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LOS ANGELES – If Hollywood wants to do more than give lip service to the issue of human trafficking and a worldwide pandemic of child rape, it can start by disowning Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski.
That’s what a number of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors said at a summit held Thursday in Beverly Hills ahead of Wednesday’s first United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
The event at the Crescent Hotel was organized to encourage entertainment industry leaders to play an important role in eradicating the scourge by promoting ways to prevent human trafficking and by educating the public about its existence.
Survivors said the industry was hurting the cause by providing a platform for Polanski, who was arrested in 1977 and charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor and fled the country while out on bail and awaiting sentencing. Now 80, he resides in Paris, where he was born.
“It is soul crushing to see Roman Polanski – who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl – living a life of luxury in Europe and escaping his prison sentence on a technicality of dual citizenship,” Amy Malin, an L.A-based publicist and founder of Trueheart Events, told FOX411.
“It makes me sick to think that after he sexually assaulted a minor, his film (2002’s “The Pianist”) won three Oscars and he has worked with A-list talent on big budget films steadily ever since,” Malin said.
“What kind of message is this sending to the world? That a movie or a paycheck is more important than a child’s safety and well-being? If we are handing out awards to convicted rapists, then the cycle of violence will never be broken.”
The issue is personal for Malin, now in her early thirties, who was 18-years-old when she was lured by a man in his 30s who chained her to a column in his Miami Beach home and held her prisoner for a year during which he and his friends raped, beat and tortured her.
“The psychological warfare he used against me continued to degrade my sense of self until I became his puppet,” she recalled. “He held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me and my Nema and Tata (grandparents) if I didn’t dance at strip clubs. He would starve me for days and force me to work 15- to 20-hour days, and beat me for good measure.”
Rani Hong, who was sold into the labor trafficking trade in India when she was 7-years-old, agreed that Hollywood “is not leveraging its position, influence and success to becoming the voice for those who cannot speak.”
“There is no other platform capable of reaching as many people globally that has the power to educate, motivate and also potentially bring harm to so many people by its ability to influence perceptions and proper treatment of women,” said Hong. Three decades after being taken from her mother in India, she is now a special adviser to the United Nations and co-founder of the non-profit The Tronie Foundation with her husband Trong, also a human trafficking survivor.
“At the heart of human slavery is the notion that human beings are commodities, objects for profit and gain,” Hong said. “If females are consistently portrayed in film as highly sexualized, with limited speaking roles, and as victims incapable of rising up from oppression without assistance from men, it becomes the ‘cultural norm.’”
But some people in Hollywood are trying to change that. “90210” star AnnaLynne McCord – also a survivor of sexual violence, having been attacked in her home by a friend prior to her on-camera career – is writing several television pilots related to the issue.
“My story is much more common than I ever would have imagined,” McCord said. “As a victim you feel isolated, damaged and completely alone in your plight. And women roles, which portray the female character with her own story outside of just her connection to male roles, are sadly scarce.”
Inspired by the crime series “Dexter,” McCord is creating a show centered on a female vigilante as a means of sharing real-life stories, educating the general public on the issue and empowering women in the entertainment arena by “showcasing feminine strength and cunning sensibilities.”
According to the State Department, an estimated 27 million people across the globe are victims of the $32 billion-per-year human trafficking industry. Up to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the U.S. every year, and around 244,000 American children and youth are at risk of sexual exploitation, with the average age of entry into prostitution 12-14 years old.