More than 4.8 million people are sexually exploited worldwide, and more than one million of these are children. According to a recent report by the US State Department, the United States is one of the leading consumers of sex trafficking, as well as the leading country of origin for victims.
January is the month designated for Sex Trafficking Awareness. With the Superbowl, just days away, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody met with law enforcement and hotel groups to announce a campaign to prevent human trafficking surrounding the Super Bowl NFL football game in Miami.
In light of this, I spoke with Geoffrey Rogers, Executive Producer of the new faith-based documentary, Blind Eyes Opened. The film is a first-of-its-kind look at sex trafficking in the US. It features dozens of ministry leaders, law enforcement, political leaders and advocacy groups, as well as six women who share their personal stories of being trafficked as children who are using their experiences to help others today.
Elle : Geoff, you left your executive position at IBM to redirect your life’s focus on ending human trafficking here in America. Tell me a little bit about this decision. How did this come about? And what has been driving you to focus on trafficking?
Geoff: That’s a great question, and it goes back many, many years. I did have a very blessed career at IBM, and I was climbing the corporate ladder. And God was doing amazing things at home with my wife and I. So, after 15 years in the corporate world, we both made the decision that we would step out in faith and move into ministry. My wife and I founded a ministry called the Ships of Tarshish, which is from Isaiah 60. The focus of that organization is to use the media to reach the church on critical social issues that we didn’t feel or don’t feel the church maybe engaged in as much as they should be.
The first project we did was called Surrender The Secret, which was a 10 episode, Christian reality TV series on post-abortion recovery. So over ten episodes, we see women who have had abortions in their past come into the healing forgiveness of Jesus Christ. This amazing transformation unfolded on camera, so it was an incredible project. It took off on Christian networks in the US and then globally. As distribution for that began to wind down, we were praying for God to show us the next topic to focus on and began to learn about trafficking, that was about seven years ago. After learning a little bit about it, then we pulled the trigger on the production of Blind Eyes Opened.
Elle: Blind Eyes Opened is an important film, and we’re in the month of Human Trafficking Awareness. What do you think this documentary will add to the conversation of human trafficking?
Geoff: Good question. So first of all, it is to focus on the truth of sex trafficking happening here inside of America. It’s been a six-year journey to produce this film. It started with interviewing a tremendous number of people for the film. We talked to a lot of different survivors and there are six survivors of sex trafficking in the film. All of them have very different stories and backgrounds and they share how they got either trapped or abducted into it. But there’s one common thread for each of them. And that is their hope in Jesus Christ for their rescue, restoration, and redemption. That’s really one thing that is so critically different about this film. This documentary not only exposes the darkness of the truth of sex trafficking in America, but it shows that there is hope in Jesus Christ, and it’s calling the church to reform.
Elle: As the CEO and founder of the US Institute Against Human Trafficking, what can parents do to better protect their children against these predators?
Geoff: I appreciate that question and I’ll just give a bit of a backdrop. Well, what happened was, my wife and I, as we were producing this film, we thought it was going to be maybe a year to a year and a half project and then move on to the next critical issue. But what happened was, my life was so utterly changed through learning the truth, that after about three years in, I remember sitting down with my wife and just saying I feel like God is calling us to this-this whole time. So long story short, we ended up partnering with Kevin Malone, former General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are in the film, to co-found the US Institute Against Human Trafficking. That was about three and a half years ago.
My wife and I, have committed our lives to this fight. It’s not just a critical social issue that we’re exposing and then move on to the next one. We feel it’s so important that people understand sex trafficking in America crosses all socioeconomic boundaries, crosses all races, all ethnicities, crosses all classes. So everyone needs to be aware of this because any child could be at risk of getting trapped up in this.
We’ve learned through so many survivors that we’ve met, about the need to be aware of who our kids are talking to online? Online is where most traffickers are now. Engaging and seeking out the kids that they want to lower into the industry. They do go to bus stops; they’ll go to train stations, they’ll go to places where kids are runaways. But the number one place for trafficking right now is online. So understanding your children’s online presence is ordinarily essential.
