Trade of Innocents is a 2012 movie from the United States. After enduring the tragic loss of their own daughter and only child, an American couple go to live and work in Cambodia where they become involved with preventing the illegal sale and trafficking of young girls into the sex trade. Personally, I found this film resonated with me in light of experiences I had and people I met during my time living in South East Asia. Cambodia is one of many countries favoured by pedophile tourists because of the vulnerability, due to poverty, of its children. Cambodia’s tragic history, including the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979, has created a “young population”, as many of the older generation were killed during the genocide.
The inspiration for Trade of Innocents came from a combination of the director (Christopher Bessette) and his trip to Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital), and a similar trip by the producers, Bill and Laurie Bolthouse. These three later came together to make the movie, which was filmed in Bangkok– supposedly because Cambodian authorities were not happy with the idea of filming the movie in their country.
Cambodia is far from being the only place where women and girls are treated as commodities. But in this country of 15 million people, the demand for virgins is big business that thrives due to cultural myth and other local factors. “Many Asian men, especially those over 50, believe sex with virgins gives them magical powers to stay young and ward off illness,” says Chhiv Kek Pung, president of Cambodia’s leading human rights organisation, Licadho. “There’s a steady supply of destitute families for the trade to prey on here, and the rule of law is very weak.”
The belief that sex with virgins increases male vigour has long held sway among powerful men in Asia, including Chairman Mao and North Korea’s Kim dynasty. “Unlike sex- tourist paedophiles who seek out children under 10 years old, local men don’t care so much about a virgin’s age – only her beauty and the fact she’s pure,” says Pung. Parents who sell their daughters’ virginity have little concept of child rights. “They regard their offspring as their property.”
Based on Licadho’s work inside communities, Pung estimates that “many thousands” of virgins aged between 13 and 18 are sold every year. As well as rich Cambodians, men from countries such as China, Singapore and Thailand are regular buyers, too. “They travel here on business and have everything prearranged by brokers: a five-star hotel, a few rounds of golf and a night or two with a virgin,” says Eric Meldrum, a former police detective from the UK who now works as an anti-exploitation consultant in Phnom Penh.
Child prostitutes to pedophile tourists are predominantly girls, although boy children are also involved. Child sex tourism is an internationally-recognized human rights problem, and it’s a growing one: UNICEF estimates that, around the world, about two million children are sexually exploited each year.
I believe this movie is important in raising awareness about the plight of child prostitutes and those trafficked, not only in Cambodia, but around the world. Some critics believe the acting could be “stronger” and the film has been rated at two and a half stars or 5.3 out of ten, or thereabouts, in various reviews. Personally, I feel these ratings are rather harsh. Trade of Innocents is a dramatic thriller and the pace and anticipation are kept going throughout. The movie also does well in conveying a sense of the reality and layers of complexity which underlie the child prostitution industry.
One example of this is when Dermot Mulroney (who plays Alex, the American husband) is talking with Cambodian police officers and mentions that not all the young women trafficked into brothels are Khmer– some are from surrounding countries such as Thailand, Vietnam or Laos and have been taken from their own homes because it is harder for them to resist or escape when they are unable to speak the local language and have no legal status in Cambodia. One young officer says, “I thought we were talking about our Khmer people?”. The point the movie is trying to make, I believe, is that it is not about “helping one’s own people”, but about focusing on the problem and its far reaching effects on the young victims, regardless of their race, nationality or culture. Police corruption is another complex layer, realistically depicted in the film.
One of the most chillingly realistic characters in the film is the American pedophile tourist played by Tom Billingsley, the man who says he would “prefer the seven year old.” I personally felt my skin crawl seeing a scene in which he takes a phone call from his wife and passes on his “love” to his children– whilst in a restaurant with a young Cambodian girl he has “bought”.
Mira Sorvino (who plays Claire, the American wife) has had a longtime interest in supporting the cause of ending human trafficking and child prostitution. When asked about being in Trade of Innocents she said that “I felt it could be a powerful combination of my activist efforts and my artistic ventures.” (Source Wikipedia).
The title Trade of Innocents for this film could also be Trade of Innocence– at times I have forgotten which one it is– perhaps that is a deliberate ploy (and a clever one) on the part of the movie’s creators. Scenes of the two youngest Cambodian girls drawing pictures add weight to the title and to the fact that the theme of this movie is the destruction of the innocence of childhood/ forever years through exploitation and abuse. “The Forever Years” blog highly recommends this film, it is informative and is certainly also a “must see” for anyone concerned about preventing child prostitution and trafficking.
Rating : PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material involving sex trafficking of children, and some violence)
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“Mai and the Man” A short story.