The Supply and Demand Problems in Sex Trafficking Movies

I love Rachel Weisz as a crusader: she’s got those big, vulnerable, open features that can simultaneously express steel will and naivete—after she disappeared as an active presence from The Constant Gardener, you could see why Ralph Fiennes would chase after her ghost and her moral example:

And it looks like she’ll be quite good in The Whistleblower, which I would see even if it looked dreadful, to further the noble cause of getting more Benedict Cumberbatch on American screens large and small.

The thing, and this was what bothered me about the second season of The Wire, is that while it’s absolutely to address the supply problem in sex trafficking, you’re only telling part of the story if you make sex slavery a story about scary foreigners. The demand side of the story is an important one not just because it explains why this exists as a business, but because of what it reveals about American attitudes towards gender and sex. This is not a problem that only exists out there in the vague and scary beyond. When women are sold and shipped to the United States, they are forced to have sex with actual people here, and that’s a harder thing to face up to.

If someone hasn’t bought the rights to Amy Fine Collins’ excellent Vanity Fair piece about a major sex trafficking investigation and trial in Hartford, Conn., then Detective Deborah Scates is the kind of real person that some actress of middling years could really sink her teeth into. Done correctly, the evil and stupidity of the pimps she puts in jail would be less evidence of bumbling criminality than of our communal blindness and complicity, of how easy it is to do this to women. And it could really take a cold, hard look at what people who pay to have sex with unwilling prostitutes tell themselves about what they’re doing. Fine writes: “Most of the johns were startled to learn that the girls were not acting of their own free will—75 to 80 percent of prostitutes don’t. The men believed the ads, and the legend of the Happy Hooker. Each of them also assumed they were the one exception to the rule of the repulsive customer.” That’s worth putting on-screen and really dramatizing, even if viewers will have a hard time believing it.