The Horrors of Human Trafficking
Many of my friends and family may remember back in April of 2011 when I first came upon the short film, The Candy Shop: A Fairy Tale about the Sexual Exploitation of Children. According to the Whitestone Motion Picture’s Vimeo account description, The Doorpost Film Project (in conjunction with StreetGrace and 12Stone Church) commissioned the film as an initiative to call attention to the statistics surrounding the epidemic of the trafficking of child sex slaves through Atlanta, Georgia. Back in April of 2011, my anger was incensed beyond reason. However, I was powerless to do anything. I vowed to remain vigilant and ensure that the people who made it their business to shut down human traffickers were given every possible tool to work with. This film is one of the tools now in the hands of advocates committed to ending human trafficking.
The Candy Shop uses film to provide the public with the tools for recognizing and stopping behavior of human traffickers. Film, and other popular media, are the weapons advocates are using in the next phase of the war on human trafficking.
What’s Wrong With That Place?
The Candy Shop is a 30-minute long short film that director Brandon McCormick (Fear Itself, Blood on My Name) uses to tell a frightening tale that is only part fantasy. Young Jimmy works multiple jobs to pay for his sick mother’s care. Jimmy notices a candy shop across from the produce stand he works for. He can’t help notice that it’s frequented only by men, whose discreet purchases include gorgeously wrapped pieces of candy. The fact that the business conducted in the shop is odd, even disgusting, does not stop Jimmy from considering to enter to the trade. His need for money leads him down into the basement of the shop, where the old shop keeper trills:
“Girls go in, and candy comes out. It’s magical!”
A Different Kind of Monster
The Candy Shop is not just a horror story; the film is an extended metaphor for the way children seemingly disappear. Doug Jones–famous for his role(s) in Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth–plays the Candy Shop owner, a decrepit, lecherous old man who sells “candy” to the lecherous older men of early Twentieth-Century Atlanta.
Barely recognizable, again, in aging prosthetics and disguised under grease-paint, this is perhaps his most frightening role. Not even Pale Man could compare. He has no name, but like the human trafficking racket, he has many faces. The human trafficker uses fronts and legal businesses to hide logistics and launder money made from selling human slaves. When one falls, another rises to take his place. We see this in the exposure of the candy shop as it is replaced by the Confectionist at the end of the film. Jones bravely stepped into the role and provided a face and a voice to a villain who is usually very hard to see and even harder to stop.
It is a never ending cycle, daunting to those who consider it their personal crusade the end human trafficking. That does not hinder those devoted to stopping the sexual exploitation of children. Despite the hopelessness of the cause, Nancy pointedly says to Jimmy, “We have to try.” According to Whitestone’s Vimeo account and the statistics quoted at the end of the film, over 500 under-aged girls are trafficked through Atlanta every month. Add that to University of Texas San Antonio’s own InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s statistics in 2009 that 20% of human trafficking from Latin American countries takes place along the I-35 Corridor. Human traffickers take fully half of the victims sold into domestic slavery under the age of 18 through my hometown of San Antonio (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship “Price of Life” Campaign). As a Texas native living on the I-35 frontage road, this knowledge is both angering and sobering.
The Candy Shop received criticism ranging anywhere from avid praise to blatant disgust. Despite a general outcry against the film’s negative portrayal of Atlanta, the initiative saw wide success. Much of that success is attributed to fact that the film medium reaches a wider audience than a documentary film or other traditional media. In our current political climate, it is not hard to inflate statistics or downplay real issues. The genre film medium at least offers advocates and the film’s initiative a chance to ask viewers to listen first before drawing conclusions.
McCormick takes a different approach. Instead of statistics and police raids, McCormick’s film draws viewers into the dark world where human trafficking exists right under the noses of citizens. The most horrifying aspect of the film is not Doug Jones in makeup. What truly horrifies the viewer is knowing how much of human trafficking takes place in plain sight.
We Must All Do Something
I encourage anyone interested to watch the film and take part in the initiative to stop human trafficking. Those willing to do more will find listening ears at A21 and local advocates devoted to “stopping the Candy Shop”. Like the girls forever trapped as pieces of candy in Nancy’s gentle hands, not everyone can be saved. However, our goals as free citizens must be to work ceaselessly towards a future for these lives, and if we can save just one, we will make a difference.
The road to breaking the cycle ends before it begins when the good people of the world do nothing.
As our administration under President Trump proceeds to separate children from their parents, we must be vigilant and remain aware of what can happen to young kids who disappear into the system. We are already hearing reports of sexual misconduct in connection with these kids. It not acceptable to ignore the fact that these children will become more vulnerable to human traffickers once they are out of their parents hands. We cannot ignore the fact that the system is not designed to protect these kids, and traffickers will see these acts as openings for them to profit from. Jeff Sessions unlocked the door when he began detaining children without parental protection, and in the eyes of human traffickers, the candy shop is open for business.
Your support of groups like A21 can provide investigatory action aimed at rooting out and stopping human trafficking rings as well as providing legal assistance for those trapped within the illegal sex trade.
You can donate to A21 here.
Watch the full version of The Candy Shop and get Doug Jones’ take on the film initiative here.