Film Review: HOLLY

by Michelle Brock on August 31st, 2010

Holly FilmOn my visit to World Vision earlier this month, one of the employees I interviewed gave me a film to watch called HOLLY. To be honest, I always approach movies about sex trafficking with caution and some skepticism, because sometimes the film is either poorly made or demonstrates a very unrealistic and inaccurate picture of the issue. HOLLY, which highlights trafficking in Cambodia, was refreshing in this regard.  The plot is introduced as follows:

Shot on location in Cambodia, including many scenes from actual brothels in the notorious red light district of Phnom Pehn, HOLLY is a captivating, touching, and emotional experience. Patrick (Ron Livingston), an American card shark and dealer of stolen artifacts, has been ‘comfortably numb’ in Cambodia for years, when he encounters Holly (Thuy Nguyen), a 12-year old Vietnamese girl, in the K11 red light village.  The girl has been sold by her impoverished family and smuggled across the border to work as a prostitute.

Holly’s virginity makes her a lucrative prize, and when she is sold to a child trafficker, Patrick embarks on a frantic search through both the beautiful and sordid faces of the country, in an attempt to bring her to safety.  Harsh yet poetic, this feature forms part of the ‘K-11′ project, dedicated to raising awareness of the epidemic of child trafficking and sex slavery through several film projects.  The film’s producers endured substantial hardships in order to be able to shoot in Cambodia and have also founded the RedLight Children Campaign, which is a worldwide grassroots initiative generating conscious concern and inspiring immediate action against child exploitation.

I endured various emotions while watching this film – brokenness and anger being some.  However the biggest feeling I experienced was frustration.  Frustration that Holly is stubborn and ungrateful for help.  Frustration that Patrick cannot solve the problem of sex trafficking in Cambodia.  Frustration that so many children are falling through the cracks.   In my opinion, HOLLY is able to portray the frustration that a lot of people face when trying to fight this modern-day evil.

Though I spent the rest of my day feeling uncomfortable and disturbed, I also felt very grateful that the movie accurately reminded us of the complexity of the problem. Culture, economic disparity, gender roles, language, personalities, social taboos, mental disorders, drugs, and misconceptions make for a confusing jumble when trying to help victims and break the cycle of trafficking.

I would recommend watching this film.  You can check out the film website here and purchase a copy here.

Michelle Brock


A Great Guy with a Great Book: Announcing Benjamin Perrin’s Upcoming "Invisible Chains" Tour!

by Michelle Brock on August 27th, 2010

Benjamin Perrin with Hope for the Sold2

When my husband Jay and I drove across Canada to make the Hope for the Sold documentary about sex trafficking, we met and interviewed Canada’s leading expert on the issue, UBC law professor Benjamin Perrin.

invisible chains8This guy knew his stuff so well that we barely had to ask questions to prompt him in the interview!  As we were leaving and the elevator doors were closing, he stuck his hand into the elevator to give us more reading material – our hour with him was well spent to the last minute. Not only has Benjamin done his research, but from the moment you meet him it is evident that he is passionate about the fight for justice and helping people.

So it is with excitement that I introduce to you Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking by Benjamin Perrin.  The book is coming out this fall on October 5, and you can pre-order it here.  Invisible Chains is the first book about trafficking in Canada, which I believe is a necessary step if we are to end sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery in our country.

Here are the book tour dates:

Tickets are free but make sure to reserve your spot!

Michelle Brock


Some Things Cost More Than You Realize

by Michelle Brock on August 25th, 2010

The following is a music video by the Killers, made for MTV’s Exit Campaign to end sexual exploitation and trafficking. It’s great that MTV is starting to raise awareness about this issue.  Gentlemen, if you use escort services or girls off the street, this is for you.

Michelle Brock


So We Are Against Trafficking…But What Are We FOR?

by Michelle Brock on August 23rd, 2010

antislaveryMy friend Dan sent me a message last week that has annoyed me, intrigued me, and inspired me.  It raises some questions that have always been in the back of my mind but I have been too busy to address.  Here is the email that has had me pondering all weekend:

I was thinking today about all the work that you’re doing in regards to sex trafficking. I know some big changes are going to come about in that area because of the work that you’re doing!  I’m basically just writing to offer a tiny piece of food for thought.

