The Abolitionists

Last night I went to see the documentary The Abolitionists with some friends. We did not, as the ticket-taker encouraged us to, “enjoy the movie.” Because this movie is about human trafficking. It follows members of the organization Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) on actual stings in three countries in South and Central America.

I had some misgivings while watching the film and not just because it’s tough to see men joking about selling children for sex. While we were assured that the stings and arrests we saw were real, not reenactments, it seemed too sensationalized for me. Much of the movie took on an air of a good, macho action movie.

I wondered why the rescuers allowed their faces to be seen—surely anyone high up in the human trafficking food-chain is tech-savvy enough to google “trafficking” and watch at least the trailers. Wouldn’t they then pass the photos of the undercover “buyers” on to their lackeys so they would be on the lookout? They did cover the face of one informant, but did not manipulate his voice, which I would think traffickers would be able to identify.

One young girl in a recovery house is being interviewed and she expresses how scared she is because the aunt who trafficked her to a wealthy American is free and harassing her. The director of OUR talks kindly to her, but he keeps saying something along the lines of, “But you’re happy now, right?” And when she disagrees, he tells her she looked happier than when she was rescued, and she seems to indicate she fakes it. Why is she still being harassed by her aunt if she is in a safe house? Why was he insisting that she be happy?

And after being involved with several organizations that also work to stop human trafficking—like International Justice Mission, Love 146, Exodus Road, and our local North Star Initiative and the Lancaster Anti-Trafficking Network—I thought some of the film’s statistics might be a bit exaggerated.

In spite of my concerns, if this helps raise awareness of and hope for victims of trafficking then I am happy for that. It’s a huge problem, and while statistics aren’t concrete (hey, it’s part of the underground economy; no one is reporting their sales), even the conservative estimates are appalling:

  • 2 million child sex slaves around the world
  • a child trafficked every 26 seconds
  • a child prostitute raped anywhere from 5 to 15 times a night
  • the cost for a trafficker to acquire a slave as low as $72 (in contrast, the cost of a slave in the 1850s would be about $40,000 in today’s dollars).
  • the average age of first trafficking in the U.S. of 13 (that’s the average, folks, so many are younger)
  • an estimated 20 to 27 million slaves (sex and labor) worldwide, more than were ever trafficked during the trans-Atlantic slave trade

The facts are that there are people who need to be rescued, people who need to be helped through long trauma recovery and life rebuilding services. And everyone can play a part, even the macho he-man rescuers.

Last week we received this card from Love 146:


The “round house” is their home in the Philippines for rescued girls. Inside it read:

“Nearly half of the children currently in
our Survivor Care in the Philippines are 8 years old or younger—including a one-year-old baby.”

Does that break our hearts enough to get involved?

If you go to see The Abolitionists, go early so that you catch the pre-movie information on why each of us should be an abolitionist. Because as every one of these organizations emphatically says, they cannot do it alone. We all need to play a part.

What’s yours?


2 thoughts on “The Abolitionists”

  1. Wow, I did not go see the movie. I am praying for those who are being trafficked. What a horrible fate. I read Cecil Murphys & Katarina Rosenblant “Stolen” a very good depiction of Human trafficking.

  2. We also see victims of human trafficking at our center. Many of them living in fear because family and loved ones back home will be hurt or killed if women try to leave or get help. It is heartbreaking.


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