“New Abolitionist” Filmmaker Christina Zorich Exposes Human Trafficking in Asia & America

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“New Abolitionist” Filmmaker Christina Zorich

Christina Zorich’s documentary “The New Abolitionists” on human sex trafficking in Asia, was an all-encompassing six-year endeavor where she poured her heart and soul into a cause that came to her almost a decade back. The movie has inspired audiences through the festival circuit, garnering numerous accolades including winning runner-up at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival. Christina is now in talks for wider distribution and streaming for this important film.

The film tracks Zorich’s journey as she and her team follow committed abolitionists throughout Southeast Asia as she documents the trajectories of the Christian ministries and NGOs (non-government organizations) who save children and teens entrapped and enslaved in the sex trade throughout Cambodia and Thailand. They educated her on the causes and conditions that led to the blossoming of this criminal industry, the government’s complicity, and the structure they used to solve the problem: Rescue, Rehabilitation, Prosecution and Prevention. The programs that many of these organizations offer to help victims gain financial freedom and self-esteem through vocational training in a safe and loving space.

The film was a long journey for Zorich.  She made 2 trips to the region, the first in 2015, where she laid the groundwork for a longer shoot, meeting the people involved in these rescues. 

“With this film,” says Zorich, “I set out to not only expose the causations of trafficking, but to reveal practical solutions. My hope is that learning from these brave abolitionists will inspire others to join the fight in whatever way they can.” 

Right before Christmas 2021, Christina spoke to us candidly about the filming, the human trafficking issue and solutions, her inspirations, the generosity of her late parents, Louis Zorich and Olympia Dukakis who served as Executive Producers and inspired Christina’s unique philanthropy path, and her strong Christian faith. We even got to meet her adorable Manchester terrier, Jake.

Here are some highlights from the powerful interview.

Why Southeast Asia?

“I’ve spent the last six years of my life dedicated to the subject matter. I followed four anti trafficking groups that rescue, rehabilitate, do preventative work and prosecution work fighting human sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. So we focused on that region of the globe, because I heard when I first started this journey in 2015, that it was considered the most trafficked region of the globe.”

Erica Greves Inspired Christina

Some “synchronistic” events happened in Christina’s life, leading her to openings and opportunities. She started out wanting to produce a play but first heard about the issue in 2012 at a party from Erica Greve, founder of Unlikely Heroes. “Time stood still” for Christina as she heard Erica’s stories. “The first story she told me was connected to the Philippines. There was an ex nurse in Northern California who had women and children who had been trafficked come stumbling into her hospital. She realized there was no training or program to help rehabilitate these children and women from this extensive, intense level of trauma. And that’s why she wanted to build homes, fill them with rescued children and women and staff them and needed to raise funds for it.”

A Huge Gratitude For Christina’s Parents’ Involvement

Christina wanted to help be part of the solution, especially when it came to fundraising. The idea for the documentary came then, and with some money from some property she sold, and support from her parents, the movie came to life. Christina’s parents have since passed, and she remains grateful for them bringing it across the finish line. Despite the emotional waves and challenges in making the film, she believes she was “in purpose”, in her “divine assignments” and “God tipped his hat” in key moments, helping the project progress and come to fruition, with the film focused on . 

Admiration For The NGOs Doing The Hard Work

She admires the NGOs she worked with.  “Some of them started from nothing, building their NGOs to do this work. They’re balancing the authorities, the police and how to evade these criminal industries. They’re dealing with victims that are traumatized on crazy levels. It’s high stakes. It’s really inspirational for me as a Christian. When I started doing this movie, I thought, this is fascinating, because this is one issue that everyone can agree on.”

Most Powerful Scene

The most powerful scene for Christina “was a moment we put back in and it’s just the shot of one of the children that was trafficked in Cambodia. And it’s the shot as we were leaving. Her story is horrific. Her grandmother trafficked her. The level of abuse is just horrific. But there’s a shot at the end where she’s smiling after we did our interview. We captured this confidence and joy in her in this one shot.”

The Solution: Addressing The Financial Component of Poverty

“The financial component, the families, the systemic issues and poverty must be dealt with. The NGOs, the leaders, social workers and staffers go into that family and analyze how they can start micro businesses, education and healing processes for the family. Some of them are open, some of them are not. Sometimes they try a business and it doesn’t work out and they have to [find] another way. But some of the success stories are breathtaking.’

Therapy & Restoration

“All [survivors] need to deal with trauma therapy with the girls and women. There’s a section and period where that must be the priority. I love that the church in the last 10 years has become so much more hip to the value and importance of therapy. There’s an extensive period of time that happens. It has to do with how long it takes for the child or woman to reach a level where she can function. They have to have a safe place to go about the business of restoring on a personal level. We’ve all had different levels of betrayal in our life, correct?  To be able to get through that kind of betrayal and also the loss of innocence [takes time]. We interviewed a trauma therapist, and he went into an extensive level discussion about PTSD, and what kind of effects that has psychologically and physiologically on people. They deal with that trauma, and work through it, with a highly specialized and equipped therapist that they trust.”

Training Life Skills

“Then they start with training and figure out what kind of a training discipline this child has an aptitude for. That takes time to kind of explore, and sometimes they figure it out quicker, sometimes it takes more time. And then there’s other business opportunities for people. They also have classes that have to do with life skills, because a lot of young girls or women never were taught life skills in a healthy parenting structure. In the most successful cases, they end up going back to the families and incorporating [skills they learned]. They’re open to that healing process that needs to happen financially, psychologically and emotionally.”

