by Marsha Rakestraw

“There is no economy that needs to be built on the suffering of children.” ~ from the film

When we think of the sex trade, we mostly think about women in “foreign” countries – non-Westernized countries that are usually poor and struggling.

But as filmmaker Libby Spears uncovered in her documentary Playground: The Child Sex Trade in America (2009, 85 mins) the U.S. is a hotbed of child sex trafficking.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in five girls and one in ten boys are sexually victimized before they reach age 18.

The film throws out a lot of horrifying statistics, mixed in with stories of children who have been forced into unimaginable circumstances. Interviews with experts shed additional light on the challenges.

Spears’ investigation leads to a variety of obstacles to stopping the child sex trade.

Organized crime and extremist groups are turning to child pornography to generate income. Privacy concerns conflict with efforts to find and help children. Victims are often criminalized for prostitution or delinquency, rather than focusing on the perpetrators. Men and women have grown up surrounded by messages that sexualize women and girls (or that show women brutally victimized in TV shows and movies), rather than teaching them a path to healthy sexual respect and delayed gratification.

There’s also a lack of focus on curtailing demand, as well as a lack of resources to stop and punish perpetrators and to help victims heal.

The film skillfully outlines the challenges. But what the film (along with many other documentaries) is greatly lacking are suggested meaningful solutions.

While the film touches on a couple of programs, it largely leaves viewers feeling helpless and horrified.

Here are a couple resources for exploring possible solutions:

Although many of these suggested solutions are band-aids, the U.S. Department of State offers 15 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking.

Based in Georgia, youthSpark is focused on both the demand and supply sides of trafficking children. Their programs and resources focus on a variety of solutions.

And recently CNN reported on some of the progress the state of Georgia has made in addressing child sex trafficking.

For more suggested films, see our online Resource Center.