In previous posts we’ve discussed how education about human trafficking is one of – if not the most important – tools to ending its scourge in every corner of our world. We need look no further than the news stories of trafficking, at lavish galas in Manhattan and malls in middle America to war-torn Ukraine and its surrounding countries, to understand that perpetrators and victims do not fit neatly into stereotypes. The perpetrators are not always the shifty-eyed man lurking on the street corner, but a woman with a warm smile or the wealthiest, most revered members of society; the victim is not always a teenage girl with an Eastern European accent, but the “adopted” young boy living in indentured servitude next door to us.
The newly-released film Surviving Sex Trafficking encourages us to let go of the preconceived notions by exploring the various ways in which traffickers and victims cross paths. For example, one of the young women was approached openly with an offer of work as a prostitute, while another was enlisted, unknowingly, by a friend and a third was drugged by two women and delivered to a violent pimp. Though they came from different backgrounds and circumstances, however, all three women experienced feelings of terror and hopelessness, as well as a crippling shame that had to be overcome in order to heal, even after they were out of physical danger.
By its very existence, the film asks each of us to look at our own environments with a new set of eyes. The week of its release, a sex-trafficking bust in Utah that resulted in twenty-one arrests and three rescues was described by law enforcement as “barely scratching the surface.” The victims were being forced into prostitution, their “services” sold online. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, known for its Amish population and untouched rural beauty, fourteen men were arrested for similar crimes, and on a military base in Virginia a navy man pled guilty to commercial sex trafficking.
While we must be more aware of the problem, it’s also important to note and celebrate signs of hope – for example, Allison Byrd, the Texas A&M University Law School student who flew to Poland to share information about trafficking and how to avoid it with Ukrainian refugees. Surviving Sex Trafficking is also a positive sign, and a testament to what survivors can achieve with the aid of advocates and systems in place to support their recovery. The film’s director, Sadhvi Siddhali Shree, is herself such a testament as well. A survivor of a brutal sexual assault that occurred at the age of six, Shree has gone on to not only survive, but dedicate herself to service – in the U.S. military, as the first female Jain monk in North America, and as filmmaker and speaker, spreading a message of healing and love to others. This is not the first time Shree used filmmaking to spread awareness about her trafficking. Her previous film, Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex-Trafficking (2017), focused on the people from all walks of life who come together to influence antitrafficking policy and assist survivors in rebuilding their lives.