I’ve noticed that you often refer to the efforts as anti-trafficking, which is true and accurate. I was thinking though that it might be more effective to look at the positive side and what you’re FOR rather than what you’re against. Kind of like how advocates refer to it as ‘pro-life’ rather than ‘anti-abortion’.

Like I said just something to think over. You know more of the ins and outs of this subject more than I do (obviously) so maybe the ‘anti’ stance is more effective, just wanted to offer the thought.

Hmm.  Dan certainly has a good point.  Calling myself an anti-trafficker doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue very easily, and it leaves room for confusion for those who don’t know about the issues.  In fact I once had a girl ask me why I was against traffic lights!  So here are a few terms that I have come up with as possibilities for what to call myself and those who fight trafficking:

not for sale abolitionist

  • Abolitionist: Abolishing modern day slavery is a noble goal and a cause worth fighting for.  William Wilberforce, who played a key role in abolishing the trans-Atlantic slave trade, is often referred to as an abolitionist.  Out of all the terms out there, I like this one the most.  However, it causes some confusion in the academic world. When it comes to the fight against trafficking, there are two camps that are recognized in formal debates:  the abolitionist position and the sex work/regulatory position. Abolitionists claim that no woman would choose prostitution and that it must be abolished in order for trafficking and exploitation to end.  Those in the sex work camp argue that some women do choose prostitution as a profession and it must be regulated to weed out the traffickers.  Unlike the abolitionists, I do believe that some women (a very small minority) choose to prostitute themselves. However I believe that legalizing prostitution merely fuels trafficking.  Because of this raging debate and the titles given to each camp, using the label abolitionist can get a bit confusing in the academic realm.
  • Freedom Fighter: This definitely clarifies what we are for…freedom.  But freedom fighter sounds a bit over-the-top Hollywoodish.
  • Rights Advocate: This would also work, because we are for human rights.  However it is not specific enough.  Rights advocate could imply a number of different areas in the human rights arena.  Sex rights advocate could also work, but that sounds more like someone addressing the gay/lesbian rights movement.

Ultimately, here is what the anti-trafficking movement is FOR:

  • justiceFreedom
  • Justice
  • Repatriation
  • Restoration of relationships
  • Strong families
  • Economic sustainability
  • Job skills
  • Compassion
  • Fair trade
  • Women’s rights
  • Children’s Rights
  • Social Reform
  • Healthy community
  • Empowerment for the marginalized

Can you add any more to this list?  Based on the idea of what we are FOR, can you come up with any terms we can apply to ourselves in addition to abolitionist, freedom fighter, and rights advocate?  Or do you think that we should stick with ‘anti-trafficking?’

Thanks Dan for raising such a great point!  You’ve sparked an important discussion.

Michelle Brock


Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

by Michelle Brock on August 20th, 2010

IMG 42071 768x1024This month I finally jumped on the bandwagon and read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire.  It is part two in the Swedish crime thriller Millenium trilogy, in which sex trafficking is an underlying theme.  The back of the book invites readers to step into an engaging storyline:

Part blistering espionage, part riveting police procedural, and part piercing expose on social injustice, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a masterful, endlessly satisfying novel.  Mikael Blomkvist, crusading publisher of the magazine Millenium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation.  On the eve of its publication, two people are brutally murdered, and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to his friend, Lisbeth Salander.  Blomkvist, convinced of Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation.  Meanwhile, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous game of cat and mouse, which forces her to face her dark past.

Lisbeth Salander1

Stieg Larsson’s website says that Lisbeth Salander, the feisty heroine in the novel, was modeled after “a grown-up version of Pippi Longstocking,” who is dysfunctional and has a hard time finding her place in society.  She is certainly one of the most unique characters I have ever encountered in a novel. The storyline is quite captivating, and is one of those books that makes me want to develop some serious combat fighting skills!  I can see why this series has become a bestseller all over the world this summer.

