The Frontline documentary on human trafficking, “Sex Slaves,” is, consistent with Frontline’s style, a conglomeration of interviews with interested individuals, statistics illuminating the scale of the problem, video footage of actual illicit activities involving women and girls, and background information intended to further provide insights into a global problem affecting millions of innocent victims every year. A subset of the issue of human trafficking, in which individuals of all ages and genders are kidnapped or otherwise coerced into forced labor (the U.S. Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons report for 2014 states that “Some workers inherit debt; for example, in South Asia it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts.”), sex trafficking is specific to women and girls forced into prostitution. Among the individuals interviewed for the documentary are Deborah Finding, a specialist in working with women who have managed to escape that life, Victor Malarek, a journalist who has reported widely on the issue and written a book about sex trafficking (The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade), and Mary Cunneen, the former director of a British human rights organization that focuses on modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The documentary’s writer, director and producer, Ric Esther Bienstock, is experienced in producing undercover footage of dangerous situations, and she was able to similarly attain invaluable video of the sex trafficking industry in Asia and Europe, particularly Russia, Ukraine and China, as well as Thailand, which is one of the world’s centers of sexual abuse of underage girls forced into prostitution.
“Sex Slaves” provides a useful introduction into one the most heinous and wide-spread crimes in the world. The scale of this problem cannot be overstated. The United States is not immune; on the contrary, sex trafficking remains a serious problem across the country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, citing State Department data, states on its website that “up to two million people are trafficked worldwide every year, with an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 in the U.S., causing untold suffering.” Young girls lured into the world of prostitution against their will are entirely at the mercy of the most vile form of humanity, with men from all walks of life lining up to exploit them for their own sexual gratification. Often, the girls are turned into junkies to make them more compliant, hooked on drugs like heroin with the pimp always available to provide the “fix” that keeps the female victims from straying too far. The Frontline documentary does a fine job of illuminating this issue, and deserves a wide viewership.