Sex Work

'Innocence Stolen?' Maybe Not. Suspicion Cast on Sex-Trafficking Tale at Heart of Eden

Another high-profile sex trafficking yarn is coming unraveled.

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In 2012 filmmaker Megan Griffiths debuted Eden, the tale of "underage women conscripted into sexual slavery by a criminal enterprise from which there is seemingly no escape," as The New York Times review described it.

"You may call me naïve," wrote reviewer Stephen Holden, "but it is deeply upsetting that Eden is set in the United States and that the organization's boss, Bob Gault (Beau Bridges), is a law-and-order-preaching United States marshal. We imagine this kind of crime flourishing in the shadows of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But in the United States, with a backslapping good old boy running the operation? Could it be?"

No. And it wasn't supposed to be, not exactly—Griffiths' film was not a documentary. But it did advertise itself as being based on a true story, that of Chong Kim, a Korean-American trafficked into sex slavery in the mid-1990s.

When the film came out, the real Kim made the media circuit telling her story: handcuffed to a doorknob for months by a man she thought was her boyfriend; held in a Vegas warehouse full of other teens; forced to work as a prostitute around the country; rising to madam; and escaping on her own two years later.

As a public speaker, and activist, Kim had already told this story many times—here's her being interviewed for the 2011 book Not in My Town: Exposing and Ending Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery. She describes how she was kidnapped and trafficked as so:

I had a gun to my head. The head person that does the trafficking was a consultant with the FBI in Las Vegas. So it was very corrupt.

Though she was 18, Kim says she was forced to pretend to be 13 to appeal to an array of unsuspecting pedophiles.

Um, it was an international criminal organization, but the majority of customers were white Americans. And the customers were anywhere between CEOs, lawyers, police officers, we've even had really high-echelon pastors, different types of men. They were high status; there were even political figures that were there that bought me.

Eden, the film based on Chong's story, premiered at the South by Southwest festival in 2012, nabbing the audience choice award for best narrative feature. Outside the festival, the film was heralded as "powerful," a "masterpiece," and "a sobering thriller that puts many human faces on an international crisis."

Women in Hollywood interviewed Griffiths at the time, leading in with this:

We all think the sex trafficking occurs over there in countries far, far away. But it happens here ALL THE TIME. … The thing about trafficking is that it happens in plain sight and many people in the culture perpetuate it—even guys with daughters.

It's a pretty good summary of the standard narrative on sex-trafficking these days: it's everywhere, all the time, and we don't even know it; the only way to combat it is to keep throwing cops and money and laws at it; and anyone who questions any of this is only aiding the evildoers. It's almost impossible to argue with people who buy this narrative, because the more evidence you present challenging sex trafficking's pervasiveness, the more they see proof that sex trafficking is so under the radar we need to throw more cops and money and laws at it.

As we've seen time and again, however, these tactics tend to under-produce on the stopping sex trafficking front and overcompensate by targeting consenting adult sex workers—either by arresting them or labeling them victims and sending them to things like "prostitution diversion therapy"—and their clients. The majority of genuine sex trafficking cases that are uncovered tend to be older teenagers—still terrible, but far from the horror stories we hear from anti-trafficking advocates, who insist throngs of young girls are being sold as sex slaves.

Chong Kim/Facebook

And now we are seeing so many of these horror stories fall apart. First it was Somaly Mam, the activist whose own sex trafficking story, as well as those of some of her star "rescues," turned out to be false. After years of international support and acclaim, Mam—a favorite of The New York Times' Nicolas Kristof—was exposed by Newsweek as a fraud.

Now Kim's story, too, may be coming apart. Last week Breaking Out, a nonprofit organization that fights human trafficking of all forms, posted the following message on Facebook:

We regretfully want to inform everyone the results of a year long investigation by our highly experienced investigative unit, that Chong Kim whom has claimed to be a survivor of human trafficking is not what she claims to be.

After thorough investigation into her story, people, records and places, as well as, many interviews with producers, publishers and people from organizations, we found no truth to her story. In fact, we found a lot of fraud, lies, and most horrifically capitalizing and making money on an issue where so many people are suffering from.

According to Breaking Out's founder, James Barnes, it and several other organizations were defrauded by Chong, who was collecting money in their names without actually passing any of it on. "We are ready with others supporting us to take full legal action against Chong Kim," Barnes' statement said.

Kim responded to Breaking Out in a Facebook post:

I don't appreciate you spreading lies about me … Whatever you claim to have I have the right to see it otherwise I will send you and your organization a formal complaint.

For the record, I reached out to Kim, with no response yet. Update: "I have my attorney on them," Kim told me. "We sent them a cease & desist letter Monday."

In subsequent Facebook updates, Breaking Out elaborated on its allegations and said it was "working with a reporter to get an interview" with Kim. In an interview with Christina Parreira, Barnes—a private investigator for 15 years—explained that Kim approached him about working together. He agreed, but found parts of her story suspicious and began poking around.

Earlier this week, Noah Berlatsky wrote at Salon about "Hollywood's dangerous obsession with sex trafficking." Berlatsky watched Eden and did not see the same poignantly realistic drama so many movie critics had.

