After six tense weeks the BBC’s thriller Baptiste has concluded, serving up more mayhem, death and destruction in the final episode. Some – but not all – of the problems posed during the serial were resolved but, for me, there was one glaring omission. Centre stage of this drama was a crowded place with characters jostling for their stories to be heard. But who’s story was this, anyway? Stay with me – I’ll explain.
The tragi-comic figure of Edward Stratton trampled through the episodes. His particular brand of incompetence ensured that everyone he’d ever loved (his father, ex-wife, his best friend from university) met a gruesome death during the drama. Even before the opening of the story, Stratton’s daughter had fallen prey to a drug habit and the dangerous lifestyle of Amsterdam’s red light district. It was the loss of his daughter that set Edward on his ‘saviour’ quest to rescue girls in similar circumstances. His misguided efforts and inappropriate obsession with a young sex worker, served only to worsen the fate of any young woman, who had the misfortune to cross his path.
Enter retired detective, Julien Baptiste, who is dragged into the investigation on the flimsiest of pretexts. A senior Dutch police officer, Martha Horchner, who turns out to have been Baptiste’s lover more than three decades earlier, assigns him to assist the hapless Stratton in his quest to find a missing girl.
When it comes to family relationships, Baptiste’s life seems to be laden with the heaviest of dysfunctional baggage. As so often happens in crime fiction, the detective becomes the story. Due to his investigation into the Romanian human trafficking gang, Baptiste’s wife and family must spend weeks in hiding to escape murderous reprisals from the gang’s Amsterdam cell. With his family neatly tidied away in a safe house, Julien discovers that Niels, a detective in his thirties, is the son he never knew about from his relationship with Martha! Niels has had his struggles and, as his journey unfolds within the drama, it’s clear nothing is going to end well and there’s no touching reunion between the son and his long-lost father.
Week by week, our television screens were filled with a cast of minor characters, some larger than life, others vicious and glamorised like the Romanian traffickers. But through all these twists and turns, one set of voices remained silent: the female victims of the trafficking gang.
Viewers were given fleeting glimpses of these young women, held captive in horrendous conditions in a dank basement; sick and hungry, dishevelled and depressed, awaiting their terrible fate. I hoped these women would be given a voice but they were left stranded – literally and figuratively at the margins of the stage and of the story.
I’m aware that charities who campaign to end modern slavery have praised Baptiste for raising awareness of human trafficking and, as an ambassador for the anti-slavery charity, Unseen, I fully support this view. But what disturbs me is how one-dimensional the story made these young women, who were groomed, snatched or kidnapped and then left as voiceless by the dramatist as by the criminal perpetrators. The most poignant moment in the series was when Baptiste got hold of a list of the victims’ names only to discovered that, while some were being searched for, others had not even been reported missing …
Surely in this drama, it is the stories of these young women we should be hearing, rather than the manufactured, self-inflicted trauma of the Edward Stratton character?
In my novel After Leaving the Village, I wrote about human trafficking and tried to put it on a human scale and give a voice to my young protagonist, Odeta. My aim was to help readers experience Odeta’s emotions and walk in her shoes as she journeys into the unknown. Because, but for a quirk of fate and birthplace, Odeta could be you, or me, or one of our daughters. You can find out more about After Leaving the Village at this link: https://amzn.to/2TCsnnE
To read true stories of trafficking survivors and learn about their amazing resilience take a look at these case studies from Unseen UK: https://www.unseenuk.org/our-impact/case-studies2
The Modern Slavery Helpline run by the charity Unseen UK is at risk of closing if new funding can't be raised. I'm re-sharing a blog I wrote recently for Unseen that explains why I support their work. If you want to help the appeal, the link to their website is below.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me an advance copy of The Rule Breaker's Guide to Step Up and Stand Out by saxophonist, poet, speaker and performer, Georgia Varjas. Here is my review.
This article first appeared as a guest post as part of my blog tour for Lies Behind the Ruin. I'm grateful to Books, Life and Everything for hosting me and have included the link to the website.