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Ring of Silence shines light on human trafficking
by Matt Simonette

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A new film, available on-demand on Amazon Prime April 26, depicts the toll human trafficking—in this case, in the form of forced sex work—has taken upon young people in the American suburbs.

Ring of Silence, directed and written by Flint, Michigan-based filmmaker Nicole Bowers Wallace, depicts several months in the life of April ( Ava Deluca-Verley ), a high school student who becomes involved with a charming, seemingly wealthy older man, Sean ( Brian O'Donnell ), whom she finds out too late is in league with local traffickers.

A group of activists approached Wallace about doing a film about the subject. She admitted that human trafficking was a topic she had never encountered or thought about.

"I was approached by a group of women who work [against] human sex-trafficking here in Michigan," she recalled. " ... I though I knew what the majority of Americans knew. I said to them, 'I'll do some research and get back to you.'"

The filmmaker met with FBI officials, police, survivors and advocacy groups among others.

"By the time I was done with all that, I knew I had to do this movie," Wallace explained. "There was no talking about it."

Human trafficking is a difficult phenomenon for researchers, advocates, politicians and law enforcement officials to fully comprehend. The issue ties into numerous societal issues—youth alienation, poverty, homelessness and housing instability and immigration, to name just a few—and several stakeholders in the issue have sought high-profile bandaid solutions without addressing structural and systemic issues that perpetuate the problems. Furthermore, various human traffickers also deal in other realms, such as forced manual labor, so the phenomenon is not solely marked by the forced sex work Wallace focused on in Ring of Silence.

"The thing that really got to me was that it's all across America, and in our suburbs," she recalled, adding that online communication has really helped human trafficking to explode in recent years. "Now, it's simple enough for online predators to meet teens and ask if they want to go for coffee. They meet for coffee and it goes from there."

April's best friend Joseph ( Jesse Katch ), who is gay, unwittingly falls prey to Sean and his associates as well. Joseph, deeply closeted, seemingly disappears after going to a party with April, and is ultimately transported to do sex work in another city.

Wallace said that it was important for her to depict an LGBT young person in the film. Her FBI contact told her that traffickers can easily target closeted teens, since they are used to keeping a low-profile and are less likely to be missed by many in the community.

After screenings, Wallace said, many viewers, especially mothers, asked her what had happened to Joseph.

"It really bothered them that, in this movie, nobody was asking where he went. There wasn't anybody up in arms. Nobody was asking, 'Where did he go?' It really disturbed them. Someone said, 'We want a sequel—we really want to know what happened to him.'"

Ring of Silence is difficult to watch at times, right from its opening shot. In the screening I saw the film at, when one particularly violent scene was interrupted by police, one viewer loudly exclaimed, "Thank you, Jesus." But for Wallace, the struggles with the issue were vital to convey to a large audience.

"It was important for me to get across that this wasn't just a 'certain demographic' thing—this is every demographic," Wallace said.

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