Colorado family takes on human trafficking

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Bolthouse family helps produce movie "Trade of Innocents" 

by Myra Holmes

It looked innocent enough. Sitting around a restaurant table, three blond American girls balanced spoons on their noses and made silly animal sounds, eliciting giggles from seven Vietnamese girls. But looks can be deceiving. Beneath the giggles, the hearts of seven girls opened a crack to their new freedom from the nightmare of sexual slavery while the hearts of three girls—and their parents—were flooded with pain.

Four years ago while traveling in Cambodia, the Bolthouse family—Bill and Laurie, then 11-year-old twins Madison and Meredith and nine-year-old Molly—came literally face-to-face with the injustice of human trafficking. The meeting was a turning point for the family, who attend Trailhead Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Centennial, Colo.

“We’ve met them; we see them,” says Laurie.

The Bolthouse sisters were very quiet when the family returned to their hotel room following dinner. Then came a storm of tears. The wrong they had just encountered was overwhelming. That night the family prayed angry prayers. And they asked God, “What can we do? Can we do something more?”

Four years later, “something more” is coming to the big screen as Trade of Innocents, a feature-length film that the family hopes will put a face on the issue of human trafficking for a much wider audience. So that one more girl will find freedom.

When Bill and Laurie married some 22 years ago, they promised never to “fade into the obscurity of normality,” as Bill says. They wanted their life together to make a difference. Their dedication to living on mission has spilled over onto their daughters, now teenagers. “I want to hand our kids a heritage of being involved,” Bill says. “You can do this kind of stuff and have fun!”

Over the years, the family has served together in places like Macedonia, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and India. So when Bill, a retired family physician, served short-term in Cambodia, the family naturally went with him. That’s where they became better acquainted with the work of International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that advocates for victims of human trafficking, and met those seven newly rescued girls.

According to IJM, 27 million people are held in bondage around the world, forced into inhumane working conditions or into prostitution. That number includes children: Each year, 2 million children are exploited through the commercial sex trade. And it isn’t a problem only “over there.” Laurie points out that human trafficking is prevalent even in the United States; beneath the glitz of major events such as the Super Bowl or the National Western Stock Show, people are bought and sold.

“If you live in a major city anywhere in the world you are within miles of someone who’s locked in a room,” says Bill, “maybe a young girl who’s locked away and going to be raped.”

After their experience with IJM in Cambodia, the Bolthouse family learned about human trafficking, prayed and waited. Then friend and motion picture writer and director Christopher Bessette asked them to help produce a movie about the issue of human trafficking, Trade of Innocents: Justice Needs a Hero.

It was the right opportunity, and thanks to a successful family business they had the means to help. As is their habit, the Bolthouses embraced the mission together. This time it meant spending three months in spring 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand, for on-location filming. Listed among the film’s producers, they provided funds and creative input. They were closely involved in everything from planning to casting to costumes. The girls helped with office work and errands, filled in as extras and soaked up the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sitting in on the filming of fictitious scenes brought the reality of trafficking closer to home. Laurie says that even though she knew the scenes were contrived, even though the filming took place amidst crowds of film crew folk and even though no girls were ever in danger, “It can bother your heart.”

Sometimes Madison wanted to push the intensity of the experience and the issue far away, but resisted. “So many people are pushing it away when it really needs to come out,” she says.

Molly, who battled nightmares during the filming, says the experience “made me want to fight even more.” She hopes that Trade of Innocents will capture viewer’s hearts. “They have to face the fact that (human trafficking) really is real.”

The film offers resources and ideas for action, leaving next steps in the hands of each viewer. Imagine a girl locked in a room, waiting to be raped, says Bill. “This movie will hand you a key,” he says. “You can choose to do with that key what you want. If you put that key in your pocket and walk away, you become her jailer. But if you take that key and unlock the room through the opportunities available after the movie, you will be allowing that girl out of that room and giving her freedom. That’s why we’re making this movie.”

The plot of Trade of Innocents revolves around Alex and Claire Becker, a couple grieving the loss of a child when Alex takes a job in Southeast Asia as a human trafficking investigator. Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino plays Claire; Dermot Mulroney plays Alex. Viewers will also recognize supporting actor John Billingsley, who has appeared in over 100 films and television shows. Up-and-comer Trieu Tran joins the cast in the role of the villainous brothel owner.

Admittedly, it’s not a warm, fuzzy topic for a film. The subject matter alone may draw an “R” rating, although producers are hoping for “PG-13.” But even against the backdrop of incredible evil, the story offers hope and redemption. Bill and Laurie say Trade of Innocentsis not a “Christian movie” in the sense that many people would think: There is no overt gospel message, no “praying grandmother character.” But they point out that the movie is very much in line with God’s heart for the oppressed, and, they say, Christians should be the first to embrace these themes.

“This is God’s story. It’s our story; it’s our kids’ stories,” says Laurie. “And we’re hoping it’s going to be the world’s story.”

The expected release date of Trade of Innocents is in early 2012 with broad distribution throughout the U.S. For the latest on release dates and local showings, see www.tradeofinnocentsmovie.com or search for the Trade of Innocents page on Facebook. 

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