Elle: Wow, that’s amazing. Now you’re a father of three, so I can imagine that this topic can be hard to talk about. How does one start this conversation with their children?
I appreciate that question because it was when we were traveling the country and working on our filming that we learned that boys were trafficked too. My wife and I have three young boys and so I came home, and I’m looking at my kids saying where are the services for boys? Because we couldn’t find any, we ended up opening, the very first boys safe home in America, for young boy victims of sex trafficking.
It’s just been incredible to work with young boys. The only location in the country that does this, to work with young boys who are victims of sex trafficking and learn the differences of how boys are trafficked in America versus girls. So that’s been an extraordinarily rewarding and challenging journey as well as operating that safe home.
But as far as how we engage our kids in the discussion, we’re open with them. Here’s the way, so when we travel, and we’re talking to groups of people, so many times people will come up beforehand, and they’ll say, hey, I’ve got my child with me, is this topic appropriate? Is it okay for my child to be with me? Or should I not have them in the room with me? And my answer is always the same. My answer is, if your child, first of all, I’m not going to show anything, or I’m not going to discuss anything extremely graphic, that’s not going to happen.
Blind Eyes Opened follows that model that we do not show graphic detail. That’s the point to reach the church. And so that’s the first thing I’ll say, we don’t talk about anything graphic. We don’t show anything graphic. So if your child is too young to understand what we’re talking about, then it’s just going to go over their head, and it’s not going to matter, but if your child is older, enough to understand what we’re talking about, then I can guarantee you, your child needs to be aware of this because that’s when these kids are at the age where they can fall prey to these predators. So with our own family, we’re very, very open with them. We’re not graphic with them. But our kids are very aware.
Elle: In the film, I noticed that there was a connection between the porn industry and human trafficking. Why do you think that is?
Geoff: So, pornography, we identified is the number one fueling factor to the demand for sex trafficking in America. And here’s why. We have an epidemic of pornography addiction that has occurred in our country. Studies show maybe 60 to 70% of men in America are either addicted to pornography or regularly looking at it. Women, it’s about 30%. And even with pastors, there’s an estimate that says maybe about 50% of pastors are regularly looking at pornography. Those statistics, by the way, are the same in the church as well as outside the church for many and so it’s a significant issue.
There are new studies coming out showing that pornography is just as highly addictive as hardcore drugs. With drugs, the individual that’s addicted to them, continues to seek out more drugs and hard core drugs because they can’t achieve the same high. Well, the same thing happens with pornography, where that same high does not occur with the same kind of pornography. And so I call it a downward spiral into depravity where you have an individual who is becoming addicted to pornography. Well, what happens then, is they begin to seek out more deviant, more violent, and younger pornography. So down into this spiral of depravity where at some point, they’re in the pit, wholly addicted and don’t know how to get out.
What we’ve learned is there is a percentage of those people who then want to begin to actualize what they’ve been visualizing, and they seek out the purchase of people for sex. So pornography is what’s fueling the sex trafficking industry.
Elle: Where would you recommend someone go who has been trafficked or either looking to get out of the sex industry?
Geoff: They can contact the National Human Trafficking hotline. Even those who may be suffering from this in their past need help, we encourage them to find hope in Jesus Christ because therein lies the solution. We know through Jesus is how they can have their Hearts reached, it’s a matter of changing the hearts of men and the hearts of women, and how the demand can significantly be decreased and also even with the traffickers. However, I’d like to see them in prison for the rest of their lives. And so that’d be the first thing we say is to engage in a walk with the Lord, to engage in church, and find help there. But there’s also a lot of online resources people can find. They can Google and find online resources to help with porn addiction, with sex addiction, with drug addiction, etc. So there’s a tremendous number of resources out there that people can take advantage of.
BLIND EYES OPENED will release in nearly 800 movie theaters nationwide on January 23 at 7:00 p.m. local time. For tickets and a complete list of theater locations, visit www.blindeyesopened.com.