A Southern California business and cultural organization recently held a screening of a heart-wrenching film about human trafficking to raise awareness of the issue.
Asian Industry B2B hosted the viewing of the movie “Trafficked” and organized a panel discussion at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, California on Sept. 28, inviting the movie cast and law enforcement representatives.
The 2017 movie is based on a true story about three young girls imprisoned in a brothel in Texas near the U.S. border who dare to come up with a plan to escape from their sex traffickers and find freedom.
Portraying Sex Trafficking Victims
In the film, actress Jessica Obilum plays a young mother named Mali from Nigeria, Alpa Banker plays an Indian woman named Amba, and Kelly Washington plays Sara, an American.
Banker told the Epoch Times that as an American actress, portraying a character from a different country was pretty challenging, and so was the material itself.
“Our job is to make it human and for the audience relate to our character, to make her real enough, to where you see your daughter, you see your sister … even though none of us have gone through anything this terrible,” she said.
Obilom said her Nigerian background helped her with the role of Mali, and she said the experience was eye-opening.
“I’ve never experienced that. So [I was] trying to make it real for me, and making sure I’m able to depict that truthfully, especially because this is happening in real life. I want to represent that the way it should be represented,” Obilom said.
Both Obilom and Banker recalled the moment they burst into tears after reading the movie script, but they were glad to help get the message out about such an important issue.
“It’s especially rewarding to see how people are moved by it and how it’s been used to spread awareness and trying to help eradicate human trafficking as much as possible,” said Banker.
A Challenging Topic
Executive producer Frank Mayor has been in the film industry for nearly 30 years, and he said people generally want to be entertained, so that makes it difficult to make a movie with a message.
“We’re very careful to make it clear there’s also a US problem. It wasn’t just a foreign problem, because a lot of Americans think that’s just something that happens elsewhere, but it actually happens everywhere,” he said.
Mayor said sex trafficking is an “ugly business all around,” that “obviously involved kids, and it’s even uglier than you can imagine.”
California’s Trafficking Hotspots
California has three cities that are among the 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation—Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco—according to the website Do Something.
The platform also says that many of victims are runaway girls who have experienced sexual abuse at a young age.
Carl Povilaitis, chief of police for the City of Glendale, addressed the panel regarding the human trafficking situation in the Los Angeles area, calling it “a very, very significant problem.”
“Over the years, we got very good at doing narcotics investigations and taking down very large, complex organizations. We probably weren’t so good at looking at sex trafficking and human trafficking and trying to take those organizations out,” he said.
The Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s Human Trafficking Bureau, with the multi-agency task force Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force (LARHTTF), which is led by LASD and US Attorney’s Office has rescued 221 victims and arrested 948 individuals since its inception up to January 2018, according to the LASD.
“You’re having people kidnapping kids from other countries. You have people who are selling their kids from other countries to the traffickers that are bringing them in and taking them to different areas, different states to be used for sexual exploitation. This starts as young as 10 years old,” said Burton Brink, who has 29 years of experience at LASD and is currently running for state assembly.
It’s estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States every year.
California is ranked #1 in the U.S. for the most trafficking cases, which is twice the number of those trafficked in Texas, ranked as #2.
“In 2016, 1,331 cases of human trafficking were reported in California. Of those cases, 1,051 were sex trafficking cases, 147 were labor trafficking cases, 46 involved both labor and sex trafficking, and in 86 cases the type of trafficking was not specified,” according to California State Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General.