Child prostitution is undoubtedly one of the greatest injustices we face today. The problem reaches such a critical mass in Phoenix, Arizona, where the Phoenix Vice Squad spends as much as 40 percent of its work combating juvenile prostitution. The average age of entry into a life of prostitution in Phoenix is 13. This is what the documentary, Branded, is all about.
This new film was produced and directed by Chad DeMiguel, founder of rooftop studios. It is a real look at the raw world of child exploitation and sexual slavery in one of America’s largest cities.
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“They go the rest of their life with this brand unless we give them a way out.” – Peggy Bilsten, Phoenix City Council
The fastest growing trend in prostitution is the exploitation of children. Branded offers a look at the perverse and often violent underworld of these girls in bondage.
Although pimps face a class 2 felony in Phoenix, greed often compels men to groom young women for prostitution. Pimps often use subtle manipulation to coerce young ladies into a life of selling themselves on the street. One police officer claims that in any given month in Phoenix there has been a pimp at every area mall or night club looking for their next victim. Taking advantage of girls in vulnerable states of mind, pimps groom them through flattery, the promise of love, the promise of money, etc. Most of these pimps are under 25 years old.
A child prostitute is likely to work every day of the year, giving 100% of their earnings to their pimp. Their world is one of deep loneliness and unthinkable violence. Girls service anywhere from 100 to 1500 clients a year. A girl “working a track” is in danger not only from the johns (men purchasing sexual favors), but from the pimps as well. Women in this lifestyle are often stabbed, choked, raped, and even “branded” with homemade branding irons—a mark of ownership. Anxiety, insomnia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common problems. Police who arrest these women describe how hungry and abused they are—their zombie-like state is evidence of being so emotionally harmed that they believe selling themselves for sex is the only life they can live anymore.
The film shatters common misconceptions about a life of prostitution. Unlike the message that Hollywood conveys, prostitution is not glamorous. Thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds do not make “educated” decisions to become prostitutes. Most do not engage in prostitution in order to support a drug habit. Child prostitutes are not likely to come from any specific socio-economic class or ethnicity.
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The film features a long list of advocates on the front lines of fighting this problem. For instance, Branded cameras visit Kathleen Mitchell, founder of DIGNITY House, an Arizona social service organization for women who want to leave prostitution. Many women arrested for prostitution, instead of serving jail time, enroll in DIGNITY’s Diversion program, which helps women move away from the bondage of sexual slavery into productive lives.
Marc Connelly, founder of Vision Abolition, is also featured. Vision Abolition, a non-profit organization in Phoenix, is dedicated to preventing the sale and sexual exploitation of human beings; they are committed to rescuing these women, especially pregnant women and women with children, and restoring them to full, productive lives.
The film features attorneys, detectives, police, and members of the Phoenix City Council, all of which reveal the broadest possible perspective on the issues at hand.
The most moving moments of the film are the interviews with the prostitutes and former prostitutes. With tears they share the loneliness and difficulty of life on the street: the trauma of watching friends and family members die, emotional manipulation, rape, robbery, and being held at gunpoint.
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Porn and Sexual Exploitation
According to some research, Phoenix is not the only place in America with these problems. Some 100,000 U.S. children are forcefully engaged in prostitution or pornography each year.
This movie initially interested me because there is a sad correlation between pornography and the dark world of sexual exploitation. Branded does not specifically mention this connection, but the film does leave one wondering where such a desire for child prostitutes comes from. What in our culture feeds this demand?
Noel Bouché of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families writes,
“[M]en are conditioned to view women as prostitutes and develop a taste for prostitution. . . . This normalization of pornography and the resulting cultural tolerance produces devastating results even before one comes to the discussion of the actual trafficking of persons for sex. . . . Socially, marriages are being destroyed and families sundered by porn. And an entire generation is growing up viewing and often acting out the cyberporn that surrounds them. Society used to prepare its young for responsible adulthood—now it trains them to grow into harlots and johns.”
One of the connections between child victimization and pornography is that of supply and demand. Porn creates this demand. Pimps seek out the supply.
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Become an Activist
Branded is a collaborative project of Food for the Hungry, a Phoenix-based Christian relief and development organization, along with Phoenix Councilwoman Peggy Bilsten, the Phoenix Police Department’s Vice Enforcement Unit, and other local nonprofits. The goal of the documentary is to inform the people of Phoenix about the realities of child prostitution and motivate them to respond in tangible ways such as through advocacy and prevention.
Branded seeks to rally support to keep the Phoenix Vice Unit in operation, as well as motivate residents to combat child prostitution through advocacy and prevention. For more ways to become an advocate against the victimization of children, visit their website or click here to watch the trailer. Visit StreetLightPHX.com to learn about building safe houses in Phoenix.
To learn more about human trafficking in the US, visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.