Sex trafficking is a global plague. As mainstream awareness of the crime continues to expand, authorities are zeroing in on the venues by which these shifty predators lure their prey. "The Trap", an absorbing documentary from The Guardian, profiles one such venue: American prisons.
This sobering film is the result of an intensive year-long investigation. It exposes a widespread operation of abuse and solicitation that dominates in regions all across the country.
When a young woman is sentenced for a drug or solicitation offense, their personal information is entered into a national database. This information is widely accessible, and might include the prisoner's name, age, criminal record and expected release date. Traffickers comb these databases, target the subjects they believe would be most profitable to them, establish a relationship through letters, and groom them for eventual recruitment. They garner their victim's trust and loyalty, and promise them a future of security and unconditional love.
In reality, once released, these inmates walk into a world of continued drug abuse and prostitution under the thumb of a controlling pimp.
"They know that we're weak and desperate at that point," says one inmate as she first learns of the scheme. Yearning for genuine affection and faced with limited possibilities after their release, these women are susceptible to a predator's fraudulent empathy and support.
The filmmakers speak with women who have lived through the horrors of prison-based sex trafficking and others who are currently being targeted. Correctional officers blow the whistle on some of the methods predators use to target their prey, and expose a negligent system of law enforcement that enables these traffickers to flourish in their criminal enterprises. In another segment, incarcerated sex traffickers testify to the ease with which they operated from the outside of the penal system to target their victims.
"The Trap" also devotes much attention to the case of Richard Rawls, a 75-year old trafficker in Orlando, FL who collected a harem of over two dozen women from area prisons. Much like the film, his 2014 arrest shed a much needed light on this increasingly familiar crime of sleaze and exploitation.