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Even Cambodia seems a bit sanitized and colorless here. I've been to Phnom Penh and other cities in Southeast Asia. While the filmmakers have captured well the cramped housing and the families of five riding around the city on motorbikes, there's a grit missing—the dusty streets, the dirt that lingers in the humid air, the vacant stares of those who have only known abject poverty.

In reviewing several films about sex trafficking over the years, I've noticed that the filmmakers seem to take one of two approaches—showing disturbingly graphic scenes of violence and sexual assault in order to force audiences to understand the horrors, or keeping the disturbing violence and vulgarity implied so that viewers aren't tempted to look away from the uncomfortable realities of trafficking.

Dermot Mulroney as Alex Becker

Dermot Mulroney as Alex Becker

Trade of Innocents takes the latter tack. Violence is implied and off screen. Subsequent wounds are vague smears of blood on face and forearm. I appreciate not having to endure the graphic rape scenes in other films about trafficking, but some of the real danger and fear seems missing here. Even the fight and chase scenes are a bit safe and amateurish. I don't quite believe people are in real danger.

Both approaches to trafficking films—salacious or safe—seem to have the same goals: raising awareness and moving audiences to do something. Trade of Innocents states this goal very clearly on the closing screen of the film with the words: "Justice Needs a Hero. Be One." And it points viewers to the "Justice-Generation" website for action steps, suggesting practical ways that one can get involved in the fight.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why do you think Alex and Claire have come to Cambodia? What are they moving to—or away from?
  2. What do you think has led Malcolm to this place and this request for sex with young girls? What factors have possibly led him to desire this?
  3. Can you think of things in American culture that lead to this kind of demand?
  4. Did you learn anything about trafficking in the film? Are there people in your life you can also educate with this new knowledge?
  5. What other steps can you take to combat trafficking?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Trade of Innocents is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material involving sex trafficking of children, and some violence. We never see any sex acts and the violence is mostly implied. One of the teen girls in the sex trade is killed, but her death is off screen. Given the fact that the people being trafficked here are young children, it would likely be disturbing for all but older, mature teens and up. For them, this is a relatively clean enough film to raise awareness of a tough subject.

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Trade of Innocents