The documentary “I Am Jane Doe” chronicles the battle that several American mothers are waging on behalf of their daughters, who were middle-school-aged victims of sex-trafficking on Backpage.com, the online adult classifieds site. Reminiscent of Erin Brockovich and Karen Silkwood, these mothers have stood up on behalf of thousands of others, fighting back and refusing to take no for an answer. See it for yourself. “I Am Jane Doe” is available on Netflix, iTunes, and other platforms.
We spoke with Nacole, one of the mothers featured in the film, about why she agreed to be in this documentary, and what she would say to the men who purchased her teenage daughter for sex.
Q. Why did you decide to be in this film?
When filmmaker Mary Mazzio approached us about doing “I Am Jane Doe” my first question was: where did she see the movie going and what impact did she want to make with it? Once she answered those questions and told us some of the other people who were in the film, especially some of the senators she would be interviewing, I saw that she had a very broad audience and knew that this would hold those policymakers’ feet to the fire a little bit. How could you be part of this movie and then not want any further action? I was all in after that.
Q. What do you hope people take away from watching the film?
So many things. For one, just the knowledge that this does happen all across America to every family. I say if you have a child, you have a potential child sex trafficking victim. It doesn’t matter your income, your education level, where you live, rural, urban. And secondly, the legal battle and why it’s important to change this law, in a very limited scope, to protect victims and to hold companies that are making money—like Backpage—accountable. It’s never been my goal to shut down the internet. I don’t want to close down freedom of speech, which seems to be the big argument. I just want to make the internet a safer place for the children who use it, and make sure that companies don’t profit off the sale of children.
Q. What messages do you have for the men who buy children online?
For the purchasers, I would like for them to look at if they have children—their daughter, their mother, their sister, their brother. How would you feel if that was your family member being purchased for sex and treated as nothing more than a commodity? Our children are not commodities. They’re not something to be bought and sold on a whim like a DVD player or a pizza. They are children with emotions. We are families that hurt when our children are abused. I would say look and treat them like children. These are people; these are not commodities. And we absolutely need to focus on the demand side of it. You can’t have comprehensive recovery if you’re not looking at the demand side.
If you’re a father, teach your young son how to treat a woman; what is respectful. I was so appalled when my daughter told me that some of her purchasers were college students. I thought, this should be a person who can go out to any club and find a date. Why would they need to purchase my child? Raise your children with open communication about how to treat young women.
Q. Our goal as an organization is to focus on demand-reduction, believing that, if we can stop men from buying, then we can stop women from being sold. Do you agree with that statement?
I do agree with that statement. One of the bills that we passed in the state of Washington was enhanced fines for johns. I believe in 2010 the fine for a john was $150. As a woman I can tell you that I hide $150 from my husband just to buy a pair of shoes. So we increased those fines. A first-time offense was $500, the second time was $1,000, and the third time was $1,500 and you had to register as a sex offender. It’s a little harder to explain to your wife or girlfriend why the car has been towed and you’re paying a $500 fine for purchasing. There’s some accountability there. The state of Washington also started johns schools, where if you were picked up as a purchaser, you were required to take a class where you actually spoke with law enforcement and heard from victims about what this does and the effect that you’re having on the community. I don’t have the end-all-be-all answer—I wish I did—but those are just two examples of things I’ve worked to get started in Washington state as a way to curb the demand side.
I believe that children, both girls and boys, need to be educated at a much younger age, first about signs of recruiting and what that looks like, as well as how to treat each other. They need to learn that it’s not okay to purchase another human being. I don’t know how you’re going to do that. I know that Mary Mazzio is coming out with a 10-minute short based on Little Red Riding Hood called “I Am Little Red.” It’s going to be an educational piece that should be out shortly. It’s done by the animators of “Toy Story,” so it’s going to be first class, top notch animation and it’ll be short enough so we can take it into schools and use it.
Q. Can you tell us about the difficulties you had in finding victim services for your daughter to help her recover from this experience?
In 2010 when my daughter was a victim, finding services was very hard. I believe at that time there were about 150 beds across the country. There are more now, but they’re very cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all, and if you know anything about human trafficking or children, it’s that they all come in different sizes, shapes, and forms. What works for one family may not work for another family, and so saying that a child just needs to go to a drug treatment program may not fix the problem. Also, there are hardly any services out there for parents on how to deal with a child who has been through this trauma; and ultimately the trauma that you’ve been put through.
So finding organizations out there is difficult. Peer monitoring organizations were very helpful for my daughter. It was wonderful for her to hear stories from other survivors about how they made it through, and the challenges that they have. It was also helpful for my husband and I, because they were able to understand my daughter’s language. I didn’t understand her love and compassion for the pimp, and they were able to explain it to me in a way that made sense. It was almost like Stockholm Syndrome, and once it was explained, it made much more sense to me. So having those peer monitoring facilities was very helpful for our family, but finding services that are structured specifically for child sex trafficking victims was very challenging, and especially finding services that are long term.
You have a lot of support when your child is missing. There are police looking, there’s a trial, you have the District Attorney and the FBI involved, different organizations that are out there during the search process. But once the search is over, the child is recovered, and the trial is over, those services all disappear and you’re left with the trauma and tragedy of what’s left. What we’re finding now is that, as our daughters move from teenagers into young adults, they’re still needing those services and there are even fewer now at the ages of 21 or 22 than they were at 16 and 17. At this age, you’re basically left with domestic violence organizations. It’s hard because this is a very long-term recovery process.
Q. What has been the reaction to the film?
The reaction to the film has been very positive. I’ve heard very little negative feedback personally. I do know that the tech companies are hesitant when you talk about changing the Communications Decency Act. They like the internet just the way it is, and when you start talking about changing the CDA they feel like it’s a very slippery slope to go down, and that’s why I am urging the tech companies to be involved in the construction of a bill that will not only protect children, but will take the bad actors out. It’s going to take everybody to solve this problem, so I’m hoping we’ll get positive feedback. There is one bill already introduced on the Hill that’s moving through the process. I think that bill is a little broad scope, but as it moves through the different committees, I’m hoping to see a comprehensive bill that will be agreed upon and eventually signed into law.
Q. What would you say to people who want to get involved?
I suggest that everybody watch “I Am Jane Doe” then go to the website and call your congress members and let them know that this is something that really needs to be changed. I also launched a Change.org petition with Dr. Oz that people can sign. You do have a voice in this. There is action that you can take. Get involved in your local community and find out what the laws are locally and let’s start enhancing fines and the criminality of the purchasers and the sellers. Get involved. You are not powerless.
The views and opinions expressed in this interview are that of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Demand Abolition.
About the Spotlight Series
Across the world, people are doing powerful, innovative work to end prostitution and sex trafficking. Our Spotlight Series of blog posts features leaders in the anti-demand and abolitionist movements. We want to showcase these essential contributions to the fight against sexual abuse. The idea is simple: we’ll be asking people a few questions and publish their verbatim responses.
Read more in our Spotlight Series: Leaders in the Movement »
Do you know someone we should interview? Are there any questions you’d like us to ask? Please send your ideas to email@example.com.