I am going to be one of the first sending an email to MPs to start lobbying to fix up the laws.


  1. Slavery and debt bondage in Australia « Wallaby
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