TRADE of INNOCENTS – World Premiere Sept 29

SEX TRAFFICKING of CHILDREN: The numbers surprised me. Several thousands of women and girls each year routinely forced to have sex multiple times per day? 1 official and many unofficial trafficking circuits spanning the country? Over 5,000 brothels disguised as massage parlors? 13 as the average age of entrance into the trade? $200,000 in profit per girl/child per year? The land of the free? Yes, I’m talking about America.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the United States (and the world). As of one year ago, I didn’t even know that sex trafficking happened on our streets. Prostitution, yes- Nevada still has legal brothels- but not trafficking. Not the luring, kidnapping, drugging, routinized raping, and killing (homicide is the leading cause of death in prostituted girls) of young girls for money. Sadly, I was blinded by a Western paternalism that points fingers at the rest while quietly committing homegrown crimes against humanity in every single state and every major city in the country. Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, I’m shocked.

The United States is one of the top trafficking destinations in the world, with girls coming mainly from East and South Asia, Central America, and internally from US neighborhoods. Girls that are trafficked internally are often from abusive homes and have stories similar to Gwen. In a very informative interview with a current staff member of an anti-trafficking organization in D.C., a look at how the industry works from the inside is gruesome.

The largely controversial semantic arguments between what constitutes sex work and sexual slavery only entrap more girls. I will staunchly argue that no human being would choose to endure what these girls do on a daily basis for any amount of money. There is psychological imprisonment. There is moral degradation. There is physical torture. There is drug addiction. When this leaves a person with the perception that they only have one option, they have been denied the right to choose. Sex work may stand for the rare scenario in which there is a choice- maybe in a legal brothel in Nevada. Sexual slavery is everything else.

The United States’ “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act” was passed in 2000 and reauthorized in subsequent years to define protocol for intervention in trafficking and prosecution of traffickers. Unfortunately, this legislation has not been adequately expanded on. Substantial follow-up by our federal and state governments is lacking (10 states have yet to adopt sex trafficking laws), with much of the brunt being handled by a growing network of non-governmental groups around the country who are attempting to improve healthcare, rehabilitation, and reintegration services.

Since 2001, the U.S. Department of State has released an annual Trafficking in Persons Report, only recently (and finally…) ranking itself within the system. The U.S. was placed in Tier 1-the highest level of compliance with the standards of the Protection Act- which gives one an idea of the trafficking situations in some of the several lower-tiered countries. Estimates from anti-trafficking expert Melissa Farley indicate that in the US, for every 50 girls arrested for prostitution, only 1 john (customer) is arrested. In short, the policies are flawed and must change.

Sweden’s decision to only criminalize the customer was extremely successful in reducing legal prostitution (which also protected the girls from being punished by the law) and it did not result in more illegal sex trafficking as was originally a concern. However, Sweden’s market was easily replaced by the plethora of wealthy Western European countries that could serve as alternative destination points due to their geographic proximity, poorer anti-prostitution laws, and similarly well-off clientele. This is not the case with the U.S. as trafficking girls to Mexico or Central America obviously wouldn’t be as profitable for traffickers.

Thus, increased efforts to criminalize johns may not drive trafficking out of America as it did in Sweden, perhaps contrarily driving it further underground and rendering criminalization an ambiguously useful strategy. However, what is clear is that our laws must refrain from criminalizing the girls. It is an ethical duty to recognize the complex social, physical, and psychological abuses that led them to the street corner in the first place and to not further exploit this vulnerability. The 50:1 ratio must be reversed.

With the Washington Times recently calling sex trafficking in the US an “epidemic,” we need to Take Action. There are hundreds of anti-trafficking NGOs which are growing along with the industry and welcome help, including the Polaris Project and Free the Slaves. News stations such as CNN and MSNBC have even devoted entire sections of their websites to publicizing human trafficking. Abolishing modern day slavery globally is the challenge of this century, and I urge that we start at home.


TRADE OF INNOCENTS – Coming this Fall 2012

September 2012 – UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov attended a preview screening of Trade of Innocents, a film that exposes the grim reality of children trafficked for sexual exploitation. The UNODC chief participated at the event in New York with Mira Sorvino, UNODC Goodwill Ambassador against human trafficking, who has a starring role in the film.

Trade of Innocents is set in the seedy brothels of Cambodia and follows the story of an American couple who struggle to overcome the pain of their past loss of a child against the stark realities they encounter of child exploitation in the city where they now live and work.

