(NSFW – no visuals, but many words liable to trip filters. Also, Trigger warning, for obvious reasons)
Women are chained to their sewing machines, young teenage migrants pick crops, but if you really want to massage American outrage glands you want to talk about sex. Or sexual abuse, which a great many people conflate with that loaded three-letter word. Weird but very worthwhile article by Jen Graves in Seattle’s The Stranger:
Eden is a 2012 film about a suburban teenage girl kidnapped from her hometown in New Mexico and taken into a warehouse outside Las Vegas, where she is forced into a factory of sex slaves headed by a crooked US Marshal. The girls live in punishing conditions. They’re lined up for mandatory pregnancy tests and mystery injections. Tracking cuffs are strapped to their ankles. Their clients come from every level of American society: businessmen, fraternity guys, politicians. Assigned the name Eden, the girl we follow is imprisoned, beaten, raped, whipped, and tortured. Her only route to escape is through the ultimate betrayal, convincing sex-trafficking ringleaders she is loyal to them by becoming their madam—selling other women to save herself.
As the movie makes clear, Eden’s story is based on the life of a real woman. She is Chong Kim, a noted crusader against sex trafficking. The movie premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award, and then played the Seattle International Film Festival, where its star Jamie Chung won the Golden Space Needle Award for best actress. At a film festival in Milan, Edem‘s producers and its director also won awards. For Eden‘s official theatrical release in May 2013, SIFF hosted a sold-out screening at SIFF Cinema Uptown. The lights went down, and the very first words to appear on-screen were “BASED ON A TRUE STORY.”…
Chong Kim, the person the movie was based on, had shared her story in writing before. She was known in the anti-sex-trafficking world, and she is a regular speaker on being a human trafficking survivor, represented by the global speaker’s agency American Program Bureau. Two years before this screening, she had e-mailed James Barnes, founder of the nonprofit organization Breaking Out, whose mission is “to identify, investigate, and rescue victims of human trafficking,” according to its Facebook page. Kim was contacting Barnes, according to Barnes, to offer to help raise money for Breaking Out. Barnes describes himself as a private investigator who was first exposed to sex trafficking when he was investigating a missing child case, and then made sex trafficking his cause…
Barnes remembers Kim talking about books and movies she was involved with that would raise money for his cause. She was “really a hero to me,” Barnes said, “because I rescue people but I never get to see what happens to them.”
But soon, Barnes said, Kim actually started asking him for money so that she could travel—with the promise that she would publicize Breaking Out in her travels—”which is kind of one of our red flags.” Then Barnes began looking into Kim’s own story. “It kind of changed every time we talked, and things didn’t make sense.”…
Mistress Matisse, a professional dominatrix and longtime Stranger contributor… sent an e-mail to her editors here in late June referring to a potential lawsuit. “You’re getting this e-mail from me because I want some answers,” Matisse began. “I believe that Seattle filmmakers Colin Plank and Megan Griffiths”—the producer and the director—”have perpetrated a fraud in their movie called Eden. Allegations have been made, and it’s time for them to either double down—or fess up. And as The Stranger played a role in promoting the film, it’s appropriate that The Stranger play a part [in] the truth being told about it.”
The e-mail was signed “Mistress Matisse, endorsed by the members of the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Seattle.” She wrote that she was discussing with a lawyer “the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against the makers of Eden, although I’d want to wait on that until [Plank and Griffiths] have responded to the initial allegations.” The class in question would be sex workers. “Eden is prominently allied with anti-trafficking NGOs that deny that any form of consensual adult sex work even exists,” Matisse wrote.
Matisse had done some research on her own. She attached to her e-mail a long list of citations of Kim’s interviews and writings since 2004. These were the materials that led Matisse to conclude Kim had been lying, and which she believed could support a class-action lawsuit on behalf of sex workers who found Eden to be a grossly misleading depiction of sex work. Matisse has since discussed the matter with a lawyer, whose opinion was that “it would be difficult to prove damages, because the prevailing sentiment of the legal system more or less goes along with us being either helpless victims, as in the movie, or just plain criminals,” Matisse said by e-mail. “We can’t be slandered, apparently, because our status is THAT low.”…
When Griffiths told HuffPost Live that she’d been “researching” Kim’s story and “the realities of these kind of situations,” what exactly did she mean by that? How did Griffiths conduct her research? How much digging into “the realities” did she do? Did she ever consider just making Eden as a fictional film, like her previous films, and not labeling it “based on a true story”? Did she see “based on a true story” as a burden, or did she figure her audience was smart enough to know it was a loose tag and maybe even a marketing strategy? When she was doing interviews, and when Eden events were used to raise money to support anti-sex-trafficking organizations, did Griffiths ever have twinges of doubt? And if she did, were they subsumed by believing that regardless of the value of this particular tale, sacrifices have to be made to serve the larger truth that trafficking is horrifying?
