This past weekend, St Andrews Against Slavery transformed our Barron theatre into an exhibition, exposing the horrific reality of the sex slave trade. Held on the UK’s Anti-Slavery day, this installation featured student art as well as audio-visual installations. Additionally, it promised to play on the senses, and I feel that not only did they achieve this brilliantly but these various touches also added immensely to the impact of the exhibition.
As you walked into the main doors of the Barron Theatre you were barraged by a curtain of hanging condoms. The smell of condoms, lube, a sickening scent, hit you like a wall. The room was lit with red light and featured several areas. On the risers, the usual chairs were replaced with mannequin torsos. Around each neck hung a sign, stating the age, place of origin, whether their virginity was intact, and a vague number. Some were as young as 11 or 12. A recording of a man auctioning off the girls referred to them only by their number, dehumanizing them further.
On a wall to the side, several posters retold the stories of former sex slaves. Playing on the main wall was a video of interviews with women who had escaped these horrendous situations. I found these especially poignant; while statistics are important and more often utilized I find that the stories shared by these brave survivors are much more moving. While many of the victims were kidnapped or coerced, some were misled and tricked by ill-meaning strangers or worse, by their own families. And while these ordeals may seem like an issue that “other countries” or “other cultures” must deal with, an infographic placed that many of the top centres for the slave trade are world-wide, with the average age in the States set at 12-14 years old. This was a startling reminder of the unfortunate fact that this is by no means a rare tragedy but an everyday occurrence, as on average 2 children are sold every minute.
Perhaps the most shocking and volatile display in the room was a dingy bedroom scene. A dull red haze hung over the bed, which featured grimy, bloodstained sheets and an unwrapped condom. In the background another recording played, this time a voice of both a man and a woman. While the man spoke occasionally, the female voice never spoke word; all you could hear were her sobs. On the wall hung two papers: one stating the prices of services, the other outlining the harsh fact that while some girls can be sold for a mere $5, virgins fetch higher fees, with some “owners” employing insidious and sickening practices in the interest of marketing the girls as virgins.
This exhibition on the modern day slave trade was deeply disturbing but exceptionally moving. As a person who is interested in human sexuality, seeing the darker side of the field was extremely heartbreaking and made me want to do something about it immediately. St Andrews Against Slavery artfully conveyed just how acute the need is for increased awareness, involvement, and cooperation to end these horrifying human rights violations, and I hope that the event persuaded many to join the fight.
Photos courtesy of St Andrews against Slavery