‘Eden’ no Paradise for Sex Trafficking Victims

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Last Thursday, I attended (courtesy of Women In Film) the Los Angeles premiere of Eden, a film about human trafficking and sex slavery, directed by Megan Griffiths and written by Richard B. Phillips.

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Eden is a film about Hyun Jae (played superbly by Jamie Chung), an eighteen year old Korean-American who is kidnapped by an extensive human trafficking ring and forced into prostitution. It takes place in in 1994 and is based on the true story of Chong Kim, a former victim of sex slavery who is now an outspoken activist against human trafficking.

Hyun Jae is the shy and sheltered daughter of hard-working Korean immigrants who run a restaurant called “Garden of Eden.” She helps her parents run their business, and her only rebellion is sneaking out in the back to smoke cigarettes. One day, Hyun’s friend Abbie (Tracey Fairaway) convinces her to go to a bar after work. Hyun’s mother begrudgingly relents after getting assurance from Hyun that she’ll be back by ten o’clock and will spend the entire Saturday cleaning the restaurant.

Once at the bar, Hyun meets a charming fireman who introduces himself as Jesse (Scott Mechlowicz) and who seems quite taken in by Hyun, despite her braces and awkwardness. He plies her with alcohol and offers to take her home, but Hyun never makes it home. Instead, she gets sold to her traffickers and is renamed “Eden.”

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The next several scenes show Hyun’s new environment. We see the warehouse where the (mostly twelve-to-sixteen-year-old) girls, victims, slaves are housed. We see the locked storage compartments where they sleep on bunk beds, four to a room. We see the hallway where they line up every day – each one dressed in a grey tank top and grey panties. We see the communal shower room. We see their daily rituals: shower three times a day and after sexual intercourse, dry off with identical grey towels, wait in line for a daily pregnancy test. The warehouse is grey, cold, and unyielding as steel.

Filmmakers Griffiths and Phillips do not throw Hyun and the audience head-on into the midst of the horrors, the blood, the sweat, the fear, the pain of forced prostitution. No, they fan the flames. The film is completely void of sexual or nude scenes; violent scenes are rare and used only to make a point. We all know what happens to these girls. The girls themselves know what will happen to them. As the traffickers torture their victims by strumming their fear and anxiety of what is to come, the filmmakers make sure the audience feels the girls’ growing dread. Through intimate close-ups of Hyun’s face, we feel her fears and we experience the horror of her situation. We empathize with her. It is through the day-to-day rituals and details that Griffiths and Phillips are able to make the world of sex trafficking not some extreme statistic, but hit very close to home.

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The head traffickers running the organization, the menacingly icy Bob Gault (Beau Bridges) and the troubled, psychotic, and meth-addicted Vaughn (Matt O’Leary) keep the girls in check by manipulation, violence, rape, and… kittens. Although Chong Kim told me that there were never any kittens during her experience as a sex slave, I find their inclusion in the film by Griffiths and Phillips very interesting.

Bob Gault gives each of the girls a kitten, to teach them the “responsibility of caring for a living animal that is dependant” on them. I cannot help but think this is just another tactic to create fragmentation of personality and dissociative disorder in the victims.

Bob Gault is the guy at the top of this operation. The CEO, so to speak. He runs his business without emotion, with cool-headed calculation. The operation runs like a well-oiled and finely-tuned machine: the cover, the precautions set in place for potential flare-ups, the security, the systemization of every aspect of the girls’ lives. It’s as if he was churning out plastic dolls, or computers, or chairs, any other conceivable inanimate object. It just so happens his product is human beings.

In addition to being a shrewd businessman, Bob Gault also does a little bit of law enforcement on the side: he is a high ranking law enforcement official in Nevada. He regularly speaks out about the horrors of human trafficking and even holds seminars for police officers on how to spot traffickers. Bob is a well-respected and dearly beloved pillar in his “official” community.

In addition to providing Bob with an enormous amount of protection and a smoke screen, his position in law enforcement also makes it that much harder for the victims to escape. He has access to all of their official information. When Hyun is declared a missing person, the report filed by her parents goes directly to Bob. He sweetly tells her that he knows everything about her parents: where they live, where they work, their names, and their phones numbers. A false move on her part, and their lives are in jeopardy.