The only reason I ask is because even a little bit of research reveals that the source material is contradictory…
@efgoldman: I was about to ask if it hurt. Then I remembered she’s used to it.
Forget it, Jake, it’s Patriarchy. And some misplaced feminism too.
American men get their panties all in a twist about sex trafficking because it threatens the Purity of the Feminine Essence– they’re boinking our property: our womenfolk!
A small minority of feminists are anti-sex crusaders, and have long found common cause with patriarchal Christian fundamentalist men who want to stamp out all sex: the fundamentalists because it threatens their control over the womenfolk (and offends their Vengeful Sky Daddy too!), the feminists because all men are monsters and all P-in-V sex of any form is merely victimization and exploitation.
Neither get too worked up about the horrible conditions of non-sex sweatshops where your iPhones and Nikes are made, the kinds of hellish dungeons in which women suffer proportionately more than men. But I guess since there are no orgasms involved nobody cares.
Tragic, since there are tons of real verified stories of this type about women in Asia and the former Soviet republics, in particular.
“Women bought and sold in Nepal,”, The New York Times, 31 August 2013.
Sold under false pretenses (“she’ll be educated and trained as a house servant”) by impoverished parents or simply kidnapped, then raped 24/7 for weeks, and put to work in a brothel full of underaged kids before dying of AIDS by age 14 or 15.
Hideous beyond description. And unspeakably sad that a solitary fake story like this one might damage public belief in the real thing going on right now in many parts of the world.
The “Operation Meetinghouse” material is from a PBS series on WW II, “Firebombing (Germany & Japan) (13-15 February & 9-10 March 1945).”
The books PBS cites are:
Cortesi, Lawrence. Target: Tokyo. New York: Kensington Publishing, 1983.
Edoin, Hoito. The Night Tokyo Burned. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
LeMay, Curtis, with MacKinley Kantor. Mission with LeMay. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.
Werrell, Kenneth P. Blankets of Fire: U.S. Bombers over Japan during World War II. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.
Other source books and articles used for facts I cited include:
U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II: Combat Chronology. March 1945. Air Force Historical Studies Office.
Rodden, Robert M.; John, Floyd I.; Laurino, Richard (May 1965). Exploratory Analysis of Firestorms., Stanford Research Institute, pp. 39, 40, 53–54. Office of Civil Defense, Department of the Army, Washington D.C.
Freeman Dyson. (1 November 2006), “Part I: A Failure of Intelligence”, Technology Review (MIT)
David McNeill. The night hell fell from the sky. Japan Focus, 10 March 2005.
What’s depressing is how this is a real thing. Real women do go through this, but someone falsifying stories makes it easy for people to discount it.
You really shouldn’t quote that much of the story.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
@robert: Let’s look at that by the numbers.
Word counts by MS Word.
The excerpt above is 944 words.
The full article is 7604 words.
The excerpt is 12% of the article.
Looks OK to me.
J R in WV
What does your comment about available resources on “Operation Meetinghouse” have to do with the original post about slave trafficking and sex workers who are autonomous adults choosing to work in the sex business?
Burning Tokyo and the Ruhr Valley to the ground as part of all out war in WW II may look like a war crime to some people from the safe vantage point of the 21st century, but probably looked pretty good to people fighting against an Imperial Military that viewed everyone as potential slave workers.
In any case it doesn’t have very much to do with current slavery – or am I missing your point?
Word count or % is a pretty minor factor and not determinative. The section copied above isn’t necessary to comment on the article and therefore almost certainly doesn’t qualify as fair use.
This is a very impressive article. I found these quotes to be very good and since they come towards the end, I will not be a spoiler because there is an important point to be made.
What I found myself drawn to instead was Munoz herself, this complex person who reminds me of what Virginia Woolf wrote about people and their stories: “For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many thousand.”
Munoz’s original story that she was an exploited victim certainly would have passed the “based on a true story” test. But Munoz became a different kind of narrator when she decided to allow conflicting facts to coexist without resolution. Since she’s come out with her full story, her parents have become horrified and distant, she said, because “it’s only socially acceptable if I’ve been victimized… broken up and repentant.”