Today we are releasing a film that has been a passion project for me (and for the crew) for the last five+ years. Stolen Innocence is a full-feature documentary about sex trafficking in India. Why India? Because it is known as a hub of sorts for sex trafficking around the world. We are releasing the film independently, via YouTube, to try to get as much traffic to it as possible. It hasn’t been easy, and we’ve learned a lot along the way, but we knew that this project was important and that if it changed one person’s life it would be worth it. That is why we felt that letting it live online for free was the best course of action to get as many people watching as possible. Please take the time to watch it, and more importantly, please share it with others.
It’s not every day I get asked to join a crew of guys that I hardly know in India for a long term documentary project on sex trafficking, but that’s exactly what happened nearly five years ago. I was working on another project, hoping for a successful Kickstarter campaign to create a documentary in Tajikistan about the Pamir Mountains and the people who live there. We had some success, but unfortunately, we didn’t hit our goal. As many stories go, however, this “set back” was actually the beginning of something that would end up changing my life forever.
Casey Allred, the producer of Stolen Innocence, was helping us on the Tajikistan project. We got to do some filming together and I got to learn that he was about to leave on his project to create a documentary on sex trafficking in India. He seemed to like my style and said that he’d love to have me join him but the crew was already set and they were about to leave in two weeks. As fate would have it, Casey called me up about a week later and said that their cinematographer had to back out last minute and if I’d be interested in taking on the role. It would be for 3-4 months, with very minimal pay, living with three other guys I didn’t know in a third world country, and we would be covering a topic that could very possibly get us killed. It might sound crazy, but this opportunity was something I had dreamed of my entire life. I didn’t really care if I had to completely upend my life, or be in uncomfortable or dangerous conditions, I was in. I was completely in.
The four months that followed were as much a blur as they were a vivid and slow-moving reality. Each day was different. We went from slowly making our presence known to being thrown into the deep end and back again as we moved throughout the country. We met women, young and old, who told us their stories of being trafficked, usually at the tender age of 13. Many of them showed us their “battle wounds” as they wiped tears from their faces at the thought of those vulnerable moments. Some of them had escaped, and were as far away from the trade as possible, while many many others were still on the streets doing the only thing they’ve ever known how to do to make a living. I felt hopeless and helpless so many times during this time. I wrote the following in my journal early on in the journey:
“ I don’t know why I got so lucky. I don’t know why I was born in such an amazing family, in a free country, with such opportunity. I just hope I can do the best with what I was given and serve others.”
The mental and emotional toll this time would have on me was beyond anything I could have imagined. My guilt was the heaviest. Luckily, I was surrounded by some of the best people I had the pleasure of working with. Chris Davis, the director, became my sounding board for much of the trip and as a small crew, we were able to help each other cope with the horrors we were witnessing on a daily basis. We were no longer just a film crew, but we had become a family.
Things didn’t seem to settle down as we reached the end of our shooting dates. In late April 2015, I remember sitting down for breakfast with Chris and Casey in Delhi and Casey saying, “look at the water” in our glasses. It was waving. The rest of the morning we thought about how crazy an earthquake would be while we were here, then we heard the news. A 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal. We packed our bags with medical supplies and camera gear and waited at the airport until a flight was made available.
Our experience in Nepal only solidified our bond to each other and to the story. Traffickers had escaped from a crumbled prison and were threatening the girls and families we had worked with. Things just seemed to become hopeless. But working with the NGOs and non-profits in country, we could see the light in this dark world. Although small, so many of these groups are extremely passionate about what they do. Even with little funds they are able to create huge opportunity and hope for the surviving victims of sex trafficking. It really is amazing to see.
After several more trips back and forth to India and Nepal, we were able to finish up filming. So many people were involved in making this film happen and to them I will forever be grateful. My story is only a snippet of what went into this film. My life was touched by so many involved. I only hope that people will watch and be inspired to help, in any way they can.