I missed her on At the Movies, where actor Veronica Sywak seems to have told the same story, so my blood ran cold (really, it did) yesterday in the car when I caught her on local ABC radio talking about the Australian indie film The Jammed, currently on in Adelaide at the Palace Eastend and getting very good press, in which she stars as a more or less innocent bystander who gets caught up in the deadly world of human trafficking.
The chill came partly from the fact that I happen at the moment to be reading a novel, The Nubian Prince, about this very subject; it's chillingly narrated by the 'scout' who travels the world sniffing at the aftermaths of financial, political and geological disasters in the sorts of places that Christophen Hitchens has described as 'armpits of the world', in order to 'save the lives' of whatever exceptionally beautiful children and adults -- the more racially exotic the better -- he can find to take home to the Barcelona branch of an international operation and get groomed for the luxury end of the sex worker trade.
God knows that most of us are all too prone to think of our fellow human beings as commodities at the best of times (witness Kerri-Anne Kennerley's blisteringly intellectual analysis of Catherine Deveny's recent spray about women who take their husband's names: 'She probably can't get a man') but this open, naked trading is beyond understanding. Like most bottom-feeders, the narrator makes it worse by constantly thinking up justifications for his behaviour and trying to represent himself to himself as someone with more than the moral sense of amoeba, which of course he does not have; one would have more respect for the sort of criminal who says 'I'm a bad bastard: now stand aside or I will atomise you.'
Anyway, Sywak spoke to an audibly gobsmacked Carol Whitelock about the realities of human trafficking in Australia, and about her experiences bravely knocking on brothel doors to try to talk to sex workers and find out how much they knew about this trade and how much they were prepared to talk about it. And here, from the At the Movies transcript, is the story that nearly made me drive off the road; I knew the Cross was seedy (and indeed have known it for the decades since I read Dymphna Cusack and Florence James's Come In Spinner, in which something very similar is going on in wartime Sydney) but I will never look at it, or walk up it, the same way again.
'And when I was speaking with one girl in a suburban brothel,' says Sywak, 'I think in Burwood in Sydney, I was speaking with her about the issue of human trafficking and this was just - I have to clarify this was a legal brothel and the girls were there on their own accord and I was talking to them and they said - I casually mentioned that I was going to go up to the Cross to learn - to discover more about human trafficking and try and contact or try to come face to face with some of these girls who have been enslaved.
And this woman said to me, she stopped, she said, "Sweetheart, if you go up to the Cross and ask about human trafficking, you're going to be dead by this afternoon."'