A headline about sex traffickers bringing women to the Super Bowl host city of Miami caught filmmaker Jane Wells’ eye in 2010.
Three years and four cities later, we have “Tricked,” an unflinching film about sex trafficking in the United States. Directed by Wells and John Keith Wasson, the movie provides an inside look at the disturbing bonds between traffickers and victims, along with the countless challenges faced by law enforcement taking on what the FBI has called the “fastest-growing business of organized crime.”
The Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade County, along with Stop Sex Trafficking Miami and the University of Miami’s NOW chapter, will present “Tricked” to the public at 7 p.m. on Sept. 16 at UM’s Bill Cosford Cinema, 5030 Brunson Dr., Coral Gables.
It’s important that this film has finally made it to Miami. An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked in the U.S. annually, with Florida ranking third on the list for the number of reports to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center anti-trafficking hotline.
If you think this is a victimless crime or “men just being men,” let me remind you about two of our own recent cases:
- In March 2013, a girl called “Sparkle” was pimped through the classified ad website Backpage.com. The 13-year-old runaway was plied with liquor, marijuana and the drug Molly as she had sex with men at the Miami Shores Motel. If there was any doubt as to who “owned” her, police say a Miami pimp, “Suave,” forced the girl to tattoo his street name on her eyelid at a Liberty City flea market tattoo shop.
- In January 2014, another 13-year-old runaway, D.J., was forced to have sex with men for $80 in a multi-unit house near Morningside Park. She was supplied alcohol and marijuana, and threatened with guns. She was later found dancing at Club Madonna in South Beach, which was shut down for two weeks as a result.
Police say the trafficking of D.J. began just three days after the girl ran away from home.
Three days. That’s how long it takes a 13-year-old girl to grow up on the streets of Miami.
In her time researching and reporting “Tricked” in Miami, Denver, Las Vegas, New York and Chicago, Wells reports she saw sex traffickers’ recruitment move from the streets into a more sophisticated online strategy on Facebook and in chat rooms. From “boyfriendings” to beatings, she heard how relationships evolved for victims like Rain, recruited when she was 11 by a pimp dubbed “Daddy Daycare” because there were only minors in his stable.
In 2012, Florida passed the Safe Harbor Act, which encourages police to treat underage prostitutes as victims eligible for specialized care in short-term shelters, instead of jail. But we saw how complex this crime can be when the state’s first safe house in Miami had to shut down after two months last year when the girls being treated there repeatedly ran away.
Clearly, we have a lot more to learn.
Where can you start? Go see “Tricked.” Bring your teenage daughters and sons. It’s likely to be a harsh evening. But if it means that one more 13-year-old girl gets to stay 13 a little while longer in Miami then don’t you think it’s worth it?
Admission to “Tricked” is $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors. A panel discussion with Wells and local experts will follow the film. Tickets can be purchased in advance on The Women’s Fund website.