I can only imagine what this sense of complete and utter entrapment and the realization that no one can or will help you – not even those whom you are taught to trust – does to your psyche. I can only imagine how it must feel to have your soul crushed and suffocated by this barren hopelessness. What it feels like to stare into the eyes of evil and be mocked by the cold and lifeless gaze that is returned you. This is what happens when the world places objects above people.

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It is a testament to Hyun, and her real-life counterpart Chong Kim, that she is able to find the strength within herself to navigate and manipulate her captors in order to eventually free herself. However, the vast majority of victims are never that lucky. Most of these girls die, either as a result of their horrendous circumstances, or because their captors eventually murder them after they are no longer useful – they are, after all, “only a f***ing person, not a hundred dollar bill.” In the United States alone, over 50,000 women and children are trafficked as sex slaves. Human trafficking is a global epidemic, and it occurs in the First World as well as the Third.

One of the criticisms that I’ve heard about this film is that it’s too cinematic, too entertaining, and not documentary-style enough. However, I feel this is Eden’s strong point. This is not a film that attempts to “flesh out” or “bring to light to” or “put a face on” a statistic. It is a film that turns a middle-class American life into the statistic, implicitly daring you to ask yourself “what if that was me?” You are not being asked to wrap your head around a far-off statistic. Rather, you are being guided through, step by step, what it feels like to be in such a situation. That is an important distinction to make, and I think that is why this film is so incredibly powerful and gut-wrenching.

Eden is so well-written, so well-directed, and so well-acted that I feel kind of like a jerk for not focusing more on the considerable talents and dedication of the artists involved. But then again, what better compliment can I give than to say that this film transcends the confines of a script, a storyboard, a mastered acting technique, and the screen – and starts to breathe with a life of its own?

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Chong Kim is a remarkable woman who inspires admiration and strength. She is coming out with a book about her story,“Broken Silence,” later this year. She is the Director of Public Awareness at Breaking Out Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on human trafficking and providing resources to human trafficking victims. Kim is also the founder of MASIE (Minorities and Survivors Improving Empowerment). She has been able to turn her experience in the depths of hell into something that can help others, something that can create miracles in the future.

‘Eden’ Official Website:

www.edenthefilm.com

Chong Kim’s Official Facebook:

www.facebook.com/ckim75

Follow Chong Kim on Twitter:

@lilazngrl75

Chong Kim is writing a book about her experience, and we can stop sex slavery and human trafficking. Her book will be self-published, and she is running a campaign for the finishing funds. If you are interested in donating to her campaign, please follow this link: Chong Kim Book – Go Fund Me.

10 responses to “‘Eden’ no Paradise for Sex Trafficking Victims

  1. I’m glad this film was made, and made the way it was so that people can actually feel how these girls are feeling. Documentary-style might actually keep you more arm’s-length and less empathetic.

    Does the film talk about how she finally gets out of this? I’d really like to know.

    • Yes, about half of the film actually focuses on how she manages to win her captors’ trust and manipulate them and leverage whatever power she has in order to escape in the end. I found that by focusing on the power dynamics within the organization and how she maneuvers them, the viewer gets some insight into the psychology of the people running these organizations… and it’s really frightening. I actually find your blog very telling… these images create an unspoken attitude towards women, women’s bodies, and women’s sexuality – and the repercussions can be felt at all levels, the most extreme being sex trafficking. Not everyone is as degenerate as sex traffickers, of course, but I can’t help but feel that the encompassing atmosphere of extreme sexualization of and violence towards women’s bodies makes it that much easier for people with such psychological tendencies to make the leap into sex trafficking.

  2. Did she go to law enforcement after escaping and if so what happened in the investigation? Where is the proof of this woman’s story?

    These are major crimes she is alleging with hundreds of victims and participants. If she gained their trust as she claims and worked for them, then she would have had access to names, dates, places, personal information etc. that she could have passed on to authorities.
    Did she? If not, why? She claims she wants to help victims and was trafficked with up to 50 other girls at a time, why not go to the police for these poor girls’ sakes? Her tale is horrific and if true she deserves all kinds of sympathy but was her story ever investigated and vetted for its authenticity?

    • Hi George,

      I do not know all the specific’s of Kim’s experience. I learned about her story after watching the film. I do know that the film is based on Kim’s story, and is not an exact replica of her experiences.

