“Traffic in Souls” breaks away from the more casual, generally harmless gender differences found in city life and focuses on the serious issue of enforced slavery, or human trafficking. Although I’m not overly familiar with the documented history of human trafficking, this film was likely one of the first to take on the role of silently addressing this serious political and social issue. The film was, after all, notoriously “immoral” because it was released at a time when the public had reached a heightened frenzy over trafficking and other similar sex crimes. The topic of human trafficking was, consequently, banned by the motion picture association at the time. Nonetheless, the film was an overall box office success. Audiences were terrified, but also fascinated; how could this be happening? They wanted to know more.
But seriously – how could this be happening? Were people truly unaware that this was going on behind only semi-closed doors? Once they became aware, why didn’t they do more to stop it? The answers to these questions clearly remain somewhat of a mystery. Human trafficking and enforced slavery are still major issues in contemporary society, even in the United States. Nonetheless, perhaps some analysis of city life provides marginal insight into how this issue has managed to survive for decades without any true intervention. More importantly, it might suggest how the issue may eventually be solved, if it may be solved at all.
Jane Jacobs explains in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” that in order for a city to be safe from “strangers,” it must have three things: a clear distinction between public and private space, eyes on the street at all times, and a steady flow of sidewalk pedestrians (276). Therefore, the cities must be lacking all or some of these things in order for it to be so unsafe that human trafficking has become relatively commonplace and even unavoidable. Making sure that cities adhere to these requirements would, ideally, ensure the city’s safety. There’s only one problem here: this is seemingly impossible.
Marking off clear areas for public and private existence is simple, in theory. However, it seems impossible to completely eliminate any and all mixing of the two. Hotel buildings, for example, combine private and public life in extremely close quarters. The lobby areas of most hotels are open to anyone; they have to be, unless they only accept reservations. By walking onto an elevator of a hotel, though, one is steadily moving closer to that private domain. Walking down the halls of hotels puts strangers directly on the other side of the door from private life. Thus, public and private domains have clear boundaries, but these boundaries are thin and malleable. How could you possibly avoid this, other than to only allow in “non-strangers,” which defeats the purpose of a stranger-safe city? It seems that even the strictest boundaries may be tested and broken.
Keeping eyes and people on the streets at all times also seems improbable, at best. In most major cities, it is highly likely that there are a number of people awake at any given time, day or night. Nonetheless, there are not enough of them to watch out for each other and move about in an open and conspicuous manner. Is there any way to force a sufficient number of people to be awake and mobile at all points in time? I would think not. At some point, the city has to sleep. Unfortunately, though, evil does not.
Jacobs proposes a few solutions to these issues in the rest of her essay, yet these, too, make some seemingly unrealistic assumptions. Is there any way, then, to enforce all of these things in a city and consequently ensure a safe, stranger-resistant city? Or are we doomed to consider slavery and trafficking part of the uncertainty of city life that one cannot avoid and must simply accept? Perhaps analyzing city life cannot solve these major societal problems, but it does seem to suggest that finding solutions to them is an increasingly daunting task.
Jacobs, Jane. “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. The Blackwell City Reader. Ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 273-277. Print.