by Peter Foldy
On October 28th this year, 18 days ago, the FBI rescued 82 children from a ring of sex traffickers in Columbus, Ohio. Stories like this, while not uncommon in the news, seem to quickly slip from public consciousness. There is a pervading opinion that this is not something that happens in the United States. While we all agree that human trafficking is appalling, we do not see it as a problem in our suburbs. After all, it’s 2016.
Many think this is a problem in South Asia, Thailand or the Philippines, where sex tourism is a major industry. We may know that is a problem in certain disreputable massage parlors in Amsterdam or the bars in Belarus. JULIA VERDIN’S haunting film, LOST GIRLS, paints a bleak picture of underage sex slaves here in the United States and reminds us that human trafficking is also an American problem.
In Verdin’s film we meet a young girl, “Marisol,” who is lured from her home in a quiet California suburb and tricked into befriending her eventual captors. She is put in a cage, given drugs to numb her, and then sold to countless men, some old enough to be her father or grandfather.
How could this happen in a first world country and a major city like LA? It’s mainly about the money. Human trafficking is a lucrative business. As Verdin states, “these criminals can sell a gram of coke, or heroin, or a gun once, they can sell a young girl thousands and thousands of times.”
According to statistics, sex trafficking is most prevalent in California, Texas and Florida. It has become “society’s most pervasive crisis” according to UNICEF. By 2020 they expect sex trafficking to overtake drugs and weapons in magnitude.
“Lost Girls” could not have come at a better time. “The recruiters are getting more aggressive, now sending people into schools and targeting malls and places where kids hang out” Verdin tells us. “I think people have this perception that it is a third world problem and it’s really not. London, New York and LA are three of the larger cities where this goes on. What’s changed in sex trafficking business is that they are not just going after kids who have run away from home. Kids are also being targeted in their own homes or online.”
“When filming a story that deals with sexual abuse,” says Verdin, “it’s vital to balance voyeurism and subtlety. A filmmaker must avoid making prostitution titillating; she must avoid contributing to the already enormous feat of teen girls and girlish qualities in adult women. It’s the filmmaker’s duty to look the issue in the eyes. She must not gloss over the issue and try to make sexual abuse family-friendly.”
In “Lost Girls” Verdin balances the subject delicately and deftly, making scenes that would normally border on gratuitous, nuanced. She understands the need to open a serious conversation about this issue without exploiting it, a pitfall many films have teetered on the brink of.
Instead, Julia Verdin delivers a film that’s 23.50 minutes of tension, tossing every scene at us, unblinking and moving along right before we put our hands over our eyes.
We need more films like this to remind us of important issues such as this to spread awareness and prompt action
“Lost Girls” is currently playing the film festival circuit and can next be seen at The Culver City Film Festival Dec 3rd-9th.