In 2008, Liam Neeson starred as an ex-CIA agent who rescued his teenage daughter when she was kidnapped in Paris with nothing more than a few words over a phone and a grainy picture as clues. He tracked her all the way from the US to the deepest, darkest recesses of the European human trafficking underworld singlehandedly, kicking ass and taking names. Taken 2 is set in Istanbul (Same plot, but only this time, the kidnappers wants revenge) and a further Taken 3 is in the works. This theme of foiling evil plots and rescuing damsels in distress is as old as storytelling itself but somehow, it seems reality is a long way off.

As I write this, over 200 teens have been missing for weeks, and we do not appear to be any closer to finding them. Perhaps I shouldn’t call them missing – after all, we have a fair idea of where they are and ‘who’ has them, so let’s call them “taken”, but unlike the books and films we’ve read and watched would have us believe, there’s no knight in shining armour or ex-CIA dad to save them. Over 200 young women have been taken and have been held in captivity for WEEKS. I won’t speak of the horrors they must be undergoing, because the facts are horrendous enough. I don’t expect to be privy to the inner workings of the myriad of governments and agencies now involved in the rescue mission, but there is something very, very wrong with this picture.

Hearing about a woman who was brutally raped, stoned or killed in certain parts of the world is hardly newsworthy these days. We shrug, we sigh, we re-tweet, we shake our heads, but most of all, we’re grateful we live elsewhere. We attribute it to mob culture, illiteracy or even Islam, but we’re still grateful we live elsewhere.

We hear of a young woman sentenced to death by stoning as a legal and constitutional form of punishment for something that isn’t even gossip worthy in other places, let alone a criminal offense, and we’re outraged; we shake our heads, we sign petitions and we share the story online, but all the while, we’re just grateful we live elsewhere.

Not too long ago, there was a trending story of immigrants being abused in the Middle East. There were several videos and pictures too gory to look at that were making the rounds. Several official statements later, the reasoning behind the atrocities is still unclear. The physical, sexual and psychological abuse of migrant workers in the countries in question is nothing new, but the sheer numbers involved earlier this year managed to bring it to the fore. Once again, we read, we liked, we shared, we shook our heads and we were wholly grateful we lived elsewhere.

In all these scenarios, you can be grateful that you are male, and you can be grateful that you’re obviously Caucasian, or that you’re well rooted in the Global North. However, some of us don’t have that privilege. Some of us are African women living in Africa and we should be the last people to read these stories as those of ‘other’ women – these are our stories. A boarding school in Nigeria? A doctor in the Sudan? An Ethiopian maid in Saudi Arabia? These are my friends’ cousins, my friends’ sisters and my cousins. These are real people going through un-real torture.

Some people think 12 years a Slave is too gory and exaggerated, some even doubt the atrocities as though it were a work of fiction, and I can’t fault them entirely for this coping mechanism. Sometimes, it’s easier to deny ‘evil’ than accept it and then be faced with having to do something about it. There have been many cinematic portrayals of slavery in the Americas but what makes 12 Years a Slave unique is the fact that it highlights the underlying rationale for the total abolishment of slavery. Slavery somewhere is slavery everywhere and the film aptly sums this up. As long as people are marked as slaves based on certain physical features, anyone who shares these features is at risk of being ‘mistaken’ for a slave, and this holds for all kinds of disadvantage. Is anyone anywhere marginalised because of their physical features? Breasts? Hips? dark skin tone? then anyone with the same features is at risk of the same. I’m grateful that I can’t legally and openly be claimed as a slave anywhere in the world today, but if lose my passport in Riyadh, and make a report at the police station, will I be mistaken for a crafty indentured servant from the Horn of Africa trying to escape? Will I be beaten to a pulp for not having proper papers? If I get locked out of my hotel room in Rio de Janeiro, will the staff assume that I’m a cunning prostitute trying to gain access?

Marginalisation and discrimination aren’t individual constructs meted out by a few evil, faceless people. No. The unspeakable acts are carried out in the open by our friends and family because we live in a world where it’s acceptable to treat some people differently from others. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom how a fellow human could do such things to another, but we’re looking at the problem from the wrong angle, because the majority of people can’t and won’t do ‘terrible things’ to their fellow people. Unfortunately ‘fellow person’ is a fickle and capricious definition and once a person or group of people have been defined as below, beneath or less than, they are at the mercy of those above, higher or greater than.

I can’t entirely fault Taken’s very simple plot but it seems it only served to cement Albanians as the villains du jour, because in reality, if I were ‘taken’, chances are, you wouldn’t even hear about it.


This piece was first featured in HYSTERIA #3 ‘Abjection’ 2014