In conversation with Sylvia Yu Friedman

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International speaker, Random penguin house Author, award-winning filmmaker, entrepreneur, investigative journalist, philanthropy advisor and anti-slavery activist, Sylvia Yu Friedman is a name known to many.

I interacted with her for an article on Young Ki Awaaz on the issue of slavery and human trafficking, human rights, the status of women and Japanese military sex slavery. Sylvie was among the top 100 in the Leaders of human trafficking and slavery List of 2017, curated by Assent.

Sylvia Yu Friedman.

She won the prestigious 2013 International Human Rights Press Award for its three-part documentary series on human trafficking in China, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Raaz Dheeraj Sharma (RDS): You have worked continuously on the issue of slavery and human trafficking over the past decades. Do you see any changes, if any, from WWII until today? How do you trace the evolution of the status of women today from that time?

Sylvia Yu Friedman (SYF): In my memories, A long road to justice, I wrote about my personal journey documenting different forms of slavery and exploitation of girls and women across Asia.

I described history repeating itself by pointing out the similarities between today’s sex slaves and how Japanese victims of wartime sex slavery (euphemistically referred to as “comfort women”) have been deceptively recruited and forced into military brothels on war front lines across Asia – similar methods were used to attract and hold women in place and racial discrimination marked this system of sex trafficking in time of war as is the case today.

It is tragic that there are still modern day “comfort women” in this region. Strangely, in some places in the Philippines, the very areas where women were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during WWII are the same places where many vulnerable women – single mothers, women from impoverished families – were targeted, deceived and recruited into forced prostitution. in the bars of the red light district of Hong Kong.

There are more slaves today than at any time in history. According to the UN, more than 40 million children, women and men suffer from modern day exploitation and slavery. The rise of social media and its hidden nature fuel the buying, selling and exploitation of people, especially minors.

RDS: No doubt there are discussions and global advances in human rights, but it still appears that there is a big blockage that must be overcome and that there are still those who consider and treat women as their property?

SYF: Yes, I agree that it is extremely difficult to change cultural mindsets and patriarchal (sexist) mindsets. In Asia, women were not considered full human beings and were given a name, an identity of their own until they married. We deal with the changing perspectives of people when raising awareness about modern slavery.

This is why stories are powerful and your platform with interviews is important. I cite the example of the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness. Decades ago, no one would have associated the pink ribbon with breast cancer, but with the media campaigns it has left its mark on our minds.

The influence of media and entertainment can help awaken people to understand the plight of those languishing in slavery. My husband and I have produced films and video clips to open people’s eyes to the horrors of slavery. We both wrote film scripts to raise awareness and inspire people to take action to help and reach a global audience. It is crucial to try to change these sick mindsets.

RDS: What was your experience when you interviewed and wrote the story of former Japanese soldiers who admitted their wrongdoing and about Japanese military sex slavery? What have you learned that is relevant to all reading this from this work and experience?

SYF: I thought it was important for me to interview the perpetrators involved in Japanese wartime sexual slavery, traffickers and pimps. It was a very moving and profound experience for me to interview three elderly Japanese soldiers who were involved in the rape of civilian women in China during the war or who helped others who did.

Sylvia Yu Friedman
We may not be able to eradicate modern slavery, but we can try to help one person at a time. (Source: Twitter / @ Sylvia_YF)

I was deeply moved by their transformed mindsets and the fact that they were so supportive of the surviving women and had such moral clarity about the issues within Japanese society, such as the discriminatory racial attitudes that contributed to the sexual slavery of other Asian women in wartime and also led to the government’s inability to make unequivocal healing apologies to survivors and their family members.

RDS: Although people talk about empowering women, at the same time we cannot close our eyes or deny the truth that the number of cases of slavery and trafficking is increasing day by day, especially in countries Asian. Is it possible to eradicate it completely and if so, how?

SYF: We may not be able to eradicate modern slavery, but we can try to help one person at a time. No man is an island, and every deed, every act of kindness counts and can help transform our world one life at a time.

Sadly, human trafficking and modern slavery is increasing due to the pandemic due to economic fallout and indebtedness which results in vulnerability to exploitation.

RDS: I think the main problem is the attitude of our society towards the victims of modern slavery – they are not ready to treat them with the dignity they deserve as human beings and to receive them as the victims.

So is it fair to say that it is not just about making laws and enforcing laws, and as a part of this society we fail in our responsibility as human beings to respect and to understand those who are victims of slavery and trafficking?

SYF: I agree with you. We need to change hearts and minds while passing much needed laws. As professionals, we have the power to help those who are marginalized and we can help make an impact with our talent, time and resources.

It is important to educate children and young people to become global citizens who care about the world and to teach them to make a lifelong commitment to volunteerism in our communities. We started on Be the Hero Campaign for this reason to mobilize more people to do small heroic acts of kindness and love.

RDS: Tell us about your new book, “A Long Road to Justice”?

SYF: There were many times when I was in tears because of the stories of the survivors. I hope my book will touch hearts and inspire people to action. I dream of catalyzing a global movement to help more women and girls in sex trafficking.

I am producing a film based on my book and I am delighted to bring this film with a strong woman to the cinema. I think it’s time for Asia to step up in the entertainment world right now and women are leading the way in many areas.

I started writing to tell about my husband’s journey with cancer. Four years ago he beat cancer and we were so grateful that he was healthy and cancer free again. It was a traumatic experience to face life and death. We now see this time as a huge blessing and it has helped us to be reborn in some way and we see each day as a gift and want to live our life to the fullest.

Sylvia Yu Friedman
It was very painful to interview survivors of slavery. (Image provided by the author)

RDS: I’m sure you have had / have the experience of meeting and interacting with survivors of slavery. It is painful and moving to hear such stories. How are you going to elaborate on their difficult and painful life based on their stories?

SYF: It was very painful to interview survivors of slavery. I was also going through my own grief in 2007. But focusing on these survivors helped me overcome my own pain. I was able to put my experience into perspective by helping others.

Also, at first when I interviewed wartime Japanese army sex slaves before and during WWII, I had no limits and put up no defenses while listening to their stories. horrible. I was traumatized, that’s for sure.

But if I had the choice to change anything, I wouldn’t. I have no regrets and feel so honored to have been able to meet so many amazing survivors and frontline workers across Asia. This book has also led to more dialogues with brilliant people like you. My cup is overflowing.

RDS: Maybe it’s hard for us to imagine the pain and emotions of the oppressed and exploited and those who are abused as someone’s property. Everyone deserves their right to independence and freedom, and everyone can become a promoter of human rights by respecting the rights of others.

So what’s your message to everyone reading this?

Sylvia Yu Friedman
It is a call to action for young people and professionals. (Image provided by the author)

SYF: I am so happy to know that you are raising awareness of human rights issues. Your questions were very stimulating and stimulating. It is noble and vital work and it will surely have a powerful impact on your networks and the next generation.

I want to end with a quote from my book:

“It’s a call to action for young people and professionals who have the gift of choosing, using their abilities, talents and finances to influence social change for the most marginalized people on Earth.

“As I reflect on the legacy I wish to leave for future generations, I hope that one day we can tell them that we have brought healing and restoration to children at risk, to broken lives and to the poor. This is the dream that burns in my heart, and I hope it burns in the hearts of the next generation as well. “

About the Author: Raaz Dheeraj Sharma is an attorney and author of 15 strangers: conversations that mean a lifetime and writes for YKA on different issues and interacts with renowned personalities and motivators.



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