“8 Days,” the movie kicking off The Dignity Initiative’s fall awareness campaign may be uncomfortable to watch. It’s meant to be, according to Director Jaco Booyens.
The film is a fictionalized account of the abduction of 16-year-old Amber Stevens, who goes missing from a party with her friends and is pulled into the world of sex trafficking. Based on actual victim accounts researched with the help of the Department of Homeland Security, Booyens said the film is disturbing but necessary to present a world that few people know about and even fewer believe happens in the United States. Booyens said he and his wife wanted to produce a film that could be seen around the world and could act as a mouthpiece for victims who don’t have a voice in the discussion.
The journey to making the film began with his wife, Philipa, a novelist who was asked to work on a project opposing human trafficking. As she researched the book, she and Jaco were introduced to the current climate of human trafficking in the U.S. The more they learned, the more they were convinced they needed to do something about it.
“When you see those things, you don’t have a choice,” Jaco said. “If there is any humanity in you, you say ‘How do we stop this?’ For us, it was to display it to the world, tell the truth, show them what it looks like.”
As the Booyens’ production company After Eden Pictures started ramping up its research, Jaco said they were approached by representatives from the Department of Homeland Security. He said that once he convinced the agents he spoke to that his team wanted to do a realistic portrayal of what happened in these cases, the department said it wanted to help.
“Before there was even a script, they started showing me reports and evidence of past crimes,” he said. “I wish I could delete what I saw from my brain.”
He said that working with Homeland Security strengthened his resolve to make the picture as real as possible while still protecting the victims. He and his wife decided it should be an amalgamation of stories taken from cases of human trafficking and recreated for film.
“It is fiction, but it is fiction based on actual events,” he said. “We took events that we know of, that we were exposed to by Homeland Security and we fused them into this fictional story.”
He said the picture had to balance between showing gritty realism while avoiding salaciousness. There is no nudity in the film, but there is intimated sexual violence, because that is part of the story that many of the victims experience.
“It is visceral and it needed to be,” he said. “People ask what I want to accomplish (with the film) and No. 1, I want to disturb people in the theatre. I want a rude awakening and I want people to understand that this is real and this is what it looks like.”
The film has been hailed as a powerful and accurate depiction of the crimes and their victims. Booyens said it is currently being used to train police and military agencies across the United States and in Europe.
Sherry Rhodes, co-chair of The Dignity Initiative, said that she thinks the film sends a strong message that ties into her group’s mission. The Dignity Initiative is a Collin College-based organization, which works to raise awareness and inspire action on issues of violence against and oppression of women.
In the past, the group has focused on the objectification of women in the media and the victimizer’s role in violence and oppression. This fall’s campaign is designed to shine a light on sex trafficking, a multi-billion dollar industry that trades on some of the most vulnerable portions of society.
“We looked at several films and we felt like this one really told the story,” Rhodes said. “It brings to light the seriousness of these crimes.
“We live in our own little worlds, and I don’t think a lot of people realize how serious this has become and how prevalent it is in our own back yards.”
Texas often ranks near the top of the list in human trafficking statistics. Rhodes pointed to arrests made in a sex trafficking ring in Denton last year as an example. She noted that victims may be smuggled as far as two states away within 24 hours of being taken and often survive just five to seven years in captivity.
“I don’t think that any of us had any idea that it was going on to that level here,” Rhodes said.
The film will begin at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30 in the Spring Creek Campus Living Legends Theater, 2800 E. Spring Creek Parkway in Plano. It will be followed by a panel discussion on human trafficking with Jaco, two actors from the film and a representative of Homeland Security.
The Dignity Initiative will follow this film screening with a series of panel discussions on human trafficking on each of the college’s major campuses, Oct. 13-15. Other Dignity Initiative events planned for the fall include a special presentation titled “Divine Privilege: Understanding the Intersection of Spiritual Abuse and Domestic Violence” and a series of screenings of the documentary “In Plain Sight,” which also focuses on human trafficking.