By Ed Upright
LONDON, March 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The hard-hitting documentary "I Am Jane Doe" is opening people's eyes to online child sex trafficking in the United States that until now they assumed only happened elsewhere, the filmmaker said at its British premiere on Monday.
Open in the United States for a month, the film has prompted calls from around the country and helped unleash a wave of action against Backpage.com, a huge classified advertising website accused of promoting trafficking in its ads, director Mary Mazzio told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"I Am Jane Doe" tells the stories of sex-trafficked teens and their lengthy legal battles against Backpage.com, which earlier this year shut its "adult" section, where abused minors were being sold as "escorts."
"People that see the movie are just blown away that they never knew about it," Mazzio said.
Each year, some 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.
Given the speed of technology, "this can happen anywhere to any child that is in a state of distress. Rich, poor, black white, it doesn't matter," she said.
Backpage.com has been hit by a series of lawsuits saying it promotes trafficking by rewriting ads offering children for commercial sex.
"I'm so delighted that the film has been able to help catalyze that tidal wave," Mazzio said.
The film premiered in Britain at the launch of the Thomson Reuters Foundation Action Circle, a new philanthropic network.
The director said she was particularly pleased about media coverage of her documentary that is helping destroy stereotypes about sex trafficking.
"To have the popular press weigh in is a cultural awakening that this isn't 'Pretty Woman,' that this is not the world's oldest profession, that this is not consensual," she said.
"We're fighting a cultural stereotype and a lack of awareness."
Spreading awareness, the film can help children who do not even know they are being trafficked or what that really means.
She is getting calls, she said, from communities across the United States saying: "We need your movie."
(Reporting by Ed Upright, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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