There are a few points I would like to make however:

First of all, this book is meant to be read as part of the series.  I did not read the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which made it a bit more difficult to keep track of all the characters and their back stories.  When I reached the end of the book I realized that to find out how the story finishes I have to read the next book in the series, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  If you are wanting to read this book, I would recommend reading the whole series.

Second, I picked up this book because sex trafficking is a significant part of the plot.  In this regard I was a little disappointed. Sex trafficking is mentioned but not really explained. I kept waiting for the big revelation about the operation and its intricacies but that never came.   The average person who does not know a lot about sex trafficking would not learn very much about it from this book.   However, I have yet to read the sequel so maybe more will be revealed a bit later.  In my opinion, a book like Priceless by Tom Davis would be a better choice for those who want to read a novel that explains what trafficking is and how it operates.

Third, I was quite disturbed by the unnecessary sex scenes in this book.  I found it odd that in a book about sex trafficking the heroine seduces a 16-year-old boy.  In addition to this, I think that Larsson’s description of Lisbeth’s bisexual encounters were more for his benefit than the reader’s, as they really did not play a significant part in the plot.  Fortunately these scenes take place in the first half of the novel, leaving the second half to be a much more enjoyable and interesting read.

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Would I recommend this book?  Maybe. If you’re looking for a series full of political thrill and criminal investigation, go for it.  If you are only reading it in order to learn about sex trafficking, I wouldn’t recommend this book in particular.  I am pleased though that trafficking is increasingly a theme in literature and movies, and am now committed to finishing this series because I simply must find out how the story ends!

Michelle Brock


Case Study: Men Trafficked for Sex Work

by Michelle Brock on August 18th, 2010

male symbolWhen people discuss sex trafficking, there is usually an emphasis on women and girls being its victims. While it is true that most victims of sexual exploitation are female and that most male victims are trafficked for labour, there are some boys and men who are also sold for sex work. Here is a case study from World Vision’s Trafficking in Persons Info Booklet that demonstrates this trend.

Wunchai and two of his friends who work as cooks at a local restaurant saw an advertisement in the local newspaper: ‘Wanted: young Thai male chefs required in South Africa for a soon-to-be-opened restaurant at a hotel.’ The ad promised a good package with travel assistance, provided in the form of arrangement of air tickets and visas. Accommodation and a friendly work environment were also guaranteed. Wunchai and his friends contacted the number on the ad, and sought a meeting with the agent who ran his office from home. They were promised a sum of $60,000 Baht (about AUD$1,300) per month, with all travel expenses to be taken care of by the agent.Their visas were processed at the consulate and within a period of one month, they were able to leave Thailand to work in South Africa.

Johannesburg Airport1 300x159They were met at the airport by a couple who said they were assigned to pick them up and take them to the hotel where they would be working. When they arrived, they were given a room to share and a man appearing to be the manager encouraged them to rest before work started the next day. The same evening however, they were asked to come into the manager’s office to share their experiences as cooks in Thailand. There were three other men present in the room.

The next day, Wunchai and his friends were taken by car to another place where they were told they would be working. It was around two hours drive from their original location. They stopped on a busy street and entered a dingy looking building whose interior was brightly decorated. There were well-built men standing inside the entrance of the building. Feeling disconcerted, Wunchai and his friends began asking questions about the place and their work. No answers were given and they were taken to the back of the building and pushed into separate rooms. The doors were locked. When they started banging on the doors, demanding release, one of them men from the entrance came into Wunchai’s room, hit him in the face and told him to shut up. Wunchai’s friends went silent upon hearing the physical abuse he received.

From that evening onwards, they were each visited by men who forced them to have sex. Refusal would arouse anger and physical violence from what they came to realize were the guards of the place. They were not allowed out of their rooms for the first few days, but after a while they were given permission to wander in the building and the back yard, which had a high fence under careful watch of their guard. There were other young men in similar situations, many of them from Asia, but also from Africa.

