Catching Fire: Finnick and the face of modern slavery

It’s in Catching Fire, the second book of the Hunger Games series, when we first meet Finnick Odair. Like Katniss and Peeta, he is one of the former victors who has been selected to go into the arena one more time. Katniss is repulsed by Finnik’s overt sexuality. He reminds her of a corrupt officer of the law in her home district who would take advantage of desperately poor women – paying for their favors with one night in a warm house or one hot meal.

Finnick is 24, devastatingly handsome and his reputation as a ladies man has spread all the way out into even the furthest districts. Katniss is eager to keep her distance from this man she considered to be a tool and extension of the Capitol.

photo of actor Sam Claflin

Actor Sam Claflin has been cast for the role of Finnick Odair who appears in the last two Hunger Games books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

It isn’t until later, much later, we discover the truth about Finnick and how he became the Capitol’s playboy. He was only 14, a child, really, when he became champion of his games – but perhaps it was his youth that made him so valuable.

“President Snow used to … sell me … my body, that is,” Finnick begins in a flat, removed tone. “I wasn’t the only one. If a victor is considered desireable, the president gives them as a reward or allows people to buy the for an exorbitant amount of money. If you refuse, he kills someone you love. So you do it.”

~ Mockingjay

Here is where this blog post gets really hard to write. Because with only slight changes to the text, this could be the direct quote of a modern day slave, held, sold and suffering in North American, South America, Asia – or anywhere else in the world. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center it is estimated there are more than 100,000 children in the sex trade in the United States of America each year. Children. In the sex trade. Suffering unspeakable horrors every day and probably multiple times per day.

And that’s only the children only the sex trade. Adult women are also forced into prostitution – as well as men and women physically forced or emotionally coerced, through threats like the one President Snow effectively used on Finnick and other Hunger Games characters, into physical labor in dangerous or difficult situations. Labor trafficking runs the gamut from domestic help, to restaurant work, to large scale farm operations and dangerous factory conditions. The Polaris Project uses the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to define labor trafficking. It is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”

Abolition International  claims there are more than 27 million victims of slavery worldwide – more slaves than there have ever been before in the history of the world. They estimate it to be a $32 billion dollar industry – and the FBI calls human trafficking “ready source of income for organized crime groups and even terrorists.”

In 2010, the Vasquez-Valenzuela family held two young girls inside this Los Angeles, CA apartment when they weren’t working the streets. The windows were nailed shut so the girls would not try to escape. Photo courtesy FBI

According to the FBI the majority of victims in their human trafficking cases are women and young girls from Central American and Asian countries. They are primarily forced into the commercial sex industry and domestic servitude. Men and boys are typically victimized in the migrant farming, restaurant, and other service-related industries. However, there are an increasing number of young males being forced into the commercial sex industry as well.

But not all of the victims of human trafficking in the U.S. are foreign nationals; some are American citizens or residents. For example, an Anchorage man was found guilty in February 2008 of recruiting young women—mostly runaways from other parts of the country—to work for him as prostitutes. He controlled them by getting them addicted to crack cocaine, confining them to a small closet for days at a time, and beating them. Abolition International adds that one in three runaways are approached by a sex trafficker within 48 hours of being on the streets.

So, what can you do? Open your eyes. We are not powerless pawns under a heartless President Snow. Know the signs of trafficking and call the authorities when you see them.

Here is a list of resources. Please get involved. Make a difference in the life of someone who may have already given up hope.

Recognizing the signs of human trafficking –

The Polaris Project: recognizing the signs (their name comes from the North Star that lead so many slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad)

FBI: Help us identify potential victims of trafficking

Who to call when you suspect human trafficking-

National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-3737-888

Your local FBI office (Click here to find)