Turning the lens on a hidden modern-day problem
March 29th, 2011
12:35 PM ET

Turning the lens on a hidden modern-day problem

For photographer Kay Chernush, a passion for shedding light on human trafficking began with a plane ride across the Atlantic Ocean.

"I was going overseas, and sat next to somebody who, it turned out, worked at the TIP (Trafficking in Persons) office at the State Department. We talked all the way across the Atlantic, and I was very interested in learning more about the subject."

Chernush would later be invited to trek across Asia and eastern Europe in 2004 to document cases of human trafficking, using her talents as a photographer. Her imagery would become an integral part of the 2005 "Trafficking in Persons" report - a report mandated by Congress to be compiled by the State Department each year.

A self-described well-traveled person, Chernush was shocked that she had not noticed the obvious signs of modern-day slavery.

"I'd traveled for many years, I'd lived overseas - how had this escaped me? It just grabbed me emotionally, the fact that people's lives are so precarious."

What began as one assignment has turned into a humanitarian passion. Chernush continues to work with a number of different groups attempting to highlight modern-day slavery. She continues to exhibit her work shedding light on human trafficking with various non-government organizations around the world.

"I'm enamored by that idea - so egalitarian, reaching people who are not necessarily aware of the problem. It's not the anti-trafficking crowd, not the gallery-going crowd, it's everyday people."

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. joelle esther benyayer

    many peoples dies in silence also in what look like democracy regim fro france im personaly and my family we jewish in danger we denonce some accord in defense in var frejus with some people from middles east or german dutch extreme right close nazis group now etalish in south of france used army techinical to agress people at night and stolen papers no single word from frrench defense some people have receive like me gaz inside they living place have be agress and in danger worst denied of identity to protect the people work with them in defense do the french president know why no one help a family of french deputé president of france israel what kind of democracy in i fight with uou for freedom for slavey i can said in france in south some extreme right people knolw how to make hacking and money with intellectual properties of someone else impossible for me to get help also of my collyège un nice matin newspapres smeel not democratique joelle esther benyayer ben yair humanities to the journalists of CNN come to see it happen also in france in silence

    March 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  2. Frank

    Are the women in the last picture minors as you imply? It is almost certain you have no idea. Most likely they aren't. It would be good if CNN could do more of its own reporting instead of relying on anti-prostitution advocates for this project.

    March 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • finlander

      This is typical CNN misleading the public. The Swedish method is not the best method as clearly it prevents all forms of sex purchasing, thereby preventing the small minority of women who willingly go into prostitution from making a very good business. The real danger of prostitution lies in human trafficking and pimping which leads to the best system in Europe which is in Finland. Here prostitution in legal as long as the women participating do it as their own business. Pimping, and any form of trafficking and public advertising and soliciting are strictly illegal. Typically women who willingly decide to go into prostitution do business in their own places and can only advertise at selected websites which are strictly controlled

      March 31, 2011 at 10:33 am | Reply
  3. youwhatagain

    your god,
    it is not beijing girl, the chinese means "northern girl".
    have some CNN journalists not made their education?

    March 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  4. getoverit

    trafficking is trafficking and thats f**ked up why are so many commentators on the CNN blogs so hung up on bullshit minor detail like frank & youwhatagain.

    March 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  5. Eddie G

    I would really like to believe everything I read about this subject. But American F3m1n1sm is so biased, I don't feel that I can.

    March 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  6. Chicken

    @Labelle – You are right prostitution isn't slavery , but in this case we are talking about children that are being sold... That is slavery. This children dont know any better is not their choice to be forced.

    March 30, 2011 at 12:00 am | Reply
  7. ma & pa

    labelle made a good point. Discussion has been going to prostitution slave, of which there are multitudes, and seldom touching on the 'hidden ones', of which there are multitudes more. They are kept unseen to work unclothed (harder to escape naked because of publics view of nakedness) often resting in day hidden in places unthought of.. knowing not to make a sound to be heard by visitor. They do the upkeep of the dwelling while the "masters" rest. This is from middle east influence. Beginning as little children, growing up slave, indoctrinated, treated as slave, think they must not make any trouble for "master". If they are always very good they keep same hours as "masters" ...working, working, while the "masters" children play around them, attend school grow up and raise families of their own while the slave gets to...grow...old. And what person on the outside knows the slave is alive somewhere yet?

    March 30, 2011 at 12:19 am | Reply
  8. ma & pa

    And there are those slaves working from one location to the next, places and people they come to know, some 'nice' some brutal. If they work good and show a good attitude whatever the environment they may get to stay at a 'good' place. If they happen to notice a loved one one and make a run for freedom and they are not saved, hidden and tracker chip removed

    March 30, 2011 at 1:44 am | Reply
  9. ma & pa

    and from there on it has gotten very dangerous including "those poor folks..that was quite an accident." Or unrecognized, slave has gotten into bad place for too long and far away. Slave tried to run too often, into under ground or worse sold to Mexican drug runners. Too many lives ended dead on road with police chalk outline around body.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:03 am | Reply
  10. ma & pa

    Those of you whose loved ones have been taken must have faith that they live and hold onto the hope that you remember and love them. If it has been years your family may number more than you know and need true birth certificates as guaranteed by federal law. Make sure those laws remain. The walls of organized harshly enforced slavery in the U.S. may fall someday and we'll need every law and resourse we have to make things right. And everyone who thinks you know something...consider very carefully how and to whom you tell it.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:59 am | Reply
  11. ma & pa

    Our children are OUR children no matter their age or where they are.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:07 am | Reply
  12. Joshua Lorenzo Newett

    I really like this project freedom but what about the slavery going on right inside the US? Good article about that here http://www.theruggedgent.com/2011/03/18/state-of-the-union/

    March 30, 2011 at 5:26 am | Reply
  13. Joshua Lorenzo Newett


    March 30, 2011 at 5:27 am | Reply
  14. Kennedy j. Usman

    Please CNN keep up this good, noble and historically important project of the 21th century. It is touching and by far, the most spiritual duty mankind can perform for the Almighty. God bless you all. Kennedy j usman.

