Op-Ed: The World’s Slaves Need Us to Free Them

The story of how two artists and one music video intend to raise awareness and activism.

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Worker Yacouba Traore, 9, poses for a picture in between shoveling cotton seeds into a conveyor belt at the Malian Animal Feed Company factory in Koutiala, Mali, August 31 2012. (Photo: Joe Penney/Reuters)

Many think that slavery ended in the 1800s. The fact is that the number of slaves in the world today is far greater than ever before in history. In the last seven years, the estimated total of forced labor victims has grown by more than eight million. The International Labour Organization ( ILO) defines forced or compulsory labor as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.

Most people understand the issue in terms of human trafficking and the sex trade, but the truth is that the shirt, pair of jeans, wristwatch you are wearing, cell phone, and even the food in your refrigerator may have been produced out of a forced labor condition.

When we talk about forced labor, we are talking about humans capturing and selling other humans into efforts that include labor, sex and even war.

MORE: How Many Slaves Do You Own?

My name is Jonathan Korszyk. My friend Kathryn McCormick and I wanted to fill you in on how we got involved with these issues. I am a music artist and songwriter in Los Angeles, California, who performs under the name Vienne. Kathryn is a dancer and actress from the same city.

In 2007, I attended an event formed to bring attention to the persistent and vexing problem of human trafficking. I heard a young lady in her late teens give her story about being trafficked across international borders for sex trade. I was deeply impacted by her account and felt an instant connection to her cause for freedom.

Her courage led me to consider my own contribution to the fight and how to make an impact—however insignificant I thought it to be.

You may already know these statistics. Please allow them to sink deeper. Some things just need to be processed a bit longer than others in order to come to understand the severity of the situation.

I had been writing songs for my then-upcoming EP. As I sat at a piano that night, I voiced the painful words and heavy emotions that filled my heart. The song tells the story of a young girl trapped and seeking freedom. It was my direct way of representing her and the countless others experiencing the horror of captivity.

Fast forward to a few years later, Summer 2011, when I met with my friend and director Renato Braga about making a music video. We talked about several songs and threw around ideas, until it hit the both of us. We decided on “She Breaks,” and researched deeper into the topic of human trafficking.

That is where Kathryn comes in. She and I had been good friends, and we always connected on our shared desire and passion for art. We both also carry with us a longing to change our world. I asked her to join Renato and me in the making of the video, and she agreed.

After researching statistics and speaking with individuals directly involved in the fight against global slavery and forced labor, we knew we were committing to something much more than a piece of art. Our hearts collectively broke for those who were in this horrific situation. We vowed to use every ounce of energy and influence to shed light on the matter.

We shot on December 16 and 17, 2011, in what was an extremely emotional and deeply impacting experience for the 20-plus people involved. The video found its way to the ILO, and we are now collaborating with them in the fight against slavery.

There are as many as 27 million victims of human trafficking, and less than 1 percent of victims have been identified. The average age of a child first forced into the sex slave trade is 13, and the average entry age of American minors into the sex trade is 12 to 14 years old. Locally, for Kathryn and I, California harbors three of the FBI’s 13 highest child-sex trafficking areas in the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

You may already know these statistics. Please allow them to sink deeper. Some things just need to be processed a bit longer than others in order to come to understand the severity of the situation.

Kathryn and I are passionate about more than just our art forms. We desire to BE the positive change that our world needs, and we will not settle for simply building our careers without being aware and actively pursuing social justice.

Several other incredible artists are in this journey with us; the aforementioned Renato Braga, Stacey Tookey, Nicolas Cage, Kameron Waters, Alex Little, and many others.

We want to speak to others who have influence in the entertainment world: You have a voice in the world that is louder than most. If you were to choose to speak up and out about these such issues and others, our world would change for the better.

And yes, of course, action takes time, resources, research, responsibility and energy! But that is what brings about purpose and expands our empathy.

We have only scratched the surface of this massive problem called global slavery and human trafficking, but we are dedicated to the process of awareness and activism. We will tell the stories, paint the pictures and sing the songs.

If all you have is desire, know that it is the beginning of something greater just waiting to burst out from you. It is the spark to a flame that collectively burns across the planet. Are you hungry to see a difference? Let us be the difference.

How far are you willing to go to act against forced labor and human trafficking? Expand your limits in COMMENTS.


Born and raised in Southern California, Jonathan Korszyk, a/k/a Vienne, has crafted a musical style that has captured a global audience and been featured on shows like Gossip Girl, Chuck, Hollywood Heights, The T.O. Show and Teen Mom. The music video for Jonathan’s song “She Breaks,” directed by Renato Braga and starring Kathryn McCormick (So You Think You Can Dance, Step Up Revolution), is a direct effort to bring attention to, alleviate and prevent the traumas inflicted by human trafficking. Official Vienne Site | @VienneMusic

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