New films speak for the 'Innocents,' victims of human trafficking

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 4:52 p.m. MDT

A scene from the film "Trade of Innocents."

Monterey Media Inc.

“Trade of Innocents” — one of three films about human trafficking that premieres this week — ends with two stark epilogues.

“UNICEF estimates that as many as 1.2 million children are trafficked each year."

“Human trafficking is now the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.”

From Hollywood to the White House and beyond, moviemakers, journalists and President Obama are pointing a spotlight on the dark reality of human trafficking, increasing awareness and working on solutions to a problem with as many as 27 million victims.

The new dramatized movie “Trade of Innocents” begins in the back room of a small restaurant in Cambodia, where an Asian pimp named Duke is selling girls. Rated PG-13 "for disturbing thematic material involving sex trafficking of children, and some violence," the movie follows a couple who lost their own daughter as they try to rescue other young girls sold into the slave trade.

"Trade of Innocents" is in limited release; it opens in New York on Oct. 5 and moves into five other cities before the end of the month. (A Utah release date hasn't been announced.) Meanwhile, also opening on Friday but in wide release, "Taken 2" is the sequel to a movie in which a retired CIA agent saves his daughter after she is kidnapped to be sold into prostitution. Now elements of the old group are bent on revenge and take his wife.

The third film with aims on undercutting human trafficking launched earlier in the week. “Half the Sky” — a documentary based on the best-selling book of the same name by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, husband-and-wife team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn — debuted Monday on PBS. The documentary and book form the core of the Half the Sky Movement, which describes itself as “cutting across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide.”

Although one is an independent feature film and the other a documentary, “Trade of Innocents” and “Half the Sky” both address the same cause-and-effect connection between education and advocacy: Introducing viewers to human trafficking — President Obama described it as "barbaric," "debasement" and "modern slavery" last week at the Clinton Global Initiative summit — is a necessary first step toward advocacy and solutions.

Pernicious and prevalent

For the first time, America’s annual trafficking report includes details about trafficking in the United States. Released in June, the report estimates that as many as 27 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. Reliable statistics concerning the global scope of human trafficking are difficult to generate because of the different ways individual nations define the crime. Regardless of the definitions, the prevalence of human and sex trafficking is undeniable.

Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking advocacy organization, defines human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.”

The United Nations deems human trafficking “a crime against humanity” that affects “every country in the world … whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement subdivides human trafficking into two categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Also, ICE fastidiously distinguishes human trafficking (“centers on exploitation”) from human smuggling (“centers on transportation”).

“Human trafficking is a worldwide problem,” ICE public affairs officer Ernestine Fobbs told the Deseret News. “A number of the people that we work with are from other countries, and they are afraid to protest or say anything about it (because) the person holding them in a trafficking situation usually has threatened them … or their family back home.”

In last week's speech, President Obama called human trafficking "modern slavery." "Now, I do not use that word, 'slavery,' lightly," he said. "It evokes obviously one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history. But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality."

Activist actress

“Trade of Innocents” stars Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino. They play Alex and Claire Becker, Americans living in Cambodia who are still coming to grips with the murder of their 7-year-old daughter several years before. An Army veteran, Mulroney’s character is applying his military skill-set to combat the sex trafficking of underage girls throughout Southeast Asia.

The presence of Academy Award winner Sorvino is especially noteworthy given her work as a U.N. goodwill ambassador to combat human trafficking, for which she received the U.N. Global Advocate of the Year Award in 2010.

“She’s really quite an expert on the topic of human trafficking,” said “Trade of Innocents” producer Jim Schmidt. “So for us it’s a double win to have Mira — both as an actress who was perfect for the role, but also as an advocate who is educated on the issues.”

Last month, Sorvino spoke about human trafficking at the Social Good Summit in New York.

“More is spent in a single month (in the U.S.) fighting the war on drugs than all monies ever expended domestically or internationally fighting slavery from its inception,” Sorvino declared. “Per month, we spend more on the drug war than we ever have trying to free slaves.”

Big backing

By declaring war on an enemy as reviled as human trafficking, “Trade of Innocents” gained some very powerful and influential allies.

In April, Yale Law School hosted the two-day "Trade of Innocents Human Trafficking Symposium.” The FBI co-sponsored the event, which included an advance screening of the film.

At the “Trade of Innocents” world premiere on Sept. 28, UN Office on Drugs and Crime executive director Yury Fedotov personally introduced the film.

“I hope this film will shock people,” Fedotov said. “What is on the screen is not fiction. It is fact — a harsh reality for millions of people across the world; a story of stolen innocence and robbed childhood.

“We cannot recover that innocence; we cannot return that childhood. But, we can strive with everything we possess to prevent it from happening to the next child, and the next, and the next.”

At the Clinton summit, President Obama praised those working for solutions, including some honored at the summit. "This includes men and women of faith," he said, "who, like the great abolitionists before them, are truly doing the Lord’s work — evangelicals, the Catholic Church, International Justice Mission and World Relief, even individual congregations, like Passion City Church in Atlanta, and so many young people of faith who’ve decided that their conscience compels them to act in the face of injustice. Groups like these are answering the Bible’s call — to 'seek justice' and 'rescue the oppressed.'"

Call to action

With such on-point passion emanating from Sorvino & Co., it’s no surprise that “Trade of Innocents” is equally interested in educating and inspiring.

“There’s something about taking a topic like this to a feature-film level that I think connects with people on more of an emotional level,” Schmidt told the Deseret News. “But we didn’t want to just move people emotionally; we actually wanted to empower them to act — to move them to action.”

Schmidt considers the “Trade of Innocents” sister site, Justice-Generation.com, to be an effective educational tool for people who want to join the fight against human trafficking. Similarly, HalfTheSkyMovement.org also includes its own take-action website.

Both websites share two qualities in particular: a clarion call for grass-roots advocacy against human trafficking, as well as a carefully screened list of charities that can be trusted to funnel aid to the survivors of human trafficking.

“Lend your voice to push for stronger legislation targeting sex trafficking and supporting victims,” Half the Sky’s website intones, “and learn more about the organizations working to end this terrible injustice.”

"Trade of Innocents" is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material involving sex trafficking of children, and some violence. "Half the Sky" is rated TV-MA. "Taken 2" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality.

J.G. Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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