It's a startling statistic: Each year, more than a million children disappear, after being trafficked and sold as slaves for sex.
Another startling statistic: Seattle police estimate about 500 teenagers, some as young as 12 years old, are working as sex slaves every day here in King County.
Statistics like that are often too hard to comprehend, with numbers too big to really wrap our minds around. But SOLD, showing this week at SIFF, puts a face to the epidemic with the story of a 13-year-old Nepali girl named Lakshmi.
Based on Patricia McCormick's award-winning international bestseller, SOLD follows Lakshmi after her father sells her to work as a domestic servant in Kolkata, India. Believing she will make enough money to purchase a tin roof for her mother, Lakshmi willingly goes to "Happiness House," where she learns with horror that she has been sold into prostitution.
The producer of SOLD, Seattle's Jane Charles, says she wanted the film to be grounded in authenticity. She and director Jeffrey Brown made three trips to India and two trips to Nepal before they started making the film.
"We wanted to really learn about the issue, to really learn about the trafficking before we tackled the subject," Charles told me. "We met thousands of survivors. We went to all of the non-profit groups in India and Nepal and heard their stories. We spent time in the red-light districts. We wanted to really get a feel for what these girls go through and what the trip was like for Lakshmi."
Charles said the trips changed her life, and that there's much to love about India, despite the problems.
"India is an entirely different world. The sights, the smells, the life is so different than here," she said. "The first time I went to India all of my senses were assaulted. It's so intense. It took about two weeks for me to fall in love with the country. Everywhere you go there's life. There's not a lot of personal space and you get used to seeing people do everything on the street. They're getting shaved, getting haircuts, and making food. Life is just everywhere. Whereas here, we're shut off from each other. After being in India for a while, I was actually lonely when I came home."
Charles said after making the trips, both she and Jeffrey Brown realized they didn't want to just make a film, they wanted to make a tool for change. They're now working with non-profits both at home and in India to bring help for sex trafficking survivors. Charles is also now the co-founder of Stolen Youth, a non-profit that raises money and awareness for sexually exploited kids.
"We're so grateful to our circle of support here in Seattle," Charles said. "We shot the film in India and Nepal, but really the heart of this film is here in Seattle. We have a strong group of philanthropists here. There are 24 supporters of the film in the city. This film would not have been made had it not been for the generosity and strong social conscience of Seattle."
SOLD stars Gillian Anderson and David Arquette and tickets are still available for this week's showings. Both Jane Charles and Jeffrey Brown will be attending.