Stories Foundation has been in existence for about 5 years. Over the course of those years, as my wife reads more books and attends more awareness events, she will share many stories that she hears or reads with me. The stories are harrowing and revolting accounts of the incredible lack of humanity with which some people treat others. Hearing these stories is gut-wrenchingly hard to hear.
They get even harder when you see them played out before your eyes.
That is what is in store for you when you watch the 2017 Will Wallace film “Trafficked”, based on the book “Sex Trafficking” by Siddharth Kara.
The movie tells opens telling us it is “inspired by true events” and then whisks us away to Nigeria where we meet Mali (Jessica Obilom), a young woman who tells us “sometimes, the only way a mother can save her son is by leaving him” implying she is leaving to earn money to give him a better life. Later, she says she was “hungry for a better life, we don’t all come from nice families with cars and an education. But many from my village went abroad and made good money.” She thought she had found a way to do the same. But instead, she is trafficked and sold to pay the “debt she owes”.
Next, in India a soldier is checking out a shipment of weapons he is purchasing from an Albanian dealer. The currency he pays with? Young women, some picked up from the streets of Delhi, others kidnapped. Why not use money? “Money is easily traced – but the Villagers – not”. One of these women is Amba (Alpa Banker), has been kidnapped by an acquaintance from a celebration before moves to America to start college. She spends some time in a brothel there before being shipped as this payment for guns.
Lastly, we meet a Sara (Kelly Washington) celebrates her birthday at a home for Foster Children. There is singing, cake and news that now, at 18, she has “aged out” of the Foster Care system and will have to leave. She will be separated from her younger sister until she can make enough money to take care of both of them. A social worker (Ashley Judd) has set up a job on a cruise ship in Texas where “she will be taken care of” by colleagues from Child Services who will help her. The “colleagues” seem a little shady. It turns out they are middle men for traffickers and the “work” that awaits Sara is in a Texas brothel where she, meets Mali, Amba and a slew of others who are sold for sex repeatedly so they can “pay off their debt”. When Judd’s character is asked why she is doing this, she answers callously “It’s just business honey!”
Upon arrival at the brothel, things go from bad to worse. They are mistreated, humiliated, drugged, beaten and threatened repeatedly by the traffickers and even the men who come to buy time with them. Days run together – there seems to be no real awareness of time. They are living a nightmare that they cannot wake up from. Simon (Sean Patrick Flanery) the brothel manager lets them know “500 men and you can go”.
Another of the girls there is getting close to her magic 500 number. She shares her story – waiting tables to pay for college. A customer tells her she could be a model and invites her for a photo shoot. She goes and it all seems legit. Another photo shoot is scheduled, but things are different that time. The photographer wants “nude photos” and she cannot get away. Soon, she is working in the brothel too. They have threatened to “skin my dad if I leave” she shares.
Some advice given to the new arrivals by the girls that have been at the brothel for a while is “Lie back and survive”.
A plan is made for an escape attempt. I am a big believer that people should be shown value and made aware that their lives mean something. Sadly, the only value the traffickers place on these girls is the potential profit from their repeated sale. So when some of them find an opportunity to make a run for it, the traffickers go to great lengths to get them back.
When a couple of girls are able to get out, the dominos begin to fall for the traffickers. Those involved in the sale of these girls are brought to justice and they are returned to their previous worlds. But the thing that really resonated with me from this story was that their lives will not be able to go back to the “normal” that they were before they were trafficked. They are survivors and their stories matter, but they also will need immeasurable amounts of love and support to process and begin healing from the hell that they have been through.
The movie as a whole is stirring and disturbing. It is very difficult to watch the story play out on the screen and these are just the dramatized versions of the stories. We must remember that these stories are happening for real in the world around us.
I hope that I never become desensitized to these stories being the “common story” it is stomach churning, dehumanizing and impossible to forget.
Ashley Judd has been outspoken about trafficking issues around the world and the importance of taking action so we can have an impact on derailing it. Real stories like the ones represented in this movie exist – more intense and horrible then we can imagine. There are stories to hear and survivors to value, love and support as they seek to find healing, worth and trust in those around them again.
My suggestion that the new slogan in the battle against human trafficking be this:
Now that you know, what will you do?
Written By Chris Page, you can find him blogging about faith at www.christopherapage.com .