We Can't Let Sex Trafficking Become Just Another Big Budget Hollywood Plot Line

Sex trafficking is a horrible, rough topic that’s hard to address. The information that 239,000 American youths are exploited for commercial sexual acts is horrific and draining. Unfortunately, as with most big human rights issues, articles and information about these situations seem to only pop in and out of the media, and thereby, in and out of the public consciousness.

However, when looking at the amount of information regarding sex trafficking, a high volume of it seems to follow the release of prominent media releases. Sex trafficking is a sensational topic, one that despite the horrific nature of its everyday existence, draws most interest from large-scale action films like Taken, Taken 2, and more than a few Law and Order: SVU and CSI episodes.

Consider the fact that release dates for Taken (January 2009) and Taken 2 (February 2013) both coincide with spikes in interest about the topic. During the time periods of high viewing for these films, the amount of interest in sex trafficking nearly doubled. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, right? Since awareness is a good thing and any kind of attention that can be brought to the table is probably positive?

Yes and no. Is using voyeuristic tactics that glamorize the sex industry and showcase rough-and-tumble action scenes as a way for Hollywood to make money entirely appropriate? At what point do we stop being audience members and become voyeurs and participants in one of the world’s great evils?

It’s a depressing catch 22: many of these films utilize a horrible, gory voyeurism as the basis of their appeal. One in which the great evil being performed is only an exciting backdrop for Liam Neeson to kick ass. However, greater awareness of the horror that is sex trafficking comes from big-budget films and TV shows that have substantial viewership — viewership that usually comes from actions films.

The United States is unfortunately a huge center for sex trafficking, both from international immigrants being brought to the United States and exploited, to young abandoned and run away Americans. In reality, the media attention brought to this substantial part of America’s seedy underbelly is really necessary. However, covering the deeply traumatic and pervasive violence of sex trafficking with pandering scenes of rape, torture, and buff action heroes saving the day, might just be underplaying the true extent of this issue. Pushing sex trafficking into the crazy realm of the Hollywood action film, which let’s face it, has just gotten completely ridiculous the past 10 years (White House Down, A Good Day To Die Harder, Oblivion), just makes sex trafficking into something outside of realism, when in fact, it is a harsh reality for hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.

So, what can we do to keep sex trafficking in the public eye (and hopefully act against it) while also not letting it become just a plot device?

The answer seems to be good media; supporting documentaries and exposes’, journalists and travelers who make a huge effort to bring substantive, factual information to citizens.

For some good examples, consider these documentaries and articles.

Eden, a 2012 film just released on DVD two weeks ago, revolves around the true-life situation of Chong Kim, a Korean-American girl kidnapped and pressed into sex slavery in the American Southwest. The film shows no gratuitous scenes of violence or sex, but does still manage to communicate the dangerous and traumatic situation that exists for many young men and women pressed into sex slavery and trafficking. It also firmly grounds the business in it’s setting, showcasing the pervasiveness of sex trafficking in the U.S.

Or the 2004 article “The Girls Next Door” by Peter Landesman and published in New York magazine about the discovery of and raid on a sex slavery stash house located in a quiet neighborhood in New York. All the women were underage, most foreign nationals who came to the United States seeking work and refuge and instead, found something overwhelmingly different.

There are other documentaries and films, Not Today, Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth, that are also worthwhile and exemplary in their depictions of sex trafficking.

While stopping sex trafficking is going to be difficult and even keeping it at the top of priorities list can be a struggle with the high amount of human rights issues and problems that the world experiences, we can’t afford to stop trying. Disseminating good information is key, as is keeping the issue substantive — we can’t let sex trafficking become just exciting background noise for big-budget Hollywood.

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Rachel Redfern

"Rachel is a traveler and teacher who spent the last few years living in Asia. Now back in her native California, she focuses on writing about media, culture, and feminism. While a big fan of campy 80's movies and eccentric sci-fi, she's become a cable acolyte, spending most of her time watching HBO, AMC, and Showtime. For good stories about bungee jumping and lions, follow her @RachelRedfern2.

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