Intercultural studies 

ANG 160 Fall 2005

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Underage sextrade and human trafficking

 (by Dominique Carrier)

Fiction on the reality of underage sex trade and human trafficking

            Powerless, eviscerating, poignant. Trying to find the right words to describe Lilja 4-ever seems somewhat futile after seeing, or rather experiencing the film. Much like Gaspar Noé’s excruciating Irréversible, one could know everything about Lilja 4-ever prior to seeing it but still could not anticipate the effect the movie generates. Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson continues with his almost documentary, cinéma vérité style with this grim, yet honest, portrayal of underage sex trafficking set in dilapidated Russian suburbia.

 

            At the heart of the story is Lilja, a sixteen-year-old girl who is promised brighter days when her mother tells her they are moving to America. Having been found through a dating agency by a ( slightly ) richer man, her mother is ready to give up anything to set foot in the States, even her daughter. Still a minor, Lilja quickly finds herself under the authority of her aunt, the only relative and legal guardian she seems to have left. Like everyone living in the decayed district, her aunt takes whatever she can to better her life; she moves into Lilja’s apartment and shoves her into an old rotten apartment. After waiting a few weeks for her mother to send her money and support, she is told that her mother did indeed send her one letter. The letter formally explains and proves that Lilja’s mother renounces her parenthood and all legal bindings to her daughter.

 

            Lilja stops going to school and spends more time with Volodya, a ten-year-old homeless boy who roams the ashes of a soulless land. He sometimes finds temporary shelter when he offers older teens some glue as means of recreation. In order to make easy money Natasha convinces Lilja to accompany her to a bar where rooms are available and men pay girls like Natasha to have sex with them. It might seem more controlled or safer than doing the streets, but it is still prostitution.

 

            Although this depiction is more straightforward and leads to sex no matter what, it could be comparable to the recent Japanese phenomenon of enjo kosai or subsidized dating. This form of compensated dating emulates from the stereotype of the lolita, the promiscuous young girl with a father-figure lover. Enjo kosai differs from prostitution, although it can lead to it, in that older men will pay underage girls to spend time with them to go to a karaoke bar or to have dinner. Hideaki Anno’s highly stylized film Love and Pop covers the phenomenon of  enjo kosai with great reflexive care.

 

            Lilja ultimately winds up alone, with Volodya, her former high school friends reject and despise her because she kept returning to the bar to earn money. There is a scene that is both harrowing and symbolic in which we see Lilja carving her name on a park bench, as if to manifest that she is still alive amidst the distress enveloping her. Later on she meets Andrei, a sweet and caring guy offering her a better life in Sweden. Just like her mother and her aunt who grasped the first opportunity to improve their decrepit life, Lilja does the same and hops on the plane leaving Volodya behind. Little did she know that she also left her freedom and her life behind as well. When Lilja arrives she soon realizes that she is imprisoned, both physically and mentally, into a vicious circle of sex trade where she is forced to “work”.

 

            Lilja 4-ever is a difficult film that is not pleasant to watch but one that needs to be seen and reflected upon. It is loosely based on the life of Dangoule Rasalaite, who was forced into prostitution after boarding a plane to Sweden. She committed suicide in January 2000, a few months after her arrival, by jumping from a road bridge in Malmö. She was sixteen. The film has been shown in various countries in Eastern Europe in campaigns to stop trafficking in human beings, in particular, women. In Moldova, The International Organization for Migration has shown it to 60,000 people (wikipedia).

 

            According to World Relief, sex trafficking is the third most profitable industry of organized crime after drugs and weapons. Annual revenues from sex trafficking produce an estimated $7 billion. Most victims are young women from poor countries. Approximately 800,000 to 900,000 victims are annually trafficked across international borders. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), passed in October of 2000, enables victims of trafficking to be treated as refugees in regards to their eligibility for federally-funded benefits. The TVPA also created tougher penalties for trafficking-related crimes. It was reauthorized in December 2003.

 

 

Sources and links

Lilja 4-ever. Dir. Lukas Moodysson. Sweden / Denmark. 2002

Internet Movie Database entry http://imdb.com/title/tt0300140/

Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilya_4-ever

Wikipedia entry for trafficking http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafficking_in_human_beings

World Relief statistics and information

http://www.wr.org/newsstories/featurestories/view.asp?id=30000093

Internet Movie Database entry for Love and Pop

http://imdb.com/title/tt0168972/