Horrors of human trafficking detailed in film
By Mariana Stebbins
Special to the Register
"I yum yum very good," said a little girl who was among a group of children about 6 years old that reached inappropriately for a man, aggressively soliciting for prostitution.
"I no money Mama San boxing me," the one girl insisted in her broken English, meaning the madam of a brothel would beat her should she return without money.
Shocked, one-time lawyer Guy Jacobson gave the child money and left. His mind, however, would remain with girls he met by chance on a side street of the red light district of Phnom Penh, while traveling Cambodia during a sabbatical.
The experience that horrified Jacobson nearly six years ago prompted the writer and producer to make a film, "Holly," two documentaries, "The Virgin Harvest" and "The K11 Journey,"and later a nonprofit organization, Redlight Children. All of them aim to combat human trafficking.
"Holly," which premiered in the U.S. and international festivals last year and reopens in New Haven Friday, is the story of a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl and an American man who rescues her from prostitution and in turn is rescued by her from a numb life.
"We are glad the issue is being brought to light, any effort made to raise awareness is great," said New Haven Community Services Administrator Kica Matos. "It happens all over the country, and we have to look no further than our own community."
In December in Milford, for instance, a Salvadoran teenage girl who had been illegally smuggled into the country, was allegedly sexually assaulted by a Baltimore man who promised to deliver her to her family in Boston. Police found her after she managed to escape her attacker.
Jacobson, an Israeli living in America since adolescence, opted for a drama thinking it would attract more viewers and thus be an effective tool to raise awareness to an issue he found even more shocking as he researched it.
"I was horrified to learn the problem was not concentrated," Jacobson said. "In virtually every city in the world, kids of different colors, races and both genders are affected."
Interpol estimates trafficking of young women and children, a multi-billion dollar industry, is the third largest international criminal activity. UNICEF says over 2 million children are involved every year, from those kidnapped to children victimized on the Internet.
Committed, Jacobson and his crew faced great risk in making the film, from Jacobson’s undercover work as a fake client in Cambodian brothels to write a realistic script to hiring over 40 armed bodyguards to protect the crew after Interpol warned mafia in China, Vietnam and Cambodia had contracts for their lives.
"We were both naive and stupid in the way we went about it," Jacobson said. "We had no idea what we were putting ourselves into."
News of the movie shooting and light it would bring to the issue pressured Cambodian government into closing some brothels, disturbing "business" in the area Jacobson filmed his drama. The girls were likely simply moved to different brothels, according to Priority Films, Jacobson’s production company.
At the end, Cambodian officials made a last attempt to stop the movie, detaining head producer Adi Ezroni, who stayed to finish details, for two weeks. She hid in a different hotel every night while Israeli and American officials intervened. On the verge of a diplomatic incident, Ezroni was allowed to leave.
The movie was the beginning. "Raising awareness is great, but at some point I realized there is more that needs to be done to decrease the problem," Jacobson said. He created the Redlight Children Campaign, designed to motivate individuals worldwide to urge their governments to do more to combat human trafficking, and offering suggestions of comprehensive changes in law and policies.
"We have to utilize law and economics to decrease the demand," said Jacobson, who has a background in both areas. "You will never decrease crime by only going after the suppliers when there are people willing to pay millions for a slave."
New Haven will be the only city in the state showing "Holly," beginning with shows at 5:10, 7:30, 9:20 p.m. at Cine 4, at Middletown Avenue. Part of screening proceeds go to the campaign. For more information visit www.priorityfilms.com.
"It is great this information is out there to educate people about what immigrants go through," said Sandra Trevino Executive Director at JUNTA for Progressive Action, New Haven’s oldest Latino nonprofit organization. "They are willing to take the risk to come to the U.S. and make a better life for their families, just like everybody else’s ancestors did when they immigrated here."
Mariana Stebbins is a New Haven Register intern.