Forgotten witness

A few years ago I was producing stories on child prostitution. I spent a day in a brothel in a regional city shooting two 13-year-olds, both of whom had been sold into the sex trade by their desperate parents.

It was a strange day. Clients of other prostitutes wandered in and out of the camera frame quite oblivious to the fact that I was capturing the brevity of their encounter. Some of the older women brought milky tea to drink when the cameras were put down. After a few hours it became alarming how normative the place seemed – in some ways it’s simply a tightly-knit business community conducting a thriving trade where the women and children look after each other.

But then you jolt awake – this isn’t a benign corner store. It’s a place where young girls are trapped, raped, where they sell themselves for pennies ($1.20 if you’re young; $0.80 as you age), where disease and desperation waltz to a hopelessly sad tune all day… every day.

When we were finished, the madam of the two girls I spent time with came to me for payment because while I’d been with her charges they weren’t selling their bodies. So I gave her $10 (a huge sum in that place) and later when I told my wife that I had paid for my first prostitutes I made sure to include lots of context.

Back in Canada I cut a concept video and produced two versions for organizations I worked with. They were both posted on YouTube so that my clients could view them (one version appears below).

Over time I forgot that the videos were there, so when I received an email from YouTube last year I was surprised. They said that due to high viewing volumes I qualified to join their advertising program. It turns out that the brothel video has been seen more than 250,000 times (in its two versions). Even more surprising is that a lot of the traffic to them comes from creeps trolling the net looking for child porn. It is satisfying to know that when they’re looking for self-gratification regardless of the cost to human dignity, they’re smacking up against a different message about the value and place of girls.

So I plan to leave the videos where they are, even though they’re not polished. Perhaps they’re doing some good. And I’m not allowing YouTube to advertise to viewers of these pieces. I can’t imagine what kinds of goods and services go along with key words like exploitation, trafficking and hopelessness.


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December 2, 2013