The Long Night: The Harsh Truth About Sex Trafficking in the US

“I’d kill the whole world to get my little girl back.”

I felt my chest tighten as I jotted this quote down, tears streaming down my cheeks. I absorbed every bit of this father’s pain at that moment, and yet my reaction couldn’t possibly be anywhere near the true agony this desperate man must have experienced.

The Long Night is a powerful, one-hour documentary film by Tim Matsui that gives voice and meaning to the crisis of minors who are forced and coerced into the American sex trade. The film weaves together the stories of seven people whose lives have been forever changed by this issue.

Natalie - The Long Night

“There wasn’t really much that I think I was running away from at home. I think that I just wanted to rebel. I think that I wanted to not have to listen to rules or have to worry about getting straight A’s for my parents.”
Within 36 hours of leaving home, Natalie was contacted by a ‘bottom girl’ and on her way to being pimped out.

Tom’s beautiful daughter Natalie ran away from home when she was 15 years old. She wasn’t a bad kid, just rebellious. Within days of arriving in Seattle, she was prostituting her virgin body in somebody’s basement.

Natalie returned home after 10 horrific days in Seattle where she was pimped out and raped. Confused and sad and unable to attend school, where her peers called her a whore and a slut, she soon found herself running away once again. And prostitution found her once again.

Tom - The Long Night

“The support that we thought we had with friends, that just stopped. It felt like they looked at us like it was like our fault, like it was something that we had done, as opposed to something that somebody else had done.”
Natalie’s father speaking about how their community responded when she finally returned from the hands of her pimp.

By the end of film, we see Tom driving around to massage parlors asking for young girls as he desperately tries to find his daughter, thoughts of killing pimps running through his brain. At this point, Tom is also an alcoholic. While the family is eventually re-united, it is clear they have a long road ahead of them.

We often think of sex trafficking as a problem in other parts of the world. Reality is that the sex trade is real and active in our own backyard. I recall hearing Cindy McCain, a strong voice fighting human trafficking, telling AYA Summit attendees that we’ve all seen victims, we just don’ realize it.

Lisa - The Long Night

Turned out by a pimp at 13, Lisa only knows one life. The heroin that makes her forget and the tricks she turns to survive.
“I feel like my skin’s crawling right now and it’s like it doesn’t matter how clean I try to get how many showers I take, it doesn’t go away. When I say I’m scared of being sober, I’m scared of the reality of things.”

Since watching the movie, I keep thinking of Lisa, a woman covered in track marks from injecting heroin and scars from cutting. Her addiction to heroin was the only thing that could numb the pain of her life as a sex worker, a harsh life that started when she was just 13-years-old.

I’ve worked in the substance abuse treatment field for 8 years now and Lisa’s story is not that uncommon. Years of abuse and pain have left her a shadow of the person she once was. Struggling to break her drug abuse and with very little support, the odds are stacked against her. Her own mother has pleaded with the public to watch the film so that other girls can be spared the life that Lisa has endured. A life that has no guarantee of continuing if drastic measures aren’t taken. (I believe Lisa is now in jail.)

You also get perspectives from the police who hear “the worst story I have ever heard” every single day on the job.

Joel - The Long Night

Detective Joel Banks on how his police work with trafficking victims affects him.
“It just gets really heavy. You actually kind of have to take a breath, and then we’d say, ‘Man, that’s the worst story I ever heard,’ and then tomorrow comes along, and it’s the next worst story you’ve ever heard.”

I’m not going to lie. I felt somewhat destroyed after watching this movie. It is heavy and hard to watch. Yet it is so important you do.

