What struck me the most about the film Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth, which screened at Portland State University this month, is how young.
Thirteen- and fourteen-year olds, and some as young as eleven, being led into sex trafficking.
I have twin sons who just turned 14.
The PSU event was one of two Oregon screenings in the 50-state tour that the Sex + Money filmmakers are offering through December 17. The comprehensive documentary covers domestic sex trafficking and the modern-day abolitionist movement to stop it.
The screening drew 300 people in a city known for its livability, as well as its sex trafficking problem. In 2010, Diane Sawyer and Dan Rather reported on the trafficking of humans in the city. In fact, some of the footage in the Sex + Money film was shot in Portland.
Screening attendees included students, activists, social workers, and lawmakers. Jamie Broadbent, from the child welfare division at the Department of Human Services, Lynn Haxton, attorney with Youth Rights and Justice, and U.S. Attorney Kemp Strickland led a question-and-answer panel session after the film.
The seed for the film was planted in Morgan Perry,
now 24, while she was a communications and mass media major at the University of the Nations, a Youth With a Mission (YWAM) educational institute in Hawaii.
She and four other students were studying under the YWAM nonprofit PhotoGenX, which uses photography and media to raise awareness on social justice issues. They traveled to 20 countries to research, write about, and photograph the issue of international sex trafficking.
After returning home, they documented their experience in the book Sex + Money: A Global Search for Human Worth, published in 2008. While writing the book, they came to realize that the issue was in their own backyard.
“I listened to a pastor from Atlanta share a story about a girl locked in a dog cage in Phoenix, and that verse in Matthew 7 about seeing a speck in another person’s eye when you have a plank in your own, came to mind,” Perry said at the screening. “I became convicted about the issue of sex trafficking in the United States and decided to use my background in film to produce the documentary.”
In 2009, she convened the same photojournalists from her overseas project to begin a researching trafficking in the United States. Perry was 21.
Two years later, they had the DVD Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth in hand. “We then hit the road,” said Perry, the film’s executive director. She and 16 YWAM enthusiasts are now traveling cross-country in an RV to show the film and lead discussions.
Watching the film is like being on a journey alongside the photojournalists as they interview social workers, lawyers, lawmakers, psychologists, former pimps, former buyers—including a pastor—and former child prostitutes.
The film transitions between sit-across-from-your-subject interviews to live video clips of people on the street answering questions. “What we’re trying to do in the film was like reality TV—with substance,” explained Perry.
Associate producer Isaac Gill pointed out the five points of action the film suggests: Learn, give, go, speak, and pray.
And they are practicing what they are preach: At screenings they are selling their book and other products and giving 75 percent of the proceeds to StreetLight Safe House in Phoenix, the largest restoration home for sex trafficking victims in the United States.
The goal? Raise a million dollars.
Streetlight was one of the organizations highlighted in the film. It gave viewers a sense of hope, and an example of what can tangibly be done to help victims. Sex + Money is a perfect film to use to introduce the topic to someone like myself, who knew very little about the problem. I appreciated the reality-TV production style, especially the on-the-spot interviews with random people.
Though the film is flooded with information, hope is the common thread throughout.Indeed, hope is what sets this film apart from others on the topic, said Joslyn Baker, collaboration specialist with Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, who organized the Portland expert panel. “This one was spot-on,” she said. “Other movies stir you up; this movie moves you to action. It gives you hope. It’s a gift.”
For me, hearing pimps reveal their strategy for keeping girls in the lifestyle was distressing: “Dress ’em, feed ’em, keep ’em broke.”
Another sound bite stood out: “The only way not to find this problem is not to look.”
One of my communication studies students at Multnomah University, Kristen Leach, said, “The film was both heartbreaking and inspiring. It led to ideas a person could find if they chose to play their part.” Leach and a friend are planning a spring 2012 event they are calling the Isaiah Project, which will focus on Portland’s human-trafficking issue.
My only criticism of Sex + Money is that it didn’t differentiate between common terms; for example, I walked away still not knowing the technical difference between “trafficking” and “prostitution.”
Bailey Perryman, a PSU English major, noted that her parents, who are involved with Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans, told her to attend the film. “I like how the film offered so many action points,” she said. “I know that human trafficking is a problem in the U.S., but I wasn’t aware that it started so young for some of these girls.”
When I arrived home from the screening that night, my twins were relaxing for our Friday family movie night. I thought about the 13- and 14-year-olds not far from our safe suburban home who are not so blessed.
To learn more information about the film as well as find a screening near you, visit http://sexandmoneyfilm.com
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