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Reflections: The Use of Film in the Representation of Emotional Trauma

When we first decided to produce a docudrama about how teens are lured into sex trafficking, and the long-term effects of emotional trauma that comes with it, our objectives were two-fold. One was to produce a short film that would leave an indelible impression in the minds of those who viewed it. Second was to dispel the myth that human trafficking happens overseas, in some foreign country, but not in America.

Based on my years of practice, where I’ve helped adolescents and women of all ages deal with the long-terms effects of sexual trauma, I’ve learned a great deal about the individuals who victimized them. I coached two of my staff - one with nascent writing skill, the other with a keen eye for narrative – to develop a draft that would capture the vulnerability of teenagers, and the calculated actions of individuals who would manipulate that vulnerability for one purpose only- profit. I allowed myself to step inside the portal to trauma - the countless descriptions of luring which had been described to me and left with me in my office - just enough to know that we were on the right track.

Since neither my staff nor I had ever written a screenplay or produced a film worthy of a large screen, but were not lacking in confidence that the idea was film-worthy, I reached out to filmmakers who had the talent and skill to translate the script into a film. I approached Marlene Goebig and Scott Kaufman, teachers at The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, with the draft, and they, like we, were excited about the project’s purpose and possibilities. We met, and after many conversations, emails, and edits, Marlene invited me to meet the students who would form the cast, and Scott, a gifted cinematographer, set up the shoots. I was able to witness some of the production, and marveled at the young talent and hard work that slowly and painstakingly shaped the images that would become the film.

Scott worked on the film up to the last possible moment, and I viewed "In Our Backyard: Keeping our Children Safe From Human Trafficking" on the day before it was to debut at our conference. Although locked into the harried pace of things that take place behind the scenes of a conference, this, my last task for the evening, enabled me to see that we had done what we set out to do. As I turned off the light in my office, in my mind I reviewed the segments of the film and concluded we had sufficiently reached our objective.

I also found something stunning about this film that we had produced with so few resources, and was deeply grateful to the young people who so exquisitely played the parts of wounded victims of human trafficking. I admired their grace and dignity and their ability to find the emotion that aptly expressed the pain of a victim.

The second time I saw our film was at the conference. I was more interested in the reaction of the audience than the film itself, because, after all, it had been made for them. They were affected, especially the two teenagers who attended the conference. They approached me at the end of the day, asking for suggestions about ways they could spread the word to the students at the suburban school they attended.

I am a fan of good film, but these days I have very little time to watch them. Fortunately, opportunities do come, and one came last week. While I was scrolling through the On Demand movies, I noticed the film, Nuts, starring Barbara Streisand. It had been years since I had seen the movie. I didn’t remember much about it, but I seemed to recall that in the history of film industry, it was one of the early serious attempts to capture the complexity of sexual trauma on the big screen. I decided to watch it. I was moved by the accuracy in the portrayal of the long-term effects of sexual trauma on the life of a woman. And, I was compelled to view "In Our Backyard: Keeping Our Children Safe from Human Trafficking", yet again. I wanted to see if it had gone even further that we had hoped, and had created a measure of insight to the devastation that occurs to women who are sexually exploited as children, as was characterized in Nuts. I found that, for me, together the films are like two pieces of a puzzle - the inner and outer reflection of reality. I have no doubts that, worldwide, there are other films that drive home the message of what happens in life after trauma. But for now, if I had to recommend only two films that bring home the reason LATO has been created, it would be these.


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