    March 30, 2011 at 5:37 am | Reply
  15. geo

    Prostitution is not slavery. Can't believe CNN, a supposedly objective news organization, is pushing moral agenda. What is this – Fox news?

    March 30, 2011 at 9:24 am | Reply
  16. Christine

    Official Lies About Sex-Trafficking Exposed:

    It’s now clear Anti-Prostitution groups used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding

    Village Voice media in the March 24, 2011 issue have a great story on the lies and myths of sex tafficking:

    Latest News fresh off the press:


    There is a lot of controversy over the numbers of adult woman who are forced sex slaves. The real factual answer is that no one knows. There is hard evidence that the sex slavery/sex trafficking issue continues to report false information and is greatly exaggerated by politicians, the media, and aid groups, feminist and religious organizations that receive funds from the government, The estimate of adult women who become new sex slaves ranges anywhere from 40 million a year to 5,000 per year all of which appear to be much too high. They have no evidence to back up these numbers, and no one questions them about it. Their sources have no sources, and are made up numbers. In fact if some of these numbers are to believed which have either not changed or have been increased each year for the past twenty years, all woman on earth would currently be sex slaves. Yet, very few real forced against their will sex slaves have been found.

    It is not easy for criminals to engage in this activity:

    Sex trafficking is illegal and the penalties are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well. They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police.

    This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare. These criminals would be breaking dozens of major laws not just one. Kidnapping itself is a serious crime. There are many laws against sex trafficking, sex slavery, kidnapping, sex abuse, rape, sexual harassment etc. If someone is behind it, they will be breaking many serious laws, be in big trouble, and will go to jail for many long years. While there are some women who may be true victims. And it is possible for this to happen in rare situations. This is a small rare group of people and that the numbers and scale of this crime is exaggerated. The very nature of someone pulling off a kidnapping and forced sex for profit appears to be very difficult. Since it would be difficult this makes this crime rare. Not impossible, but extremely rare. And do you really think that millions of people are lining up to make a career out of being a illegal violent sex slave kidnapping pimp?

    A key point is that on the sidelines the adult prostitutes themselves are not being listened to. They oppose laws against prostitution. But no one wants to listen to the prostitutes themselves. Only to the self appointed experts that make up numbers and stories many of which have never met a real forced sex slave or if they did it was only a few. The media and government never ask the prostitutes themselves what would help them in terms of laws.

    News night BBC video:


    Nick Davies – About Truth in the Media:


    March 30, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  17. Pinoy Cavitinio

    is this ffreedom project imposed by cnn and amican goverment can help other countrys,this is a political propaganda,the freedom they imposed is not a help .this is influence.they are doing this for thier political interest,in what they want recources in other natio to nation,mark my WORD MOSTLY MUSLIM COUNTRYS ,YUOR COUNTRY HAD A IMPORTANT RECOURCES THEY WANT.YOUR OIL ABSULUTELY,LOOK WHAT HAPPEN IN IRAQ & AFGANISTHAN,IWANT ANY BODY SUGGEST MY COMMENT,my message to other country please look what they are doing right now look what is the economic stability of other country right now PLEASE PROTECT OUR RESOURCES FROM MDDLE EAST AND IN ASIAN COUNTRY THANK YOU.

    March 30, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Reply
  18. finlander

    This is typical CNN misleading the public. The Swedish method is not the best method as clearly it prevents all forms of sex purchasing, thereby preventing the small minority of women who willingly go into prostitution from making a very good business. The real danger of prostitution lies in human trafficking and pimping which leads to the best system in Europe which is in Finland. Here prostitution in legal as long as the women participating do it as their own business. Pimping, and any form of trafficking and public advertising and soliciting are strictly illegal. Typically women who willingly decide to go into prostitution do business in their own places and can only advertise at selected websites which are strictly controlled

    March 31, 2011 at 10:32 am | Reply
  19. Davis Bradley

    Sex slavery is rampant where I live. It seems impossible to stop as the people behind it are incredibly powerful (very tied to the local police). I see hundreds of young girls and boys working the streets who clearly do not want to be there. Yet, the local police are not interested in this problem. Instead, the police focus on revenue generating law enforcement.

    April 1, 2011 at 8:42 am | Reply
  20. Cypriot

    Sex slavery and human trafficking is a rampant in Southern Cyprus.
    Corruption is rife , and the courts do not give Justice.
    Cnn should just read local papers from Cyprus,there is a whole "underworld" on this tiny Island.
    Too many in immigration and police involved,last week a top police official was caught running a brothel with 40 women.
    Slave labour is seen on construction sites and farming,as well as "cabaret" artistes (prostitutes).
    It would not be hard for any investigative journalism to find and root out this terrible trade.

    April 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply

    its more crime in the philippines

    October 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply

    THERES MORE amirecans european australian,marrying younger un educated women in the philippines,is they are invisting here,or exploiting money from thier country,i think this is the cause to fall the economy mostly US.

    October 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply

    my point here is not about slavery,my quistion is why more amiricans europians marrying asian woman,if world know about this is not about loveso they marry here in asia But they are making business in asia, is this ligal to amirican & europian country?This kind of your country men is one of the worst peolple who done your economy down,amirican goverment,and europian goverment,wake up?

    October 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Reply
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