A voice for victims of the sex trade

The Jammed: 89 minutes. Rated: MA. Director: Dee McLachlan. Starring: Emma Lung, Veronica Sywak, Saskia Burmeister, Sun Park, Amanda Ma, website 

A voice for victims of the sex tradeIn the wake of Michael Apted’s political biopic Amazing Grace — which, in examining the life of abolitionist William Wilberforce, indirectly addressed the issue of modern-day human trafficking — comes a film that tackles that subject head-on.

What’s more, drawing heavily upon real-life court transcripts, and based and filmed on and around the streets of Melbourne, The Jammed is a frank and gritty reminder that this issue is not just on Australia’s doorstep — tragically, it’s part of the furniture.

Melbourne woman Ashley (Sywak) learns about her city’s seedy side quite by accident. A chance encounter with Chinese woman Sunee (Ma) finds her drawn into the search for Sunee’s estranged daughter, Li Rong (Park).

While Ashley is busy playing the gumshoe, the film parallels her journey with the experience of three young women, Li, Crystal (Lung) and Vanya (Burmeister); illegal migrants who’ve been coerced through violence and fear into lives of prostitution.

A voice for victims of the sex tradeStrong performances and writing amount to many scenes of extraordinary power. Lung, in particular, evokes both inner strength and social vulnerability, as her character is subjected to some shocking physical and psychological abuse.

The most unsettling degradation, however, is that suffered by Vanya following an attempted escape from her captors; credit goes to both Burmeister and the film-makers for their bravery in detailing the humiliating act she is subjected to.

Perhaps more importantly, the actors who portray the three prostitutes ably display moments of joy and camaraderie — during, for example, a rare (and supervised) trip to the beach — that emerge amid the horrors they endure every day. These fleeting moments provide glimpses of hope and warmth that make the girls’ ultimate tragedy all the more powerful.

If there’s a criticism to be made (apart from the uninspired and uninformative title), it’s that The Jammed is too stylised. Really, the subject matter is sufficiently potent for the film to have stood — even benefited from — a little more exposition, and a more linear structure. Sometimes straightforwardness is key to a powerful story; the film’s artsy flourishes tend to distract from, if not totally confuse, the issue.

 Second Opinion

Urban Cinefile

 Dee McLachlan gets almost everything right... Clearly motivated by a desire to shed light on the nasty sex traffickers and the insensitive bureaucracy in equal measure, McLachlan steers a careful course not to demonise either of her targets so as to lessen credibility.
 – Andrew L. Urban, Urban Cinefie

According to Patricia Church, who worked on the film as a researcher, Australia Federal Police estimate that “at least 1,000 women were annually trafficked into Australia in a growing industry estimated to be worth up to $150 million.

“I found that few charges were being brought against suspected traffickers … and that most prosecutions failed due to ‘lack of evidence’.”

Like many crimes of a sexual nature, the industry in human trafficking for the sex trade is largely protected by walls of silence and secrecy. In The Jammed, McLachlan has provided a voice on behalf of the many voiceless victims. That alone makes it a worthwhile, albeit confronting, film.



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