Monday, September 25, 2017

Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex-Trafficking

Sex-trafficking is not just a Third World phenomenon. It very definitely happens here, because this is where the money is. Men are also victims, as well as women and young girls and boys. Intellectually, we accept these facts, but we do not act like they have sunk in emotionally. Activist-filmmaker Sadhvi Siddhali Shree, the first North American Jain monk (she sometimes also uses the term nun) and a survivor of sexual abuse, forces viewers to examine rampant human trafficking in directly personal terms throughout Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex-Trafficking (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It is hard to imagine anything more harrowing than the childhood of abuse survivor Dr. John A. King. He wasn’t trafficked per se, but his parents horrifically abused him and repeatedly pimped him to their friends. As a result, he can well relate to the experiences of trafficked women who are raped twenty or thirty times per day. Thailand remains the trafficking capitol of the world, but Houston and Los Angeles are also major hubs, while Afghanistan is a special category unto itself.

Unfortunately, sex-trafficking is a growing business in Vietnam, where it personally touched television host (and co-executive producer) Jeannie Mai, who discovered the daughter of her family’s neighbor had been sold into servitude at a hostess bar. Shree interviews a few such celebrities in Stopping, but they are personally involved and invested as activists. That definitely includes the eternally cool Dolph Lundgren, who appears with the first two minutes.

In fact, Lundgren sort of throws down the gauntlet, categorizing sex-trafficking as a massive collective failure in empathy. It is hard to argue otherwise when you hear the stories survivors tell. Survivor-activists like Karla Jacinto (who estimates she was raped over 42,000 times) really demand to be heard—and those who refuse tolisten are deliberately keeping themselves obliviously ignorant.

Watching Stopping Traffic really throws into stark relief how misplaced the majority of contemporary activism has been. Just imagine if the thousands who will show up at a congressman’s office to protest legitimate political differences instead gathered outside the Thai embassy to insist on stronger crack-downs on trafficking or at strip clubs and massage parlors where trafficked women have been forced to work in the past, to demand assures they are not currently involved in trafficking. We might actually start making inroads against a truly evil crime, instead of heightening the divisiveness of current discourse.

Shree and her battery of experts make the stakes painfully clear. Trafficking is also very definitely a women’s issue, because young girls are particularly at risk. This is a disturbing, enraging, yet maybe slightly hopeful documentary that will stick with you, pricking your conscience. Highly recommended, Stopping Traffic opens this Friday (9/29) in New York, at the Cinema Village.