      However, it is my understanding that some of her traffickers may have had connections/power with mainstream businesses, community, law enforcement, etc. making speaking about it all the more problematic. That, combined with current laws that tend to target sex workers as opposed to those trafficking them and those who make use of their services and bureaucracy, puts a stigma on these girls and makes it harder for them to speak to law enforcement or try to find help at shelters and facilities for abused women and sex workers.

      A lot of these girls are foreigners without legal papers, so they are afraid of being put in jail or deported if they go to the police. But I suspect that the biggest factor is the fear and manipulation these girls endure from their traffickers: being told their families will suffer or get killed if they say anything, that no one will believe them, that law enforcement will arrest them for prostitution/solicitation and they will have records, that the traffickers have friends with law enforcement (whether true or not) etc.

      In 2011, a pro-life group called Live Action went into a New Jersey Planned Parenthood clinic, pretending to be pimps trafficking underage foreign girls with no papers for sex work in the US. The Planned Parenthood worker agreed to help lie about the age on the girl’s applications, give them abortions and STD tests, and gave the “pimps” advice on how to go about testing the girls without getting caught. Now, she might have decided that the sexual health of the girls was more important, and it was better to make sure they got proper care instead of turning the pimps away and risking the girls having coat hanger abortions in some back alley. So there is some grey area with her intentions. But would she have been someone the girls could have felt they could have confided in? The woman might have thought she was doing the best thing possible given the circumstances, but if her superiors had known, she would have been out of a job, so it would have been in her best interest to keep the whole trafficking ring quiet. I’m just using this as an example of how it might be difficult to find help in a situation that walks the line between good and evil, between helping and making things worse.

      *The expose video was filmed by a pro-life group with and obvious angle and the purpose of smearing Planned Parenthood. There was a lot of understandable controversy surrounding the video, and it is my understanding (although I could be mistaken) that this particular employee was fired. (You can search for “Planned Parenthood Manager Offers to Help Sex Ring, Gets Fired” on youtube and google for news regarding this).

      Again, I unfortunately do not know all the specifics of her experience and have never been close to either her experiences, or any investigation regarding them. However, I suspect Kim had many of these grey-area situations. Of course, these are just my speculations and personal opinions. I do think that laws need to be changed to make it easier for trafficking victims (whether they are in the country legally or not) to come forward without fear of retribution or of being criminalized.

  3. Howdy would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?

    I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.

    P.S My apololgies forr being off-topic bbut I had to ask!

  4. The characters in the movie answer the questions asked by the *OP. The character played by Beau Bridges shows how police and other ‘authorities’ are often not only involved, but running the show; the character played by the boyfriend shows how women can’t trust men, ever. Even Mr. Nice Guy in hero occupation; the character played by Tantoo Cardinal shows how other oppressed people can become the oppressors, etc. Characters in good movies represent parts of the story by their being, rather than what they say. This is true of literature also.

    (Whose tone I find disturbingly victim blaming).

  5. Reblogged this on magdamarcella and commented:

    My film review of “Eden,” based on the experiences of Chong Kim, starring Jamie Chung, Matt O’Leary, and Beau Bridges, directed by Megan Griffiths and written by Richard B. Phillips. (Originally posted April 3, 2013 on miraclemilegirls)

  6. Pingback: ‘Eden' No Paradise For Sex Trafficking Victims·

  7. No disrespect towards you, but it seems as though (and I don’t believe everything I read, but it does seem…) Chong Kim is in fact not remarkable in a good way. I’m sure you’ve seen the news that there simply are not the facts to back her story up and instead are many things going against it. Also, she has acted in a way more in line with selfishness and greed and less in a way that would truly shine a light on human trafficking, instead making a mockery of it. Her actions have people saying “see? Human trafficking isn’t as bad as the media makes it out to be”, which – though the media does tend to sensationalize much – is still a very dangerous attitude. Human trafficking, as you know, is a real and serious issue. Sadly, it would appear Chong Kim has decided to take advantage of that fact.

    I would hope the allegations against her aren’t true, but it looks very likely.

    Here are a couple links (I’m only including the second as it details the whole of Breaking Out’s post):

    http://reason.com/blog/2014/06/12/eden-sex-trafficking-fable-falls-apart

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/06/04/chong-kim-the-woman-whose-allegedly-true-story-served-as-the-basis-for-megan-griffiths-film-eden-revealed-to-be-a-fraud

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