Criminal Law and Justice

New Views Film Leads to Major Sex-Trafficking Bill

June 18, 2018  • Institute Staff

In partnership with Aspen Film, the Institute’s NEW VIEWS Documentaries & Dialogue series presented the film I Am Jane Doe last summer. The documentary chronicles the epic battle that several American mothers have been waging on behalf of their middle-school daughters, all victims of sex trafficking on, the classified advertising website that for years was part of the Village Voice. The screening was followed by a moving conversation with a former sex-trafficked child victim and her mother along with director Mary Mazzio and the Markle Foundation’s Zoe Baird. Since being featured in Aspen, the film has led to real changes in policy. “Aspen has been pivotal in so much that we do,” says Mazzio, who notes that the screening led to key relationships that helped get the film even more attention. The Aspen NEW VIEWS documentary series also spurred a key op-ed—Mazzio calls it “scathing”—by The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof about Google’s role in all of this: “Googlefunded groups were supporting Backpage and its legal defense,” Mazzio says. The film, along with the Kristof op-ed and tireless advocacy by Aspen leaders, played a significant role in leading to a Senate investigation and new legislation—vigorously opposed by the tech industry—to stop the online marketing of child sex trafficking in the United States. Then, in April, President Donald Trump signed into law a new measure that will make it easier for victims to hold websites accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking. “Trafficking is probably worse today than at any time in our history,” Trump said during a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. The law is already having an impact on sites like Reddit, which has changed its policies on paid sex services, and Craigslist, which has shuttered its personal-ads section entirely. The film clearly has a profound effect on those who see it. When those people are Institute leaders, the effect also leads to action.