“I thought it was a third world country offense,” said Lisa Arnold, director of the new film Caged No More, a thriller that highlights the threat of human sex trafficking.
“I had no idea it was happening in the U.S.,” she admitted. “Not only was it happening in the U.S., but it was happening in my own community.”
Arnold is like most Americans, unaware that young women are being targeted as sex slaves right in their own backyards.
The facts are sobering. Every 30 seconds in the world, someone is trafficked, making it by far the fastest growing crime in the world. Tony Sparks, of the anti-trafficking organization Phantom Rescue, says that sex trafficking is so rampant that it's passing the war on drugs. While a drug can be sold just one time, a child and a woman can be sold 30 times a day or more.
Houston, Texas is the No. 1 most trafficked city in the States, with Atlanta coming in at No. 5. Any city that has a major thorough way or a major airport is likely to be tainted with trafficking, Arnold explained.
Yet, it’s not just metropolitans that are at risk. Arnold noted a small tiny little town 30 minutes from her that has been hit with the tragedy.
“You never know where it’s going to be, but it’s so rampant everywhere.”
These facts compelled Arnold to use her influence to inform moviegoers about the upsetting topic - because it needs to be told.
“Being a filmmaker, this is the way that I can do something,” she said.
She and her team spent over a year and a half crafting the script for Caged No More. The result is a gripping and educational film that can be shared with families - young teenagers in particular.
Like the characters in the film, Arnold was shocked to find that many of the young women that are sex trafficked were sold by their own parents.
“I can’t tell you how many survivors I’ve talked with that their parents were responsible for them being trafficked. Many in the U.S. are being trafficked daily in their home and then they go to school and their school has no idea. It’s being done by the people that should be caring for them the most.”
The upsetting reality also deeply affected the cast.
“It was an emotional journey,” she said. “I did have some of the actors call and say, ‘Really this can’t be happening.’ I also had other actors – this is the first time this has happened – I had actors call when we were casting saying, 'Please put me in this movie. Trafficking is something that I am fighting with every bone in my body and I want to be a part of it.'”
One look at the movie's lineup indicates how significant a topic human trafficking is. The social justice factor attracted former Hercules actor Kevin Sorbo, Loretta Devine, Kathie Lee Gifford, her daughter Cassidy Gifford, Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, and more.
These high profile figures wanted to "use their voice and raise it," Arnold explains.
The film has had a real life impact. Social media is an especially prime target for perpetrators to connect with children and it was thanks to Caged No More that one mother followed her intuition to sign on to her daughter’s computer and make a shocking discovery.
“There was a woman in Louisiana that saw our film and just had to check her spirit about something going on with her daughter,” Arnold explained. “She went home, got on her daughter’s computer, saw that she had been engaging with a man online and a bus ticket had already been purchased – she was about to be taken.”
Thankfully, she discovered the correspondence before it was too late.
“It can happen that simply,” Arnold continued. “We need to wake up and understand that. It’s not just runaways that are being affected. It crosses boundaries. One of our executive producers of the film, his own daughter was targeted just in Florida on a family vacation. We’ve got to start talking to our kids and educating them and helping them understand the dangers of this.”
Why is this tragedy not more widely reported? A few reasons, Arnold divulged.
“No. 1, tourist cities don’t like to talk about it too much because they don’t want to draw off people coming to their cites. No. 2, you can’t publicize a lot of it because of the safety of the girls that are being rescued.”
"It’s an ugly topic and no one really wants to know about it because once you know about it you feel responsible, but we can’t wait anymore," she insisted. "We need to start talking about it in the churches, we need to start talking about it in the schools."
Arnold is taking Caged No More on tour, showing the movies to audiences and talking about it afterwards in a panel discussion.
The cast is locked in to do three Caged films, she said. While the first film highlights trafficking, the second focuses on the rescue, which Arnold explains is another major part of the journey. Organizations can get funds for the rescue, but Arnold laments that few resources are provided for the survivors’ recovery.
“The problem is, the restoration takes so long – they’re so broken. They’re physically and mentally abused and spiritually broken. It is a long process to restore them. That takes a lot of resources and funds.”
“They had their lives completely taken from them,” she said.
Self-confidence and dignity are key.
“They have no trust,” Arnold explained. “They are so used to living in dysfunction that they don’t know how to live a functional life anymore. They have no respect for people, for themselves. It is such a heart wrenching thing, but to have faith again, to have hope again.”
For more information, go to CagedNoMoreMovie.com. DVDs are now available for purchase.
More: On Tuesday, the White House will be hosting a United State of Women event, where this very topic is expected to be discussed. Stay tuned for updates on how our nation's leaders plan to address it.