After a few months, when they were allowed to accompany their clients out of the building, one of the friends escaped and ran to the Thai consulate. He informed the consulate of their situation and immediate action was taken. Cooperation from the police led to the rescue of all the others held in the brothel. Following their testimonies, Wunchai and his friends were repatriated back to Thailand.

thai boys 300x225Though the victims in this case were young men, it is young boys who are more often targeted for commercial sexual exploitation. Children simply do not have the ability to free themselves. Brian

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McConaghy from The Ratanak Foundation told us that one boy he knows cannot even sit down because of the abuse he has taken from men who pay to abuse him. Therefore it is necessary to find ways to protect boys from trafficking situations as well. Ratanak is raising money to build their first high-security safe house for boys, and my hope is that as anti-trafficking efforts expand we will see more of these projects.

Michelle Brock


New in Fashion: "It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp" Hats

by Michelle Brock on August 12th, 2010

its hard out here for a pimp hat1There’s a popular fad spreading across some parts of the U.S. right now.  Guys are wearing T-shirts and hats that say “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” and “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.”  I imagine this was sparked by the song by Three 6 Mafia, which was featured in the movie Hustle and Flow.  Here are some lyrics:

You know it’s hard out there for a pimp, when he tryin to make money for the rent, for the Cadillacs and gas money spent, because a whole lot of b****** talking s***…gotta keep my hustle tight, makin change off these women, yeah.

Perhaps the song is supposed to make some of statement, but my concern is that this fad is merely perpetuating the positive image of a pimp. Guys are often seen at Halloween dressed up in pimp costumes with girls hanging off their arms. It’s all pretty innocent I’m sure, but it sends a message that being a pimp is funny, cool, profitable, and socially acceptable.  The reality is that pimps are manipulative, abusive, and money-hungry. Ask any girl who has been under a pimp’s control.

It’s hard out here for a pimp?  Give me a break. Sadly it’s just another slogan that is allowing guys to play the victim card while profiting off the bodies of women.

Michelle Brock


Craigslist: The Wal-Mart of Sexual Exploitation?

by Michelle Brock on August 9th, 2010

So, you want to sell your couch?  Maybe buy a used camera?  Find a babysitter?  Craiglist is a useful tool for these and much more.  Lately however, there has been a firestorm in the media about how Craigslist is also being used by traffickers and pimps to sell the bodies of young women and children. I wrote a blog post a couple weeks ago about a Chinese woman selling girls via Craigslist on Long Island, but found some more interesting material this week that is share-worthy.  Check out this visual summary created by Online Schools.


I also found a clip by CNN which shows an interview of sorts with Craig Newmark, who started the company.  Wow.  It’s pretty awkward.  He does not have much to say when it comes to defending his company’s approach to protecting women.  Watch the clip below:

In Newmark’s defense, Craigslist has posted a warning and disclaimer on their website under their personals section, encouraging people to report trafficking situations.  They have also provided a list of trafficking hotlines.  I can only imagine how frustrated Newmark must be as the media links his name with sex trafficking.

Recently Ashton Kutcher, who along with his wife Demi Moore is passionate about ending modern day slavery and exploitation, challenged Craigslist via twitter and made several suggestions about how Craigslist services can better protect women and children.  According to an article by, here are some of Kutcher’s suggestions to make Craigslist more ethically responsible:

  • People who use the adult services section on the site should have to provide credit card info, allowing Craigslist and the police to have access to some personal information.
  • User names should be made public.  If what they are doing is legal, they can do it publicly.
  • Craigslist should put some of its profit toward a tech solution to stop child trafficking

One comment on the CNN video clip said that the Craigslist team is too small to properly scan and monitor every ad in the personals section.  My suggestion, then, would be to hire a professional (or ten, if that is what they need), to do this.  Surely Craigslist makes enough cash to hire some extra people?

What do you think? What is Craigslist’s responsibility in this?  What approach do you see as being most effective and economically feasible?

For more reading, check out today’s article on BBC News, as well as abolitionist blogger Amanda Kloer’s response to Craigslist’s efforts.

Michelle Brock


In the News: Woman Falls 11 Storeys From Balcony in Toronto…Is She a Victim of Sex Trafficking?

by Michelle Brock on August 6th, 2010

dish broke fall2Last night I was watching the evening news and a tragic story developed before my eyes. Police responded to an “unknown trouble call” from an apartment on Graydon Hall Drive in North York, and by the time they arrived at the scene a 27 year-old woman had fallen 11 storeys from a balcony.  A satellite dish broke her fall, but she is in hospital with serious head injuries.  A man has been arrested in connection to the incident, and his interaction with the police left him as well as some police officers with injuries.

