Empowering Resilience: Mira Sorvino is a Voice for Survivors

Mira Sorvino © Reuters/WENN.com

By Raye Mocioiu

Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino has always been deeply influenced by her work. Raised in a family of proud change-makers, Sorvino has been an activist for nearly as long as she’s been an actor—and these two passions work hand in hand for the star, giving her a platform to empower women and girls and speak out against violence.

Having spent much of her early life learning about the history of violence and injustice that seems to stain every part of our world, Sorvino has always been passionate about the fight against inequality.

“When you look into the eyes of someone who’s had all their basic human rights stolen, their dignity stripped away, treated like an object, not a human being, how can you turn your back?” she asked in a poignant 2012 piece for Guideposts Magazine. “How can you not speak out and act?”

In 2004, pregnant with her first daughter, Sorvino was invited by Amnesty International to become their Stop Violence Against Women campaign spokesperson.

“Didn’t I have the responsibility,” she asked herself, “to make the world a better place for my daughter and girls everywhere?”

While joining this powerful organization allowed Sorvino to use her platform for good, it also forced her to come to a harrowing realization about the injustices that plague not just women and girls but people from all walks of life, all across the globe.

“One of the topics we focused on was human trafficking,” she explained. “Slavery—something I assumed had disappeared in the 19th century. I was shocked to discover a huge, booming, illegal international trade in men, women and children. Impoverished people seeking a better life are tricked into slave labour; others are kidnapped or sold by their own families; children are forced into sexual slavery.”

Human trafficking grosses billions of dollars and claims over 40 million lives across the globe each year. It’s easy to think the problem is far from home, but Sorvino wants us all to realize that this is a global issue. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.

In Canada alone, 3,996 incidents of human trafficking were reported between 2012-2022, with 94 per cent of victims reported to be women and girls.* Social media has only made this issue more pervasive—Sorvino shared that more and more often, women and girls are being recruited through social media, unknowingly entering into situations that will ultimately rob them of their lives.

Sorvino noted that over 30 million people around the world—women, men and children—are enslaved people, more than at any other point in recorded history. Worse still, less than 0.4 per cent of victims get out of slavery.** For her, this realization became a turning point.

“I became committed to fighting this atrocity with my heart, body and soul,” she shared. “My knowledge and efforts to be a better victim’s advocate grew exponentially.”

Sorvino has never shied away from speaking out on injustices, even when she knows that the message is one that many may not be keen to hear. She began using acting opportunities to further her knowledge, understanding, and awareness of human trafficking. During the filming of the TV miniseries Human Trafficking, Sorvino spoke with trafficking survivors, aid workers, and members of law enforcement, dedicated to understanding the roots and effects of trafficking.

mira sorvino
Photo © Pexels/Pixabay

In 2009, Sorvino was sworn in by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as a Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking. The UNODC explains that human trafficking can take many forms. These include exploitation in the sex, entertainment and hospitality industries, and as domestic workers or in forced marriages. Victims are forced to work in factories, on construction sites or in the agricultural sector without pay or with an inadequate salary, living in fear of violence and often in inhumane conditions. Some victims are tricked or coerced into having their organs removed, serving as soldiers, or committing crimes for the benefit of the criminals.

Sorvino’s work with the UNODC unveiled the dark truth of human trafficking in a way that she shares has never left her heart.

“I flew down to Mexico City with the U.N.’s antitrafficking effort,” she explained. “We were then taken to an after-care centre that helps girls rescued from sexual slavery. A little girl, around three and a half feet tall, approached me, holding out papers. Her mouth was open in a smile; her front baby teeth were out, and the new ones had not grown in yet.”

Sorvino shared that one of the staff members explained that this little girl was rescued just four months before—she had been sold to a brothel when she was four years old and worked there until she was seven.

“When the child was asked what things she had been made to do, she did not even know how to describe them,” Sorvino recalled. “All she could say was, ‘Incorrectos.’ My heart was breaking—she reminded me so much of my own daughter. 100,000 to 300,000 American children are bought and sold every year. Our own children.”

But this trip also gave Sorvino another wake-up call—she realized that nobody was a lost cause. Even though these women had endured so much suffering, they were determined to heal and care for others.

True to her passion, Sorvino has collaborated on several documentaries, including CNN’s Freedom Project “Every Day in Cambodia,” where she met young girls sold for their virginity.

“Everywhere I go, I interview survivors, aid workers, members of government, police and NGOs to deepen my knowledge base for advocacy and promote best practices,” explained Sorvino. “The victimized children have been some of the most heart-wrenching. It turns my stomach and fuels the fire to make me do more.”

After filming Sound of Freedom, which tells the true story of how federal agent Tim Ballard quit his job and risked his life to journey into the jungles of Colombia to try and save a girl from sex slavery, Sorvino shared the story of how she realized that healing was not only possible for survivors, it was vital.

“Another young woman survivor of trafficking at the Mexican shelter inspired me,” she said. “She was now helping others and studying to be a prosecutor. She said, ‘The men that bought us think we were born for this. They think we’re nothing. But we’re not nothing. We were born for so much more than this.’ If she can rise, phoenix-like, from what was done to her, the least we can do is rise up with her to end [human trafficking].

That is what I’ve learned over all these years of meeting all these tremendously brave and earnest and honest survivors, is that they’re all ready to take their lives back.

“They all have the capacity to rebound,” she continued. “That is what I’ve learned over all these years of meeting all these tremendously brave and earnest and honest survivors, is that they’re all ready to take their lives back.”

The goal of her work, both through activism and filmography, is to sensitize viewers to the reality of these injustices, empowering resilience against exploitation and the underlying socio-economic and cultural issues that are conducive to trafficking.

“In a time where it may seem out of fashion to side with the marginalized and stand with the oppressed, you […] must not look away from the victims of human trafficking,” she said at the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. “What is the modern definition of humanity’s purpose if not to strive harder to uplift all members of this global community to enjoy basic standards of human rights, freedom from exploitation, and the promise of the pursuit of education and possibility—all things which lead to a freer, more stable, prosperous, and peaceful world?”

Between actively participating in awareness campaigns and using her star power for good, the actress advocates for creating and implementing anti-trafficking laws everywhere, especially for victims. Sorvino believes that the path to healing for survivors starts with decriminalization and overturning the wrongful convictions of survivors, and entitling them to services vital to their recovery and reintegration into society.

“We have the means and the knowledge of best practices to fight and end human trafficking, but only if we deploy the moral urgency, enormous political will, and robust financial resources that this dire situation calls for.

“We are all one community,” she said, “and it is high time for us to do all we can to protect and uplift the most vulnerable among us.”

Human trafficking has many forms, and all of them are dangerous. The UNODC works to achieve effective national, regional and international anti-trafficking responses worldwide. Learn more and get involved at unodc.org

*Statistics Canada, 2023
**US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2023

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