So what can we do about sex trafficking and its horrific effects? Here are some very simple action steps you can take right now:

  • First, think about your sphere of influence
  • Then, watch The Long Night
  • Like The Long Night’s Facebook page
  • Like Leaving the Life’s Facebook page 
  • Invite your friends to do the same
  • Comment on the film. On your page or on the film’s. Tweet about it.
  • Share a story. Share your own Call to Action.
  • Host a living room screening of the film
  • Bring the film to your PTA  group
  • Integrate the into your schools
  • Call your city officials and ask that they watch the film
  • Get the film to your local police chief
  • Find local victim service providers and ask what they need; socks, meals, donations for their annual fundraiser, they’ll know. And then let your community know what you did, inspire them!
  • Have Leaving the Life come to your municipality to facilitate the co-creation of solutions in day-long convenings. This will take some work, even if you’re the mayor or the county executive.
  • Because it’s all connected, consider donating to your favorite nonprofit working on a social justice issue. This includes Leaving the Life

Will you spend an hour watching The Long Night?

I wrote this post as part of the Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of Mom Bloggers for Social Good members who focus on maternal health, children, hunger, and women and girls.

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  1. Oh gosh… This is that haunting reality so many of us simply DON’T want to think about… but we must. Because we are in a world where this is IS a reality. It could be our child. I will watch this video at some point, and I will pray for all of the victims who live in a world of trauma and devastating circumstances.
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  2. I am actually very drawn to the topic of sex trafficking, especially in the US. I’ve watched countless documentaries about it. Taking girls at big sporting events in the US is very common. There was a sex trafficking ring going on in an apartment complex in Nashville, just down the road from me. There is so much madness around us, when we feel so good and safe inside our homes, it’s just right around the corner.

    Thank you for getting the word out there about this. It’s a topic nobody really wants to talk about, but it definitely needs to be discussed.

    • I’ve seen a few before in the past too. I’ve always like watching stuff like that. I’ve also been drawn to ones on drug addiction. They really go hand in hand. This movie is just so real and moving. Definitely take the time to watch it, if you can. You hit the nail on the head about it being something that no one wants to talk about. But we need to!
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  3. The Genesis Project Seattle is the featured service provider organization in this film. – http://www.gpseattle.net – We are still working with Lisa, she is hopeful as we are that she will get out of the life and break her heroin addiction. Actual service providers are few and far between – 150 young women and girls have come through the center since it was opened in 2011 – reach out to your local service providers and help them in any way you can. Thanks for writing this this article.

    • I am so happy to hear you are still working with Lisa. I work closely with Crossroads here in Maine. They have two unique residential substance abuse programs for women. They specialize in gender-responsive treatment. It’s so hard to see women like Lisa come through. You want so badly for them to succeed, but it is so very hard.

      Just today I read about Maine’s first human trafficking safe house opening. This is such good news. As you said, there are limited services for these women. I just connected with another friend who works with incarcerated women. We are meeting for lunch to discuss the needs. This movie makes me want to do as much as I can to educate people and help these girls and women.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I appreciate it!
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  4. When I was in grad school, I was shocked to learn that trafficking of underage girls happened right here in the Boston area. Apparently it is a huge problem up and down 95. It’s absolutely disgusting, and the poor girls who are trapped into it are sadly sometimes victimized. I hope to watch this film after next week if I can stomach it.
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  5. Oh boy. This was a really tough watch, but it’s so important to tell this story. Sadly, it makes me think of girls I’ve seen around the neighborhood or, even in my kids’ school, that I think could be victimized by this tragic epidemic. I don’t yet know how to approach these girls (or find out more about their situations without making wrong assumptions), but I’m certainly going to start talking to people a lot more about how we can do SOMETHING. Feeling helpless is no excuse.

  6. Pingback: 10 Good Reasons to See THE LONG NIGHT at the 2015 Greater Farmington Film Festival | kickstartfarmington

  7. We have sent people to the moon and are ready to invade Mars;
    We can afford to spend Billions on Weapons of Mass Destruction,
    Yet many of our girls get lured into sex trade right underneath our nose….
    What a shame!!!

    If we can stop Communism,
    Yes…I believe we can Stop Girls Trafficking and Sex Trade.
    It is a Matter of Priority!
    What a shame!!!