Thompson Co-Curates 'Journey,' an Exhibit That Uses Shipping Containers to Detail Trafficking Horrors

Emma Thompson was inspired to get involved after meeting a trafficked woman.

Nov. 9, 2009 — -- Actress Emma Thompson has played fictional characters on the big screen for 20 years, but her latest project tackles the real-life horrors of human trafficking.

The project, an exhibit called "The Journey," highlights the gruesome, heartbreaking conditions many of the victims of the sex trade are forced to endure every day.

"It's a domestic issue ... it's probably around the corner from you," Thompson, who co-curates the exhibit, told "Good Morning America" today.

Human trafficking is a big business around the world.

"You can make $150,000 from one girl in a year ... because moving people around the place is easier than moving guns around," the two-time Academy Award-winning British actress said.

The women are generally forced into the life by someone they know. Many times, a male relative will tell them that they are getting a job, she said. Once they are in the hands of traffickers, the girls are tortured and abused.

The girls hand over their passports, which, Thompson, 50, said, is a big mistake.

Countries such as Sweden prosecute the men involved in sex with trafficked women, which makes it easier for the victims to come forward.

"What we have to do is work out how, as a globe ... we come together and start to really focus our efforts," she said.

Actress Inspired by Moldovan Teen

The exhibit uses seven shipping containers to document the true life stories of human trafficking victims.

Thompson was inspired to take on the project, in part, after meeting a Moldovan girl named Elena, whom she got to know in 2006 through her work as chairwoman of the Helen Bamber Foundation, a charity that aims to help abuse victims.

"That's when I started to really find out about this very, very hidden crime," Thompson said.

Elena came to the United Kingdom after she'd been promised a good job as a receptionist. But when she entered the country, her passport was taken away from her and she was forced into the sex trade, Thompson said.

"She was sold when she was 19 years old ... her story is very, very typical," she said.

Thompson to be Honored for Raising Awareness

Although Elena's story is hardly unique -- the International Labor Organization said there are about 2.5 million people forced to work in human trafficking at any one time -- it has special significance for Thompson.

On her way to and from school, the actress used to walk by the massage parlor where Elena had been imprisoned.

The point of the exhibit is "to help people understand their plight," Thompson wrote in an article for Newsweek in March 2008.

The exhibit is based on the testimony of Elena and girls in similar situations. It has had a searing impact on all who have seen it.

But "Journey" also contains a message of hope. "It reveals -- as I have learned from Elena and other survivors -- the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit. It shows how, with support and care, these courageous women can rebuild their lives," she wrote.

The Dag Hammarskjold Scholarship Fund for Journalists, an organization of journalists who cover the United Nations, will this week honor Thompson and Bamber for their efforts.

"Journey" opens Tuesday at Washington Square Park in New York City and runs through Nov. 15.

CLICK HERE to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.