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Process: Human Trafficking Illustrations January 28th, 2013

I was so happy to get another call from David Powell, the very talented designer and all around nice chap at InRe, South Texas’ College of Law Alumni Magazine. I know, its a bit of a mouth full, hence the name InRe. I was asked to work with an intense piece written by Naomi Bang about The South Texas Human Trafficking/Immigration Clinic and the harsh cases they deal with.

Houston is a hub for many notable things: transportation, energy, commerce, and human trafficking. The U.S. State Department estimates that more than 17,500 people are illegally brought into the U.S. each year, victims of ruthless traffickers who deal in the sex trade, extortion, and slavery. Unfortunately, Houston—with its international port, diverse population, and proximity to the border—is home to many of those victims who are kept in the shadows. The profit made globally each year on the illegal trafficking of people tops $9-billion, the third most profitable illegal trade in the U.S. following drugs and guns, according to the federal government. The organization provides the legal means to free men, women, and children from their captors, whether they be companies or individuals. The students, working under the supervision of adjunct Professor Naomi Bang, represent clients in federal and state courts, immigration courts, before administrative agencies, and work with myriad of law enforcement agencies.

The first piece I tackled was one depicting female genital mutilation. Illustrators often have to work with editorials where complex ideas are tricky to visualize and to relate to a general audience. This one took the cake but I was up for a challenge and wanted to do justice to such an emotional piece. Now to only figure out a way to show female mutilation in a way that was strong but not too graphic. Here’s the final result:

  O.S., an 18 year old female from Cameroon was placed in deportation proceedings. While facing several challenges with the typical asylum claims of domestic violence, one of the students realized that she was from a country where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was practiced. FGM, also known as female circumcision, is a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital for non-medical reasons. While O.S. did not come to her initial intake based on the FGM, nor were the students planning to use it in her favor, this sudden realization by the students triggered them to begin asking about whether or not her tribe practiced FGM and whether she had been forced to undergo the procedure. This sparked a new direction to the conversation, where O.S. revealed her fear of having to go through FGM. An asylum application based on this fear was filed and approved in the fall of 2011.

I also was assigned the cover illustration which accompanied this piece and was intended to sum up the issues of human trafficking in a broader sense. I wanted to first portray a strong emotion, a feeling of being trapped between two worlds. As illegal aliens with no rights in the U.S, the people in these stories are forced into manipulative and dangerous situations. In addition to being legally prevented from moving freely in their adopted country, they may also be escaping some sort of persecution or civil unrest in their home country and are thus reluctant to return. I wanted this image to represent the many different cases that the Clinic sees and the feeling of powerlessness that their clients might feel before finding the legal help they need.

Here’s a bit of my process for the cover, from my linears where I showed various collections of people and then to the acrylic under-painting. I wanted this cover to have a lot of impact and thought using the bars of light would be both striking and further emphasize the overall concept of entrapment and hopelessness.

Human Trafficking - Jacqui Oakley Illustration

Here’s a smaller spot illustration which accompanies the larger pieces on another facet of the article. I wanted to keep a similar palette, mood and again show the overlapping figures.

  During 2011, the Clinic applied for and gained approval on at least 15 Trafficking Visas for Vietnamese workers who were trafficked into the United States after having been promised great wages and a better life in exchange for $5,000-$15,000 each. Once these immigrants arrived in the United States, they were basically imprisoned in dingy apartments, usually at double capacity, and were transported to the store only once a week by a driver who did not speak their language or English. These people were warned not to talk to anyone and lived in fear. Finally, the Vietnamese community stepped in and the Clinic got involved.  The non-immigrant status is exclusively used for those who are, or have been victims of human trafficking. It protects those victims, and allows them to remain in the United States to assist in investigations or prosecution of human trafficking. 

Human Trafficking - Jacqui Oakley Illustration

Here’s some process work for the feature image including my linears and the acrylic under-painting. The first idea was to show a knife cutting the rose and having one petal fall. This idea was changed by the magazine towards the end of the process due to the possible harshness of a knife visual and so David and I came up with the idea of using thorns to show the abuse of the flower and to further emphasize constraint and suffocation. I think the end result worked quite well.

Human Trafficking - Jacqui Oakley Illustration

Female Mutilation - Jacqui Oakley Illustration

Female Mutilation - Jacqui Oakley Illustration

Thanks again to David for allowing me to tackle such an intense article. My portfolio is filled with colourful and happy imagery and it was great to be able to stretch my boundaries visually and conceptually with these illustrations. I hope these pieces do the tragic subject matter justice and I hope this piece shines a light on what some people are going through. It’s shocking to discover that the profit made from human trafficking tops $9 billion, but it’s good to know that organizations like The South Texas Human Trafficking/Immigration Clinic are there helping the situation.

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