Human Trafficking Blog

What to Watch/Read This Summer to Expand Your Knowledge about Human Trafficking

Summer is finally here, and with it, longer days and more time to get outside. But next time you find yourself on the couch deciding what to watch or read next, we’ve got you covered! 

We asked team members at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking to recommend a book, movie, documentary, or TV show that would deepen your understanding of human trafficking. Check out our list below for four important pieces of content that will teach you something new about this critical human rights issue. 

#1: DOCUMENTARY: This Adventure Called California

STAFF RECOMMENDATION: “This documentary is worth checking out because it talks about something that is often left out of anti-trafficking conversations: labor trafficking. 

 

This film depicts the story of one immigrant, highlighting the abuse he experienced at the hands of his boss. We know that immigrants are disproportionately vulnerable to this crime because of the discrimination and marginalization some may face in our society. Traffickers depend on us as citizens and service providers to not care about these individuals. 

 

A victim of human trafficking may not “look” or “act” how you would expect them to. Despite being trapped for months in a trafficking situation, almost starving to death, getting life-threatening injuries at the work site, and living under a bridge for six months, Arnoldo could still find joy in riding a bike or kicking a soccer ball around. We need to be listening deeper to help victims understand what their options are and how to seek assistance.”

 

Katlyn Pryshlak, Hotline and Advocacy Manager

This Adventure Called California film coverThis Adventure Called California (2021) follows Arnoldo, who travels from Tijuana to San Francisco with the promise of steady work. He is determined to prove himself to his estranged family, but instead becomes a victim of labor trafficking. Arnoldo endures 16-hour workdays with no pay and little food.

After gaining his freedom, Arnoldo struggles with homelessness, continued exploitation, and trauma. But a chance encounter with a stranger starts to change his luck, and allows him to dream of returning home with his head held high. 

Arnoldo’s difficult yet hopeful story addresses the themes of wage theft, labor trafficking, mental health, criminal justice, and recovery from trauma. It also highlights the vast amount of work that needs to be done to eliminate forced labor from the supply chain in the United States. This documentary is just 30 minutes long, so you can watch it on your lunch break or when you have some time to spare.

SPECIAL OFFER! This month, you can watch This Adventure Called California for free! Watch it on Vimeo with the password Tijuana.

 

Trigger warning: This Adventure Called California includes mentions of suicide. Please watch with discretion. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

WATCH NOW

Jennifer Huang's quote on human trafficking

MEET THE DIRECTOR: Jennifer Huang

We were lucky enough to pick Director Jennifer Huang’s brain about This Adventure Called California. Keep reading for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this documentary.

What led you to create this film?

“I have been working on The Long Rescue, a feature-length documentary film, about the recovery journey of teen sex trafficking survivors in the Philippines. Doing research for that, I learned about labor trafficking, how prevalent it is, and how it has not gotten nearly enough attention.

So when I had the opportunity to make a short film through a fellowship with Re-Present Media, I looked for a labor trafficking survivor that I could work with. Arnoldo was one of the few who was willing to go public, which takes a lot of courage. He is very motivated to share his story in the hopes that it can help prevent others from being exploited.”

What is something you hope viewers take away from this story?

“I hope people realize that labor trafficking is all around us, and that wage theft and exploitation are likely in their own communities, hidden in back rooms, kitchens, fields, factories, and sometimes in plain sight. I hope viewers get curious about how exploitation is embedded in so many things we consume, both goods and services, and get creative about ways to fight it. And workers can learn their own rights and share with others when working conditions are unjust.

I also hope that people can empathize on a gut level with what people like Arnoldo experience. His story could happen to anyone who is trying to find a better life, and it often does. It is my hope that labor trafficking goes from a mere concept to a tangible human experience, with a face and a narrative that is easy to identify with.”

How do you think this film can be part of real change and help prevent future labor trafficking?

“Trafficking is complex, multi-faceted, looks different in different regions, and has different mechanisms and drivers. All of us are needed to change the world to a place that doesn’t tolerate the exploitation of our most vulnerable.

As one documentary impact pioneer said, films are just a drop in a wave that is created throughout society. I feel very fortunate to be a part of that groundswell. The more momentum we build, the more it will become impossible to fight our surge.”

WATCH THE SHORT FILM (PW: Tijuana)

#2: TV SERIES: Truth Be Told, Season 3

STAFF RECOMMENDATION: “The show does an excellent job illustrating the difference in law enforcement and society’s response when the ‘missing girl’ identifies as white vs. Black. The background story for each missing Black girl is discussed and illustrated very well, as is the ‘recruitment’ process by traffickers targeting individuals who are vulnerable for various reasons. For example, some of the identity-based vulnerabilities depicted are feelings of being unloved, a history of child neglect, discrimination based on race, abandonment issues, and low self-esteem issues regardless of socioeconomic status.

 

What stands out the most is that this series is the illustration of crime of human trafficking in relation to victims/survivors under age of 18, the survivor’s identified vulnerabilities, and the importance of understanding this is a crime that does not require relocation or transportation from one place to another but occurs in one’s neighborhood, school, and home.”

 

Kristina Wilburn, Associate Manager, Training and Education

Truth Be Told show coverSeason 3 of Truth Be Told (2023) stars Octavia Spencer as Poppy Scoville, an investigative journalist and true-crime podcaster who risks her life in pursuit of truth and justice. She focuses on the disappearance of a Black teenage girl, Drea Spivey, which leads her to uncover a suspected sex trafficking ring. 