“I am very proud to be a part of this film, as an actress and UNODC Goodwill Ambassador to combat human trafficking,” said Ms. Sorvino. “Most people are unaware that this terrible trade of children for sexual exploitation flourishes both in the United States and around the globe. Trade of Innocents will open their eyes and their hearts, and inspire them to become part of the solution,” she added.

The film, which also stars Dermot Mulroney, was inspired by the real-life experiences of an American couple who worked in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they encountered seven young girls who had recently been rescued from a brothel. Director Christopher Bessette and the couple decided not only to make a compelling film on a difficult subject, but also to raise awareness about the sexual exploitation of children and to move people to action.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov praised Ms. Sorvino’s work in fighting human trafficking, a crime which earns traffickers an estimated $32 billion annually and which robs people of their dignity and basic rights: “Both with UNODC and on her own, Mira has met with countless victims of trafficking, and she uses her platform as a global personality to tell their powerful stories. We are grateful for Mira’s extraordinary commitment and her invaluable assistance to UNODC in our efforts to fight human trafficking. Her work on and off screen has lent a voice to the voiceless,” he said.

During the screening dedicated to the UN Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, Mr. Fedotov called for increased contributions to the fund to support provision of on-the-ground humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims of trafficking. Since its establishment, the fund, which is managed by UNODC, has benefited 11 front-line organizations working with survivors of human trafficking around the world, including Damnok Toek, a local non-governmental organization in Cambodia.

Trade of Innocents will be released in October.


In the back streets of a tourist town in present-day Southeast Asia, we find a filthy cinder block room; a bed with soiled sheets; a little girl waits for the next man. Alex (Dermot Mulroney), a human trafficking investigator, plays the role of her next customer as he negotiates with the pimp for the use of the child.

Claire (Mira Sorvino), Alex’s wife, is caught up in the flow of her new life in Southeast Asia and her role as a volunteer in an aftercare shelter for rescued girls where lives of local neighborhood girl’s freedoms and dignity are threatened.

Parallel story lines intertwine and unfold twists against the backdrop of the dangerous human trafficking world, in a story of struggle, life, hope and redemption in the “TRADE of INNOCENTS.”


Speech by UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov

Remarks at the World Premiere of the film: Trade of Innocents
29 September 2012

“Mr. Bessette, Ms. Bolthouse, Mr. Bolthouse , Mr. Schmidt, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The film you are about to see tells the harrowing story of children forced into sexual exploitation. Trade of Innocents is about an appalling form of abuse-one that strips people of their dignity and deprives them of their human rights. Its name is ‘human trafficking’.

The films shows people traded as a commodity, like coffee or gold. Bought and sold for profit and for the gratification of others. No country is untouched by this modern day slavery-people are trafficked all over the world. Some are sexually exploited, others suffer forced labor or domestic servitude.

Globally, one in five victims of human trafficking is a child.

In the Mekong region of South East Asia children form the majority of victims. South East Asia is also a popular tourist destination. Awareness of the impact of tourism on human trafficking is growing and countries are responding. India has adopted a code of conduct to deliver safe, honorable and sustainable tourism, including anti-human trafficking practices.

Many could be in houses, cafes and factories near you.

My office is working with partners to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam, to counter the sexual exploitation of children in the Greater Mekong sub-region. We are helping to build the capacity of local law enforcement to identify, arrest and prosecute travelling child sex offenders in those countries. But, if we are to succeed, we must continue to explain to businesses and to travelers the damaging effects of human trafficking.

UNODC is assisting countries to implement the trafficking protocol of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

So far the protocol has been ratified by 152 countries but some are struggling to implement it effectively.

We are also raising public awareness through our Blue Heart campaign and through the work of the Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope this film will shock people. What is on the screen is not fiction, it is fact. A harsh reality for millions of people across the world. A story of stolen innocence and robbed childhood.

We cannot recover that innocence, we cannot return that childhood.

But, we can strive with everything we possess to prevent it from happening to the next child, and the next, and the next. What is suffered by the parent must never be visited upon the child.

The chain of misery must be broken. Help us by joining the Blue Heart Campaign to end this modern day slavery or by contributing to the Trust Fund.”

Thank you.

Related Information:

UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking
Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking HERE
Trade of Innocents website

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