“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.
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.
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.
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.
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