'The Real' Host Jeannie Mai On Fighting Human Trafficking

“Selling the commodity of humans has to be the biggest business out there, as it is the most lucrative. I cannot go to sleep at night, unless I know that I am using all of my platforms to fight human trafficking,” said Jeannie Mai, host of The Real talk show.

Mai works with NightLight International, an organization committed to rescuing women and children from sex trafficking and providing victims with employment opportunities to support their recovery. “Jobs give people a sense of independence, security and self-confidence. And this can essentially help victims survive for the rest of their lives,” said Mai.

Mai’s work helping victims has grown over the years as the business of sex trafficking continues to expand. “It used to be the third largest dark crime and now it is slowly becoming the second. In so many parts of the world people simply go unaccounted for,” she said. In this interview, Mai shares her first-hand experience with the business of human trafficking and what you can do to stop it.

Michelle King: Why is this issue so important to you?

Jeannie Mai: On a personal level, I experienced abuse in my past as a child. And anybody out there who has experienced that knows that a piece of you has been taken. A lot of times that is innocence for children. Once I connected with the stories and the people who experienced human trafficking, that made me an ambassador for life.

King: What does your work involve?

Mai: For me, there are so many causes out there, but I really wanted to be on the front line, to be with people and understand what they experience. So, I lived in a couple of brothels. I worked with NightLight, the organization that works directly with victims (in Thailand). They travel out to the brothels to work with the women stuck in those situations. So, I was out there for about six months and was blown away by some of the visuals. I will never forget it. I also went to shelters that housed women and children who had been taken to see how they were rehabilitating back into society. You know, it takes a lifetime.

King: Why is it so critical, as part of the rehabilitation process, to connect victims with paid employment?

Mai: Victims are not just sold one or two times – it is much more than that. Not only can women work, but we can also bear children and be used for sex. If you can’t do all three, then it is minimized to just two and then finally down to just one of these. Until ultimately women can no longer live on or they are killed.

If victims manage to escape, or get rescued, which is only about 2% of victims, they only know a world where they are a product. For those of us that wake up every day and go to our jobs, we know our worth because we know the value we add to the world. We have to start from there, with jobs, because these victims don’t know their value.

King: Is this a gender equality issue? What role do men play in preventing this issue?

Mai: We cannot win this battle without men’s support. When it comes to men, some of the basic ways they can give light to this and things like the #MeToo movement is to stop saying they are shocked. This has been happening for a long time. We need to embrace the victims and believe women. So, be there for the women in your life. Invite them to share how you can raise the bar. We need to invite both men and women to have the conversation together.

King: What do you think are the main causes of trafficking?

Mai: At the foundation of human trafficking is the need to make money. The business of bodies and selling people is very lucrative. There is also not the government structure (in some of these countries) to protect people from being sold and traded. The next thing is ‘toxic masculinity,’ the constant approval and need for men to act in a hostile manner. This allows it to be cool to play down women, or grab them. But men are victims too - only they are not allowed to talk about it because of toxic masculinity. Those are some of the main causes of trafficking, but there is so much to it.

King: How has technology enabled the business of trafficking to grow?

Mai: Part of the reason why the business of human trafficking has quadrupled is because of the ease of selling, trading and using humans for sex and the anonymity of it. Technology's role in human trafficking cannot be ignored. But if we focus on how to prevent human trafficking, technology also has a powerful role. Like Ashton Kutcher’s app Thorn, which directly spots human trafficking and connects you with officials. Technology can enable you to see something and then say something. So, there need to be more apps that allow people to be the eyes and ears on the ground.

King: How can people get involved and support organizations that prevent trafficking?

Mai: First, understand what trafficking is. Our film, Stopping Traffic, covers a lot of the elements of trafficking. Then you can also join an organization out there like Not for Sale and work with people who have been trafficked. Also, for men there are resources out there like Dr. John King, which they can use to understand how trafficking affects them and then get involved.