Movie Review: “Stopping Traffic: The Movement To End Sex Trafficking” Is A Painful Look At A Modern-Day Societal Epidemic

“While it has been said that there is so much horror in the world, we cannot possibly absorb all of it, the director makes clear that at least we can try to understand some of it better.”


“Stopping Traffic” explores the pervasive reach of sex trafficking, especially of children in the U.S. and worldwide. Through commentary by victims and activists and investigations into practices in the U.S. and abroad, the film traces insidious links among child sexual exploitation, pornography, social media, and sex trafficking.

As both Robert Sapolsky (author and highly regarded professor of biology and neurology at Stanford) and Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize winner) have said, the opposite of love isn’t hate or evil, it’s indifference. That indifference might better be described as a total lack of empathy, a recurring theme in “Stopping Traffic” which explores an industry and its customers who fit the description to a tee. It is difficult to watch the interviewees – whether victims or advocates – as they are often moved to tears discussing their experiences.

The director, Sadhvi Siddhali Shree – a woman and monk, also interviewed in the film – begins by describing what appears to be her refreshingly naïve take on sex trafficking. One can legitimately wonder how jaded she may become by the end of the documentary.

The filming takes place in several locations, from the Philippines to Mexico to New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston. Many of us are inclined to believe that slavery ended over 150 years ago with the Emancipation Proclamation. As Dr. Ben Wright, assistant professor of historical studies at the University of Texas at Dallas makes clear on camera, slavery as an institution may have ended, but slaving continues. Defined as maintaining un-freedom or commodifying the body, slaving – in essence, what it really means to be a slave – hasn’t stopped. It has morphed, maintained and persists.

Dolph Lundgren – who incidentally is smarter than he may look (he holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney) – co-wrote and starred in a fictional film version about human trafficking entitled “Skin Trade.” In “Stopping Traffic,” he provides his take on the sex trade – clearly an issue he cares about deeply.

Perhaps one of the most chilling aspects of the film is the fact that traffickers maintain spreadsheets containing the ages and income potentials of their victims. Revelations like this make clear that value-free economics of the neoclassical variety developed over the past century has grave shortcomings. Abstract theory must also incorporate ethics in order to combat the often messy ugliness of the real world.

According to the filmmakers, 27 million people a year – equivalent to the population of Texas – are victims of the human trafficking business. The perpetrators operate in the shadows and closer to home than we might realize, utterly without regard to the deleterious effects of their trade on others – particularly children. “Stopping Traffic” is a documentary that captures the pure depravity of human and sex trafficking – an industry that leaves only broken souls in its wake. While it has been said that there is so much horror in the world, we cannot possibly absorb all of it, the director makes clear that at least we can try to understand some of it better. The last part of the film is devoted to a call for action. These victims need advocates, and the uncomfortable truth is that such crimes occur all around us, every day.

The film will premiere in Hollywood September 26th and in theaters September 29th for a one-week run in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. The movie will also be released in January on VOD, during National Trafficking Awareness Month.


Thomas Tunstall

Thomas Tunstall, Ph.D. is the senior research director at the Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is the principal investigator for numerous economic and community development studies and has published extensively. Dr. Tunstall recently completed an original screenplay and delivered a TED Talk dealing with sustainable community development in the wake of shale oil and gas development. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy, and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Dallas, as well as a B.B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin.
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