150GraydonHall1Here is the interesting part of the story: neighbours told the police that the apartment was an illegal massage parlour.  Police have not confirmed this yet, but an online search for 150 Graydon Hill Drive lists a business called “Oriental Sunshine Exotic Massage” as operating out of the building.  An apartment number is not specified.

Though I am not going to assume that the woman who fell was a trafficking victim, the possibility is certainly there.  We will have to follow the development of the story as the police reveal more details.  Often girls who are enslaved will do anything they can to get out of their situation, even if it means suicide.  Another trend is that traffickers or Johns will violently punish girls who do not behave properly.  In the last few months I have read other reports of prostituted women thrown off balconies – as punishment and as a way to instill fear into the other girls.  Even if an apartment is not used as a brothel, often girls are locked in a unit and then driven out to their abusers (as seen in the film Lilya 4Ever).

woman fallWhether the 27 year-old was a victim of forced prostitution or not, this story reminds us that massage parlours and brothels are increasingly being operated out of regular apartment buildings and houses. If we are all on the lookout for suspicious activity (like a steady stream of men frequenting a certain unit), we can put a serious dent in such activity.

I will try to keep myself updated on this story as it develops, and let you know how it turns out.  In the meantime, here are two articles you can read about the incident.

SIU to probe injuries at scene of balcony fall by CTV News

Civilian watchdog involved after 11-storey fall by CBC News

Michelle Brock


Your Thoughts Wanted: What Label Should We Slap on Men Who Pay for Sex with Young Girls?

by Michelle Brock on August 4th, 2010

Last week I came across an interesting post on the Ms Magazine blog.  It talks about the importance of naming grievances if social change is to take place.  For example, before “sexual harassment”  was an official term, it was seen as normal for men to grope, gawk at, and insult women in the workplace. Before “date rape” was coined, people generally did not acknowledge  such a violation as rape if the person was in a romantic relationship with the victim.  Creating a term for such occurrences made it easier to fight for rights in the legal realm and have generally shaped our view of appropriate behaviour in varying contexts.

Based on this, Ms Magazine has taken on the challenge of creating a term for men who buy sex from young girls. Until now, we use terms such as pedophile, pervert, John, patron, client, and rapist. But these are all quite general and some (like John and patron) even have a positive connotation. Several readers sent in their suggestions, and the picture below shows the terms that resonated with people the most.  The bigger the letters, the more popular the term.  If you check out the comment section under the first blog post, you can read some very interesting points that people raise about this issue.

trafficker names

I personally feel a bit torn. On one hand I believe that it is important to name the crimes that are being committed against children.  Terms like “client,” “patron,” and “John” need to be phased out if we are to take this issue seriously.  It has always bothered me that men are labeled with such neutral and professional terms while the women are called hookers and whores.  But another part of me sees a potential danger in slapping a label on someone, because it may be a label they feel they can never escape and lead to more criminal behaviour.

Call me naive or over-optimistic, but I believe that for some men who have bought sex from young girls, there is hope for change.  The current justice system, in which these men are put behind bars (sometimes in isolation), for several years, is broken and needs to be revamped.  Yes, punishment is absolutely necessary. Yes, they have forfeited rights and privileges by hurting another person. But after being in a prison cell for 10 years with no counselling, healthy community, or positive role models, what do you think one of these guys will do the moment he gets out?  For many, jail has merely been a time to formulate even more sick fantasies.

I don’t know what restorative justice could look like in regard to men who pay for sex with kids.  I think that instead of creating a label for these men that could become a permanent part of their identity (which could lead to more problems down the road), we should label the crimes themselves.  “Date rape” and “sexual harassment” are examples of this approach.  In the meantime, however, we must not let these men off the hook for the crimes they have committed.

If you had to choose, what term in the picture resonates with you the most?  What do you think about creating a label for men who pay for sex with children?  Do you think restorative justice is a hopeless idea?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks Ms Magazine for bringing up such a relevant and important topic.

Michelle Brock