Before we decided to collaborate on the documentary film TRICKED, one of us was filming street prostitution in Washington, D.C. (blocks from the White House) and the other was filming pimps at work in Chicago. When we discovered what we were both working on, we decided to partner on a joint film at a time when street prostitution was still flourishing in many parts of this country. Four years later, as TRICKED premieres, the landscape of sex trafficking has changed dramatically. Street prostitution is largely gone; two of the victims we filmed were recruited by pimps from their own living rooms via smartphones. Computer solicitations have turned into smart phone apps. Craigslist has been replaced by Backpage.com. And light plea bargains for pandering have turned into multi-year trafficking sentences.
At the onset of filming, we encountered severe misconceptions: "Sex trafficking only happens in Thailand," or, "The girls do it by choice." At the other extreme, jaw-dropping stats overstated the realities like sensationalized fiction. There is precious little data on the subject, and urban myths supporting both sides of the prostitution debate abound. We had to dispel the myths first; clarify the truths, second. As the basic landscape kept changing during production, we faced a constantly moving target as we made TRICKED.
On several occasions, we worked with devoted community leaders who fought trafficking alongside colleagues who openly belittled it as a victimless crime. Two opposite ends of the spectrum worked under the same roof. Embedded with law enforcement officers in several cities, we found some were enlightened and kind to those caught up in prostitution, while others were cruel and judgmental.
The variety of viewpoints and facts presented a real challenge. We struggled to tell the whole story from as many angles as possible, to try and show the real truth of sex trafficking in America without further victimizing those in the life or preaching from the soap box of the so-called abolitionists. We wanted to make a film that would be interesting to both male and female audiences. We wanted to let johns and pimps reveal who they were and how they ticked. Sometimes this was disturbing, other times infuriating. There was a great deal of gallows humor.
Making TRICKED clued us into the fact that sex trafficking continues to evolve, and the various factions continue to argue. The legalization and the pro-trafficking lobbies are strong. Sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the country. The fact is, this is big business: industry stats, which we believe are accurate, say both sex trafficking and human trafficking combined are a $9.8 billion a year industry in the United States. At the same time, the number of anti-trafficking NGOs continues to grow along with their reach and impact. Although we've noticed positive change in the past year, and new legislation is before Congress, the road to permanent change remains long, uncharted and complex. Changing cultural norms is essential to progress.
While inaccuracy and denial continue to cloud the realities of domestic sex trafficking, our hope is that TRICKED does its part to spark a national dialogue and create change. The victims -- our daughters, sisters, mothers and sons -- deserve nothing less.
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the producers of the film TRICKED, a new documentary that sheds light on the reality of sex trafficking in the United States and follows the exploiters, the purchasers, the police officers, the survivors, the families and the social workers involved in the sex trade. The film opens on December 13. For more information about TRICKED, click here.