Last week I read through the iBook Taken: Exposing Sex Trafficking and Slavery in India by British photojournalist Hazel Thompson. The book, Thompson’s self-proclaimed life’s work, is the product of 11 years of in and out exposure the world of the sex trade, human trafficking, and modern day slavery in Mumbai’s notorious Kamathipura red light district. Thompson at one point lived in Kamathipura for 6 months, and posed undercover as an aid worker in order to gain access to brothels to take footage and gather stories.
Thompson does well tracing the history of prostitution in India at large, and Mumbai in particular, and gives the reader a fairly solid grasp of the scope of the problem, the depths of the corruption involved, as well as the stories of the individuals who get caught up in it all.
The really exciting thing (to an outside-the-box storytelling entrepreneur like myself anyhow) is that Thompson not only paints a picture with words and photos (a good baseline for advocacy journalism), she communicates with a real multimedia methodology. At the push of a button, British-accented narrators read aloud the stories of children kidnapped into sexual slavery. Interactive maps take aerial photos of the seemingly innocuous-looking red light district and allow the reader to click on a roof here or a street corner there to zoom in on snapshots of children being pushed through hidden trapdoors on brothel roofs to hide from police raids, pimps advertising their women at taxi ranks, used condoms tossed from barred windows of crumbling houses on 14th street – and a running soundrack plays recorded sounds of the streets to lend some chaotic realism of shouts and honking cars. Turn a few more pages and a mini-documentary takes you through the life of Guddi, a career prostitute, then profiles of rescue for four more girls.
Video, photography, text, narration, music, sounds of the streets, and interactive maps make the whole iBook much more of an experience than a read to slog through. It’s not perfect, and I still think that writing on human trafficking, or any kind of advocacy, needs some changes to really engage an audience – but it’s one of the better, and certainly the most creative example I’ve seen yet. Well worth checking out.