Hitting theaters as a one-night Fathom Event on Jan. 23, Blind Eyes Opened is a Christian-produced documentary that looks at sex trafficking within the United States, involving American victims and perpetrators.
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and Blind Eyes Opened (official site here; Fathom homepage here), from nonprofit Ships of Tarshish Inc., wants to emphasize to Americans that sex trafficking -- which affects both girls and boys -- is not just something that happens in other nations, but could involve their own friends, family and neighbors.
While the film is aimed at a Christian audience, this is an issue that crosses racial, economic, cultural and geographical borders.
A post at Crosswalk.com relates one of the stories in the film:
Rebekah is an American teenage girl with low esteem. She’s been raped. She’s lost friends. She doesn’t get along with her parents.
So, at age 16, she moves out of her parents’ home and starts doing drugs. At age 17 and needing cash, she starts working at a strip club. From there, she meets a handsome man who promises her a place to live and plenty of love.
He has a 5,000-square-foot home. He has secretaries who answer his phone.
“He made me feel special, and wanted, and loved – which is what I missed,” she says
Soon, though, Rebekah is caught up in the underground world of sex trafficking. She is forced into prostitution.
Ships of Tarshish, Inc. (the name comes from Isaiah 60:9) is based in Tampa Bay, Florida, and it's taken a long time and a lot of effort to get the film made. From a Sept. 20, 2013, article in the Tampa Bay Times:
[Executive producer Geoffrey] Rogers said children old enough to understand the content in Blind Eyes Opened are among the age group often targeted by traffickers. In Tampa Bay, the average age is 14, said Laura Hamilton, president of Bridging Freedom, an organization working to develop a tri-county safe home for rescued children. In some cities, the age is 12.
Hamilton's group is featured in a promotional video for Blind Eyes Opened.
"We are very excited about what Ships of Tarshish is doing," Hamilton said. "We definitely believe God is putting his people together to come against this thing. This is happening in our own backyard."
In an email interview with FTP, Geoffrey Rogers (who shares executive-producer credit with wife Kerri Rogers) says:
Where did this project begin for you?
We began the production of Blind Eyes Opened over 6 years ago when my wife Kerri and I prayed with the board of directors of the Ships of Tarshish ministry, for God to show us what we should focus on for our next project. As we began to learn the truth of what is happening in America, it was obvious this should be our focus.
What shocked you most as you did your research?
The reality of what is actually happening here in America -- that over 100,000 children under the age of 18 are being trafficked for sex. These are American children, purchased by American citizens, and trafficked by American citizens. As we talked with each survivor featured in the film, our lives were never the same, understanding the atrocities that are occurring.
We've heard of trafficking rings exploiting underage victims outside the U.S. How is it that this happens here, with our law enforcement?
It is estimated that 60-70% of children trafficked in the U.S. are from the foster-care system. Traffickers are very smart and know how to lure these young victims into the life, preying upon those with low self-esteem, and providing them with the attention they are seeking.
Not everyone who abhors this or is fighting this is a Christian -- what is your message for those folks, to get them to see the film?
Everyone needs to be aware of the truth of what's happening in America, Christian or not. This isn't a Christian issue; it is a human-rights issue that everyone should be engaged in. But the film specifically calls upon Christians and the Church to get engaged, knowing that Jesus Christ is the answer to reach into the hearts of mankind to stop the demand.
We focus on the victims of this, but without perpetrators, there wouldn't be crimes. What would you say to those people -- and the people in their lives?
We recognize sex trafficking to be a supply answer to a demand problem. If it weren't for the demand, we wouldn't have this problem. We have learned that pornography is the number-one fueling factor to driving the demand for sex trafficking in America. Pornography consumption and addiction are at incredibly high levels in America, and a certain portion of those people want to begin to actualize what they have been visualizing.
Our message to them is that every time they click on a pornographic image or video, they are increasing the demand for their own children, driving profits for the pornographers and increasing the demand even further. For those who are addicted to pornography or purchasing sex, Jesus Christ is the answer for them to be set free from their own bondage.
What can people of faith do in their churches, community, circle of friends and family to watch for signs of this or to help prevent this from happening?
Signs of children being trafficked can include the child having dramatically reduced grades, significantly increased truancy at school, having a new cellphone or new clothes and jewelry without knowing where it came from. While these don't mean the child is being trafficked, they are signs that should prompt a series of questions to understand what is happening in their life.
We encourage parents to engage with their children, know where they are, and make certain they know who they are engaging with on social media -- which is the biggest way traffickers are approaching young people today.
What's the one thing you most want people to take away from Blind Eyes Opened?
It is being referred to as one of the most comprehensive films on sex trafficking ever produced. Our objective is that after watching it, people are fully aware of the problem in America, and that Jesus Christ through His Church is the answer to this epidemic in America.
Click here for information on the National Human Trafficking Hotline; here for Human Trafficking Resources from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, of the federal Department of Justice; and here for resources on human trafficking from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Here are some reactions to the film so far:
"Blind Eyes Opened is a powerful, heart-wrenching, and reverent exposé of the scourge of human trafficking in America. While showing the prevalence and depravity of the industry, it reminds viewers that hope is stronger than darkness. It's more than a documentary that opens the eyes of the blind--it is a call to action for audiences to liberate the captives and free those who are oppressed." - Jason Evert, The Chastity Project
“The epidemic of human sex trafficking is not some far-away problem. It’s happening right here in our own neighborhoods, to our own children. Blind Eyes Opened is the powerful call-to-action that every American needs to hear!” -Jon Sorensen, COO, Catholic Answers
“This is filmmaking leading to social action. You can’t walk away unchanged!” -Sr. Nancy Usselmann, Pauline Media, Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies
Image: Ships of Tarshish, Inc.
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.