Documentary offers real-time look at sex trafficking
By Christa Wiens
After spending more than a decade working with Homeland Security to rescue children from sex trafficking both overseas and domestically, Tim Ballard turned in his badge. But he did not step away from this work. Instead Ballard, pictured right, took another step into this world by starting his own nonprofit organization with the goal of freeing even more children than was possible as part of a government organization. The Abolitionists is a documentary that tells the story of a handful of these missions.
Unlike many other anti-trafficking movies, this film does not attempt to reenact scenes, dramatizing past events. Instead, the members of Ballard's team were recorded in action and on the scene. This means the viewer sees just what these missions were like, not secondhand but as it happened. We see the excitement, the frustration and the fear. We hear the traffickers in their own words. And we see the children, dressed to look much older than they are, entering rooms where they expect to experience the same abuse they have suffered many times before.
This movie was shown nationwide one day only, May 16, in a select group of theaters, and a small group of us from Fresno, Calif., attended together. Our experience in the fight against human trafficking varied from those who have been part of the fight for years to those just beginning to explore the issue.
As we discussed our experience over tea later that evening, we talked about the power of seeing these traffickers in action. Throughout the documentary, Ballard refers to traffickers as "the bad guys." But these women and daughters, young boys and middle-aged, unassuming American men “never look like the bad guys," notes Ballard, and indeed a powerful message in this movie is that traffickers do not fit one demographic, one age group, one gender.
One member of Ballard’s team of abolitionists is a man referred to as Batman. Before turning his life over to Christ, Batman laundered drug money, abused drugs and alcohol and spent weeks in brothels. So often we vilify the traffickers and those who drive demand. This movie reminded us that Batman and people like him need Christ, just like all of us. Batman is a modern-day Apostle Paul. How many others are there, we wondered.
The Abolitionists also highlighted the power that we have as Americans. So often we think that this problem is too big, and we can't possibly make a difference. Or we assume that human trafficking is happening "over there" somewhere, too far away for our influence to reach. But in fact, it is easy to see in this film that the American title carries great weight.
Governments were willing to receive help and advice from Americans and to protect them as well. The American dollar carried weight. Traffickers were eager to please Americans with money. This was such a powerful reminder that we in the West are often the ones who drive the demand. We produce the pornography. We fuel the sex tourism industry.
We Americans who stand opposed to these things must use our American name, our money, our power and our influence to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is our responsibility to respond.
Christa Wiens is a trained educator and mother of four young children who lives in Fresno, Calif. For the past year she has been partnering with Central Valley Justice Coalition in the fight against human trafficking.
The Abolitionists will be released on DVD this fall.