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Lost Girls director Julia Verdin talks raising awareness of sex-trafficking

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“They can sell a gram of coke, or heroin, or a gun once, they can sell a young girl thousands and thousands of times.”

These words, spoken in our interview by producer and director Julia Verdin, highlight one of society's biggest growing problems.

The dark and distasteful world of sex trafficking is not often in the forefront of people’s minds. We think of sex trafficking as mostly a connected issue to human smuggling or as a product of drugs, destitution and family degradation. We may not realise that sex trafficking is not a connected issue; it is a huge issue in itself.

As Julia says “Often what happens with dark subject matter is people don’t want to look at it, its pushed to one side but ultimately [trafficking] is something that desperately, desperately needs more awareness.”

According to Unicef by ‘2020 sex trafficking will overtake drugs and weapons as society's most pervasive crisis’ – the exploitation and enslavement of girls as young as 12 and 13 is becoming the latest criminal business.

Julia’s educational short film Lost Girls is her attempt to raise awareness of child sex trafficking in America. The film has featured in the LA Shorts Fest and Raindance Film Festival and has recently won LAIFF award for Best Drama Short and Best Ensemble Cast.

Having produced 32 films to date, including The Merchant of Venice (2004) with Al Pacino, and 2 Jacks with Sienna Miller and Danny Houston, Julia decided this time to turn her hand to directing.

“I read a number of scripts and I didn’t really find anything that I felt had the heart and soul of it, I was thinking about the subject matter I wanted to tackle and I though, you know, this is something I am really passionate about and a story that I want to tell.”

The motivation for Lost Girls comes from Julia’s desire to raise awareness of child trafficking and prostitution in America, but what gave her the inspiration for the story was volunteering at Children of the Night, a charitable organisation in LA which works to end trafficking and takes care of trafficked girls. Julia saw how withdrawn the girls were, on hearing their stories she got a sense of why.

“They were locked into rooms, having to have sex with fifty men a day, being dressed up and put out onto the street.”

Most of the girls at Children of the Night are girls who have run away from home, or come from a background of abuse and, as Julia found out through her research, are easy prey for traffickers.

“Any kid who runs away from home and arrives in LA or a strange city has a 78% chance that they are going to be picked up by a trafficker the moment they get off the bus.”

Lost Girls however, focuses on an ordinary, self-conscious American school girl with a slightly overprotective but deeply loving mother.

“I chose to set it in America because I think people have this perception that it is a third world problem and it’s really not, London and New York and LA are three of the biggest cities in the world now where it goes on … what’s changed in sex trafficking with the numbers going up, is it’s not just kids that have run away from home, kids are being targeted in their own homes or online”.

And with more gangs turning to trafficking rather than weapons or drugs, “the recruiters are getting more aggressive… now sending people into schools targeting malls and places where kids hang out.”

Recently in LA more than 200 arrests have been made by LAPD’s Human Trafficking Task Force after a 10-month-long crackdown on trafficking crimes. Police officials stated on the 29th of August that 11 victims were rescued and a report a week early told of the release of 10 more victims. Slowly, LA authorities are rescuing girls who have fallen victim to the trafficking threat – but saving these victims is only part of the fight.

Julia’s film also asks its viewers to donate to organisations tackling trafficking, a lot of which “are struggling to keep roofs over their heads”. The problem, as Julia points out, also extends to figuring out “where do we put these girls, the ones who don’t have families, how do we look after them… these girls also need after care, you can only imagine the trauma they have gone through.”

Julia emphasises that everybody can do their bit to help end child sex trafficking;

 “When the various bills come out that need signing to put pressure on [the authorities] to sign them, for everyone to spread the message, if people can’t donate financially they can volunteer, new clothes that don’t fit your kid donate them to the organisations”.

What with trafficking more widely in the news and with the work that Julia is doing hopefully young children, families, individuals and authorities will open their eyes to this dark world.

Lost Girls is currently screening at numerous festivals around the world. More info about how to see it can be found here

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