How Serinda Swan And Other Television Luminaries Are Leveraging Their Platforms For Good

"I hear statistics every day in this arena that horrify and shock me, but it's not going to stop me."

When I asked Serinda Swan what she'd learned about human trafficking that surprised her the most, she paused for a moment and looked at her hands.

Then, off the top of her head, she rattled off a few of the more heartbreaking facts: girls as young as two years old are being rescued from brothels across the globe. There are tragic rumors in some communities that having sex with a virgin can cure AIDS. On average, girls and women in sex slavery have 25-30 clients a day, and most, she said, don't survive longer than three years in the industry.

"You can't really pick one of those and say one this is more shocking than the other," Swan told me. "There is not one that hurts more or hurts less. We're not talking about sex trafficking, we're talking about rape. A young girl does not have the capacity to have sex. She can only be raped."

Serinda Swan speaks with an audience member after participating in a United Nations panel on leveraging the power of television series for the greater good. Isaac Saul / A Plus.

On Tuesday, Swan, who has appeared on the hit HBO series Ballers and starred in Graceland, participated in a panel at the United Nations alongside MTV producer Raeshem Nijhon and CNN producer Neil Weinberg. In honor of World Television Day, held annually on Nov. 21, the three spoke about the different ways they have used their platforms on television to help elevate stories that matter.

Swan's time on the panel mostly concerned her contribution to the fight against human trafficking. She decided to become an advocate in 2012, after she was moved to tears by a 6-year-old girl in Cambodia who told her the story of how she escaped a brothel.

"What really inspires me and gives me hope is that as uncomfortable as it is to start these conversations, especially when you're talking about children in slavery, is that we're having them," she said. "The fact that I'm sitting at the U.N. today talking to you, it's one of those things that is being spoken about. It seems like it's getting worse and worse but its not, we're just unearthing what's happening."

The U.N. panel on World Television Day. Left to right: moderator Mita Hosali, actress Serinda Swan, producer Neil Weinberg, producer Raeshem Nijhon, U.N. Special Events Manager Carlos Islam.  Isaac Saul / A Plus

According to the International Labor Organization, more than 21 million people are forced into labor worldwide. During her interview, Swan cited the work of other actors — including A Plus co-founder Ashton Kutcher — as having inspired her to take action. 

"I want to see slavery end in my lifetime," she said. "I think its something we fought for far too long. I know its something that's part of our history but that doesn't excuse whats going on."

Weinberg helped create the CNN show ASPIREist, which contains segments featuring big name celebrities like George Clooney telling important stories about global issues. His team is currently producing a segment about World Water Day.  

"Every segment has a call to action," Weinberg said at the panel. "We're trying to tell stories that matter, and the U.N. has been such a terrific partner in bringing us stories and ambassadors."

Nijhon is working with actress Rashida Jones, the U.N. and Refinery29 to help launch a new docu-series called Girly that is going to feature women who are trailblazers in their field. 

Though often overlooked, the philanthropic efforts of people in the television industry seem to be having a powerful effect. In 2012, Swan started skydiving to raise money: she decided to jump out of a plane at 18,000 feet, North America's highest skydive, and asked followers and fans to sponsor a dollar a foot. She called the campaign 18 for 18 ($18,000 for 18,000 feet). She ended up raising $38,000 and since has raised $700,000 by skydiving annually with friends. Using that money, Swan says she's reached over 200 million people with anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. 

"You have to figure out how you're going to do better," she said. "I hear statistics every day in this arena that horrify and shock me, but it's not going to stop me. They count on us on shying away or looking away. It's going make me put my head down — not in fear or to be hidden but in the way that a bull does, to come harder and faster at you."

Cover image via Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com.

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