There are many things which motivated me to jump aboard as a facilitator with SWOVA this month. I feel honoured to be joining a group of diverse and amazing individuals dedicated to the struggle for equality, and know that the Respectful Relationships program is a terrific avenue to channel my energies.

As a male, I am pleased to step forward and stand with females in the struggle to end violence and oppression which still exists around the world. There are so many issues which have prompted me to feel this way. As a brother, partner, and son of women, I am deeply affected by violence directed at women. It is wrong and must stop.

All of the people in the world are our brothers and sisters, and so an act of violence against one person, regardless of their gender, causes me to want to take action for a better and more peaceful tomorrow. To me, the most disturbing and widespread issue we are facing is that of human trafficking. While there are examples of young boys being trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, young girls and women are the overwhelming and primary victims of this expanding and frightening phenomenon; a criminal enterprise second only to drug trafficking in profitability.

Although I have been in touch with this issue in the past, both through my writing, but also through work and travels in Africa and Asia, I again came face to face with the brutal reality of this issue and the roots of it, last weekend when I saw the film The Whistleblower. As with much exploitation, oppression and greed in the world, human trafficking stems from a callous desire to profit financially. The Whistleblower is a powerful, disturbing, real and apparently controversial film.

Critiqued by some as nauseating and overly complicated in terms of its politics, it’s been short changed by some reviewers as unable to make the mainstream because of these things. The Globe and Mail went so far as to say that the “storyline isn’t dramatically satisfying.”

The Whistleblower is a cinematic (and Canadian I might add) portrayal of human rights abuses of the worst variety. If the sexual enslavement of women is not dramatic I’m not sure what is. Is it because the story doesn’t have a happy ending that it’s not being heralded as a gem? The hero that Rachel Weiss plays certainly risked her life to expose the issue of trafficking and to attempt to rescue its victims.  So, if this film is not a winner because it exposes the issue and also honours the bravery of one woman, I’m not sure what is. The best storytelling does just that, it honours the hard work and courage of those who are true heroes.

The bottom line is that this film is real and that people in positions of power do take advantage of the powerless. Most often it is men who are exploiters and women who are exploited. That’s why we call it gender based violence. It’s not to say that violence against men by women doesn’t occur, because it does, but the overwhelming majority of violence is gender based. We’ve seen it in the sordid history of our own country, as religious actors set up residential schools to destroy culture and act out predatory sexual urges. We saw entrusted UN employees taking advantage of their power by exploiting those they were meant to protect, in Haiti, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of course Bosnia, as portrayed in the Whistleblower.

Despite the shocking brutality of male violence, I am more convinced than ever, largely inspired by the great work of organizations like SWOVA, and Paul Kivel, a violence prevention educator, that change is possible. People are capable of stepping out of roles and changing, and it is this optimism that I am filled with as I step further forward to work in the field of violence prevention education. The only way that dramatic change has ever occurred is by people having to squirm a little in their seats and seeing that for some people, a happy ending hasn’t and isn’t going to occur. Where does the inability, or perhaps simple refusal of some to see a film such as this for the gem that it is, stem from? Can we really be so blind to the need for justice? In a world where it is estimated that 2.5 million people are trafficked around the world, how can we make “being the change” more mainstream? Clearly, the world needs more whistleblowers.

Kevin Vowles – R+R Facilitator

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