Poppy teams up with school principal Eva Pierre (Gabrielle Union) to highlight the systemic racial biases in media coverage and law enforcement. Their investigation exposes deep-seated issues in their community, including racial injustice and the prioritization of cases that involve white, upper-class victims over those from marginalized backgrounds​. 

This TV drama highlights themes of racism, the “ideal victim” trope, and biased police investigations and media coverage. Lots of good drama! 

WATCH ON APPLE TV

If you don’t already have Apple TV, you can get a seven-day free trial! Trust us, that’s all the time you’ll need to watch this series.

Jesse Leon giving a TED Talk

#3: BOOK: I’m Not Broken by Jesse Leon

STAFF RECOMMENDATION: “Jesse’s story as a male-identified Latino survivor of human trafficking illustrates the many cultural forces at work that silenced his truth. As a country, we often fail at allowing men of color to voice vulnerability and needs; he writes how Machista culture complicates ways in which we talk about risk and resilience to human trafficking. While it is not an easy read, we are along for Jesse’s journey as he pieces together his path forward.

 

In my perspective as a mother, all stories of human trafficking pull and panic the hearts of parents, friends, and communities who love their children. Jesse’s story illustrates the many ways cultural expectations and community systems were complicit in keeping him silent. Jesse’s memoir helps to break the silence, asking us as community members to keep our eyes open, get to know our children’s hopes and dreams, to read non-verbal signs of distress, which includes shut down.”

 

Annjanette Alejano-Steele, Research Director and Co-Founder

I'm Not Broken by Jesse Leon book coverJesse Leon is a friend and partner of the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (last December, he participated in our Colorado Gives Day event in a conversation with Research Director and Co-Founder Dr. Annjanette Alejano-Steele). He’s also the author of I’m Not Broken. In this unflinching and moving memoir, Jesse tells his story of resilience and survival. 

Born to indigenous working-class Mexican immigrants in San Diego in the 1970s, Jesse’s childhood was riddled with a violent household, sex trafficking, street life, and substance abuse. At 11 years old, a trip to the store to get water balloons left Jesse with a horrible secret and led to him becoming a victim of sex trafficking. Overlooked by systems intended to help victims of abuse and neglect like many other low-income Latinos, Jesse spiraled. He turned to violence and drugs as coping mechanisms.

I’m Not Broken shares the journey Jesse takes to regain control over his life—eventually graduating from Harvard University and becoming a successful businessman and anti-trafficking advocate. From being the only young person of color in Narcotics Anonymous meetings to coming to terms with his own sexual identity, to becoming a mentor for incarcerated youth, Jesse finds the will to live with the love and support of his family, friends, and mentors.

The book exposes systemic flaws that cause people with marginalized identities to be more vulnerable to human trafficking—and slip through the cracks of support systems intended to stop exploitation. Jesse’s story is also a testament to the power of familial love, education, and self-acceptance.

BUY THE BOOK

Trigger warning: I’m Not Broken includes mentions of suicide, sexual abuse of a minor, and drug use. Please read with discretion. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call the 24/7 National Substance Abuse Hotline at 866-210-1303.

#4: MOVIE: She Said 

STAFF RECOMMENDATION: “While not explicitly about human trafficking, She Said delves into the profound power dynamics within an industry that protects predators and knowingly nurtures a culture of abuse with impunity. This story is crucial as it helped ignite the #MeToo movement, empowering countless women who have been systematically silenced to come forward and reveal the pervasive harassment, assault, and abuse of power experienced across various industries and workplaces.

 

My biggest takeaways are the narratives of survivorship and the intricate systems that perpetuated the silencing of these survivors for decades. The film underscores the numerous legal policies and institutions that allowed powerful individuals to continue their abuse while intimidating and silencing survivors long after. She Said is not just about breaking the Weinstein story, but also highlights rampant inequities still faced in the workplace and the urgent need for our systems to advocate for and protect survivors.”

 

Kalyn Pascale, Development and Operations Manager

She Said book coverBased on the best-selling book, She Said (2022) stars Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. They broke a story that exposed decades of exploitation, abuses of power, and the mass silencing of survivors of sexual assault in Hollywood. 

The movie details the journey of the reporters and editors who uncovered the truth, as well as the courageous survivors and witnesses who came forward to stop accused serial abuser Harvey Weinstein from causing further harm. This groundbreaking reporting played a crucial role in the #MeToo movement and fueled a reckoning of the system that had enabled Weinstein.

She Said details the meticulous work of these reporters and the people (many of them women) who found the strength to speak out and seek justice, for themselves and for others. It highlights power imbalances and how difficult it can be for survivors to navigate the criminal justice system. 

This important story is even more relevant today. As of May 2024, Harvey Weinstein is set to face a retrial for rape charges after his 2020 conviction was overturned by the New York State Court of Appeals. The retrial is scheduled to begin after Labor Day. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office expressed confidence in securing another conviction.

You can watch She Said on Peacock, Prime Video, or Apple TV.

WATCH ON APPLE TV


A person reads a book in the summer in a tent

We hope these recommendations expand your understanding and perspective on human trafficking. Increased and widespread knowledge will help end this crime. Though they are not light stories, they shine a new lens on the exploitation of labor and sex that happens in the United States today. Let us know what you think!

Do you have another recommendation you would add to this list? Please reach out to us and share. We’d love to make sure it’s on our staff and community’s radar, too.