On Sunday, November 13th we drove from Atlanta to the Nashville, Tennessee area to show the film at HopePark Church. The event was put on in partnership with Abolition International. Though AI certainly believes in the importance of awareness, the founder, Natalie Grant, also spoke of how they are committed to building homes where victims can have their lives and dreams restored. We were thankful to see a good turnout for the event; and we got some time to catch up with Kelsy Harms, one of our associate producers who worked with us from the early stages of making the film. Kelsy was responsible for researching most of the statistics that we used in our film; we’re thankful for the work she put into making our information credible.
(Natalie Grant, the founder of Abolition International, shares about the vision of her organization at HopePark Church.)
Monday the 14th we hit the road early, driving east towards Memphis for our screening of the film that evening at the University of Memphis. On the panel we had State Senator Beverly Marrero; Assistant US Attorney Steve Parker, who is Chief of the Attorney’s Civil Rights Unit; Suzanna Parkinson, an advocate for victims of sexual crimes; Amy Weirich, the Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich; and Ryan Dalton, the Director of Anti-Trafficking Operations with Operation Broken Silence.
Asst. U.S. Atty. Steve Parker shared how this year, the Memphis US Attorney’s Office created a Civil Rights Unit that has started to place a significant amount of attention on combatting human trafficking. Currently, their unit has placed 13 individuals under indictment for trafficking, with the smallest sentence at 15 years no parole, and the longer sentences between 25-50 years with no parole. But Parker also acknowledged that constructing these cases was only possible with the help of a broad community of individuals who were all concerned enough to follow through with the small details of building a case. This appears to show that if the community as a whole cannot come to a consensus regarding these crimes, any cases we may try to build will likely crumble. On a similar note, victim advocate Suzanna Parkinson reminded the audience that human trafficking can only continue to exist in an environment of public and academic indifference.
(Sex+Money merch table in the foyer at University of Memphis.)
(Scott introducing the film at Loyola University in New Orleans.)
On Tuesday the 15th we drove south to New Orleans to show the film that evening at Loyola University. The panel at Loyola consisted of Elizabeth Scaife, the Project Coordinator for Shared Hope International; An FBI Special Agent; Mauricio Aguilar, the Human Trafficking Case Manager at the Metro Center for Women and Children; and Lieutenant William Hare, of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office vice squad. Aguilar specified how our culture perpetuates the violent dehumanization of women; and until such a perspective begins to shift, we’ll be stuck dealing with an ugly aftermath. Noting the elusive nature of traffickers, and the way they quickly shift prostituted persons between cities and states, the Special Agent said, “It’s not just one city’s problem; it’s not just a regional problem; it’s a nation wide problem.”
(Questions for the panel at Loyola University.)
Wednesday the 16th we shared the film with the congregation at Ames Boulevard Baptist Church, in the suburbs just south of New Orleans. The church already has a ministry focused on human trafficking, so many in attendance (teenagers, middle aged, and elderly) were already active in the abolitionist cause. Though the event wasn’t especially large numerically, the night proved mutually encouraging for both of our groups.
(At the world famous Cafe Du Mond with our hosts from Ames Boulevard Baptist Church.)
(The French Quarter in New Orleans.)
(A lot of music to be enjoyed on the streets of New Orleans.)
After taking a little bit of time to enjoy New Orleans, on Saturday the 19th of November we drove to Gulfport, Mississippi. Monday the 21st, we had a screening at the University of Southern Mississippi. The screening was unique in that we showed the film simultaneously at two different campuses of the University – one in Hattiesburg, and one at the Gulf Coast campus in Long Beach. Following the film at the Gulf Coast campus, there was a panel discussion that included Heather Wagner, the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Mississippi; Mississippi State Representative Diane Peranich; Dr. Marie Leonard, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at USM; and Dr. Robert Press, an Associate Professor of Political Science at USM.
Panelists spoke about how there is a need for new legislation on the issue of human trafficking in Mississippi, but any push for legislation will have to originate from the general public, as legislators are in office to represent their constituents. Touching on the economic status of Mississippi, panelists acknowledged the need for faith-based, and other non-government funded groups to play a greater role in addressing the issue. Seeing the effectiveness of faith-based and other non-government groups after Katrina, such groups could have a similarly positive effect in bringing restoration to their communities from the plethora of damages wreaked by human trafficking.
(Susie Harvill, from Advocates For Freedom, introducing our film at Cedar Lake Christian Assembly in Biloxi, Mississippi.)
On Tuesday the 22nd we showed the film at Cedar Lake Christian Assembly in Biloxi. Speaking with members of the congregation, it was clear they had ideas beyond just learning about human trafficking. People were in the audience who were seasoned foster parents; others were considering plans to establish restoration facilities. Meeting people who were so willing to become tangible answers to such concrete needs in our communities, one senses that real solutions will soon be imparted towards those who are most in need.
(Our host took us out on a swamp tour in Louisiana.)
(Spotted a couple gators on the tour. This was just a little guy.)
This week in Mississippi, our team has been blessed to stay at what was once a shelter for volunteers who came to the area to clean up damage from Hurricane Katrina. We’ve even had a few friends fly in to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with us. Yesterday we had a filling Thanksgiving meal, watched a bit of football, and enjoyed the company of our large Sex+Money family. Gratitude, in its many forms, is refreshing.
Photos by Samuel Taipale.