A Lifelong Battle To Get To A Healthy Place

“It’s a lifelong battle, to get themselves in a healthy place, to feel safe in their own body, and not continue to re-traumatize themselves the way they were traumatized. Because they don’t know how to keep themselves safe, because they weren’t kept safe as children needed to be, that rewiring of the brain and the rewiring of the body and the response system takes time. Our point person at Nightlight International said, ‘if you’re dedicated to supporting groups that do this work, you have to be dedicated to the long haul recovery process.’”

Trafficking In The USA

“I just was asked to do to host a doc series about human sex trafficking in the States. We shot a sizzle reel where I interviewed 10 people: three intelligence officers, 3 victims, a trauma therapist, an ex state trooper, people who are in the know, in the middle of this country, and it’s happening here. Some of the stuff that we interviewed and found out had to be talked about off camera, because it was too dangerous. It’s happening here behind the scenes, on all levels. There was a girl trafficked out of her basement by her mother. There’s another girl who was trafficked from a gas station in Montana.”

People Don’t Believe It’s Happening

“There is a segment of society that doesn’t believe it’s happening here. And then another segment is involved. Some are woefully in denial about the intricacies of what’s happening in this country. We think, ‘Oh, it’s that group or it’s this group’. Blaming and scapegoating certain people, is first of all, not real. It’s not true. And secondly, it’s lazy. Or it’s, ‘I think that that’s a mistake’. [Human trafficking] intersects over all groups, all sexualities. I asked one of the intelligence officers about the age range of people being trafficked in the States. And he says, from eight months to 80. One of the cases was somebody who had been labor trafficked as a servant, and it became sex. There’s all kinds of different businesses that are fronts here in the States because it’s behind the scenes. It’s a complex issue that changes depending on the culture, but depending on the society, depending on the customs in Southeast Asia, maybe it’s a little more out in the open there. Here, it’s hidden. I think we’re just finally really beginning to get that it’s happening. But the efforts to thwart it are very infantile in this country. It was only in 2000 that the first legit piece of legislation in this country was established against anti trafficking.”

Unite Against Human Trafficking

“I’ve seen Democrats and Republicans watch my movie, and all of them are moved by the subject matter and it’s not even about my movie so much but takeaway if they liked the film or not, seems to be a lot of people do. But if they don’t, everyone can agree that this is a horrendous issue and needs to be confronted. We must come together. It is a criminal industry, the cartels are involved, the gangs are involved, we have to put pressure on all public officials liberal and conservative to do something about this.”

Educating Parents on Online Activities

And then we have to educate. Educate families and children about online activities. Parents being more involved in what’s happening with their kids online, and being more aware. There needs to be some regulation for children in the online world. I don’t know how it would look.  I believe in free speech but I’m saying there’s certain measures that we as a country need to start brainstorming about, about how to protect people. Big tech is not being responsible. They’re not regulating. I do think there needs to be more accountability. In another town we drove through, one of the guys working said, ‘we’re pretty sure that there’s trafficking going on here. But the police aren’t doing anything about it.’”

Recognizing Signs of Distress In Public 

“I’ve seen on certain TikToks different signs you can give, if you see children or women with somebody what that looks like, and if they look in distress. There’s a sign you can give to denote to the general public that you’re in danger. Like sign language. The state trooper who pulled over Gabby Petito now runs seminars to teach other cops about how to spot this. Trafficking happens in places of travel. It’s real, getting out of denial, and then how to identify it, and educating ourselves. Polarisproject.org is a terrific website to get educated about what that looks like because labor trafficking is also a problem in this country, as well as human sex trafficking.”

Confronting The Problem

“I would just encourage people if there’s one lesson I learned from the film, the only way we solve problems is if we confront them. Confronting does not mean fighting, confronting means moving through and facing what’s happening for what it is the reality of it, and building those muscles. Nobody wants to look at how horrible this criminal industry is, that’s blooming globally. But the only way to thwart it is to do that. So I thought about doing as my father once said to me when I was 12 years old and I said, ‘Daddy, I just want to do what I love. When I get older, I don’t want to do anything I don’t love’ and he said, ‘Okay, well, that’s not what being a grown up is. Being a grown up, you have to do a lot of things you don’t want to, that needs to be done, that must be done.’”

Get Educated, Be Humble

“Get educated, read. If it feels practical and realistic, get grounded with the information. And you know, we all have a sense of truth inside of ourselves. We are talking about some intense events in people’s lives and externally, but we really tried to make them feel not overly salacious, but feel more real and grounded. Because that’s how you confront it. I think that we have to put pressure: liberals, conservatives, we have to stop making this a weapon that we use against each other. This is a social justice issue. It’s children. It’s our well being as a nation. 

I think we have to be more humble and realize real involvement, realize it’s going to destroy whatever paradigm. That’s what growth and development does. It cracks your face and says you were wrong, and that’s good. That’s how you grow and learn. That’s how you evolve. In dealing with life you learn past held ideas were wrong. We can’t be afraid of that because that’s going to happen. That’s how you outsmart these people. We have to be smarter than them.”

You can learn more about the movie at https://thenewabolitionistsdoc.com/, view the “What Can I Do” page to get resources and how to get involved, including connecting to the nonprofits doing great work, that inspired this film.

You can also view the full interview here.

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