Film Review: Trafficked

This every-parents'-nightmare film's takeaway is that sex traffickers come in all guises, and that girls of all colors, ages and from all socioeconomic backgrounds can be victims.
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Woman-next-door Diane (Ashley Judd), a foster-care worker, has a dirty secret: Far from providing help and guidance for girls like Sara (Kelly Washington) who've aged out of foster care with no safety net to help them begin a productive, legal working life, she's a procurer who lures vulnerable young women into prostitution with promises of glamorous jobs working on cruise ships.

Sara promises her younger sister, Natalie (Madison Wolfe), that she'll come back for her soon, but she instead vanishes into the underworld of young girls of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds sold into prostitution, kept in carefully guarded houses and forced to service men old enough to be their fathers. They include Nigerian Mali (Jessica Obilom), who carries a doll to remind her of the young son she hopes to support with her earnings; Amba (Alpa Banker), who's from India, where village girls are easier currency to transport than cash; and American Jenna (Charlie Kanter), who's sustained by the promise that she'll be allowed to go home after she's had sex with 500 customers.

The men who staff the brothels aren't universally villainous; some are working to protect their own families from powerful cartels. They're all trapped, and not even death ends the girls' abuse; the traffickers do a sideline in post-mortem organ selling.

Trafficked  belongs to a long line of films—both fiction and documentary—designed to shine a light on the shadowy business of selling girls (and boys, though Trafficked doesn't go there), movies that include Human Trafficking (2005), Trade (2007), Taken (2007), Trade of Innocents (2012), Tricked (2013) and many, many more. So one can't really say that the problem of human trafficking is ignored, except to the degree that the most attention-grabbing stories involve white, middle-class American or European girls like the fictional Sara, while the bulk of the trade is poorer, not white and not from economically prosperous nations where there are a wider variety of opportunities to make a decent wage in non-sex-related industries.

That's not to say that Trafficked isn't addressing a very real and tenaciously persistent problem—one that for all the attention it's received, is still a thriving and brutally life-shattering business, or that it doesn't feature girls like Mali and Amba, who are more representative of the exploited community than the blonde, rosy-cheeked Sara. It's just that Trafficked is focused on the same sad news, likely to be consumed by the same people who've already heard it. Perhaps the justification is that if you say a thing often enough, someone will pay attention and, if so, bravo: Sex trafficking is an abomination that no civilized nation should tolerate. But Trafficked is also the kind of movie that preaches to the converted, and as such it's hard to figure out how much good it's doing.

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