Marie- Therese Oke
The recently held U.S. Consulate Documentary Film Festival displayed a vast amount of
brilliant, life-changing stories across a diaspora of genres. The Public Affairs of the United States
Consulate General in Lagos and Ascend Studios, partnered with Silverbird Cinemas for this
spectacular one-week event. Of the 8 films screened, I Am Jane Doe, written and directed by
Mary Mazzio took the limelight as the most emotional at the festival. A heart-wrenching
documentary about the illegal trafficking of under-aged girls via an advertising website,
backpage.com, and their battle for justice. The premiere was hosted by the U.S. Consul in partnership with Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF).
You wouldn’t think of America as a country where sex trafficking could occur, but it did and for the
longest, America’s laws protected the company that provided the platform for such atrocity.
According to research, “In the US, over 6 million people are trafficked yearly, 60% of these
people are trafficked for the commercial sex trade and almost 70% are girls under the age of 18”
The entire plot chronicles the battle that several teenage girls—they are referred to as Jane Doe
in the film—go through with the media, the internet and the justice system concerning sex
trafficking and exploitation of basic human dignity. It focused on the fight for Justice between
the families of the victims and the Backpage.com. A deadly battle that proved futile repeatedly,
due to a 20-year old law that seemed to prioritize the internet over the lives of citizens.
There are two major ways of looking at the I am Jane Doe documentary: a film that shows the
the truth about the vast existence of child sex trafficking in a developed country like America; a case study of the exploitation of legal loopholes. Mazzio refers to the issue as “modern slavery”, saying that the internet has poisoned the minds of children, adults, the authorities and worse off, the law.
The panel was made up of Mary Mazzio; Kemi DaSilva-Ibru, Founder of WARIF; Comfort Sanni, Senior official from National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP); Chioma Afe, Head of Corporate Communication in Diamond Bank; Tobore Ovuorie, an award-winning investigative journalist and survivor of human trafficking; Mary Joseph, survivor of human trafficking. Joseph and Ovuorie shared their gruesome experiences; detailing the processes involved in sex trafficking in Nigeria. Statistics on extent of Human Trafficking in America and Nigeria were discussed. Sanni disclosed that of 14000 victims, 7000 are below 17 and that the average age for the trafficked girl in Nigeria is age 15.
Members of the panel also discussed the features of the modern-day pimp and their recruitment methods, which include selling dreams to these young girls. “They are very clever. They appear to be the most loving and caring of persons. They promise you riches, designer clothing, and a better life” Ovuorie said. The survivors expressed that it may be the people one least expects, like in the case of Joseph, who was sold by her pastor. She was taken from Kano to Libya. She endured a large number of morbid things: she was raped in transit; she witnessed a murder and she saw 16 trailers filled with girls to be sold beside her. She now works with DaSilva-Ibru at WARIF. DaSilva-Ibru, as the panel moderator, shared more statistics on the issue and discussed the work her organization does to help women and children in such situations.
After Ovourie and Joseph shared their bitter experiences in the hands of sex traffickers, you feel
a range of emotions; from anger and pain to sadness and powerless, because you know
the government can do anything, and the allure of good life overseas will always entice girls.
A question was put forward to the government representative at the event, and unsurprisingly,
she hails the government and pushes the task to the everyday man. The same way the US government closed her eyes to the backpage.com cases and the ordinary man had to fight.