The familiarity here is the familiarity of exploitation tropes, which are clustered about so densely and insistently that it's hard to believe anyone missed them. (…) The film isn't badly made, as these things go—Jamie Chung as the lead Hyun Jae in particular is more talented than the script deserves. But that anyone took this clearly fanciful, clearly derivative fiction for fact is, in retrospect, somewhat shocking. Even at the time, some folks saw through it; sex worker Mistress Matisse tried to convince David Schmader at The Stranger that the whole thing was bunkum.

Matisse, who has apparently been patiently poking holes in Chong's story for a while, is the one who pointed me to this story. "In the wake of the Somaly Mam scandal, people are suddenly examining the stories told by professional anti-trafficking activists more closely," wrote Matisse in an email. "Chong Kim's story was never fact-checked or substantiated in any way, it has varied quite widely in the numerous tellings over the years, and it is falling apart."

Back to Berlatsky on Eden:

To just point out the most obvious issue, the movie details a copious number of murders, several of them committed by the main character herself. This is standard issue for a Hollywood film, but in real life, this amounts to mass murder, including the killing of multiple law-enforcement personnel. That's a major story—if this happened in anything like the way Kim said, where's the massive investigation? Why is this being covered in an entertainment review, rather than on the front page?

The absense of any attempt at verification—from the authors who repeated Kim's story, the journalists who interviewed her, the organizations that brought her on as a speaker, or any of the myriad people behind the "based on a true story" Eden—makes it pretty clear that nobody wanted to find holes in Kim's story. We want victim narratives so badly that we refuse to listen to sex workers when they say they're not victims and leap at the chance to tell the stories, no matter how apocryphal, of those whose tales conform with our expectations.

"Moral panic deployed to appeal to outraged empathy, or sexploitation deployed to appeal to giggling prurience; they both function in much the same way," wrote Berlatsky. And with sex trafficking tales, we get a two for one. It's almost too good to resist. But let's try.

Here's Kim on CNN in October 2013:

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27 responses to “'Innocence Stolen?' Maybe Not. Suspicion Cast on Sex-Trafficking Tale at Heart of Eden

  1. There was a piece here recently in Chicago that featured some organization promoting an absurdly high number of prostitutes in the Chicago area. Anyone who knows Chicago history knows that there used to be plenty of vice districts here, and the prudish Daleys largely eliminated them or left them contained to the seedier parts of town; yet this alleged a much higher rate of the female population in the profession than in, say, the 1890s when the Levee and the Everleigh Club flourished, or the 1940s when we had a red light district by every train station.

    The fact is, you can allege anything about a “shadowy” world and reporters will buy it.

  2. people are suddenly examining the stories told by professional anti-trafficking activists more closely

    Profession activists are professional liars.

    Without exception. Period.

    Barack Obama is a professional activist.

    1. Great! So by converse, truth-tellers sit on their asses. Or, is that just professional ones? Is there such a thing as a professional truth-teller?

      A blogger?

      A prophet?

      A judge?

  3. Um, it was an international criminal organization, but the majority of customers were white Americans. And the customers were anywhere between CEOs, lawyers, police officers, we’ve even had really high-echelon pastors, different types of men. They were high status; there were even political figures that were there that bought me.

    Yeah, you have to be a few eggs shy of a dozen to buy that crap. First of all, look at all the kinds of people she names: CEO’s! Lawyers! Police Officers! Powerful Clergy! And all of them white! It’s like a laundry list of left-wing boogeymen.

    And secondly, how did she know they were CEO’s, lawyers, cops, etc? Did they hand her business cards on their way out, after they banged her? Did the Bishop at the local diocese show up to do the deed in his brocade? Good lord. We have reached the end of progressivism. We have run out of real bad guys, at least locally, and so now we have to turn to attention-starved fuglies to start making them up to give meaning and purpose to our lives.

    1. But if it FEELS right it must be right! Feelings are better than facts – because facts only get in the way of what feels right! And if lies and fiction are the best way to achieve those feelings, then facts and reality need to go away! Aw, warm fuzzy feelings feel so feely good! FEEL!

    2. “bought me”

      She wasn’t for sale. She was for rent.

      1. They didn’t even offer a long term lease option.

        1. Maybe a three-year rent-to-own deal?

          1. I would pay for the nice-looking Vietnamese actress, but the actual “”progressive” activist Chongkie Korean libtard Chong wouldn’t strike wood if SHE paid ME for it… Sorry, Ursula! (to the exact mole):
            upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
            en/a/ab/UrsulaTheLittleMermaid.jpg

  4. The sex-trafficking thing is largely a Progressive political point. Basically, the proggies are just as puritan, if not more so, than a lot of others. They’re waging the same war on sexuality, just taking a different road to achieve entering the bedroom.

  5. it and several other organizations were defrauded by Chong, who was collecting money in their names without actually passing any of it on

    Well, well. If anyone is wondering “why would she make this up?”, there’s an answer.

    1. And you’ll note that their only real objection here is that they were defrauded. If they’d gotten their cut, it all would have been good.

    2. ^This. Playing at fears, puritanism, and emotions to cover up her criminality. And then advocates extra police power to pummel the peasantry.

      Huh. Do we have a new Progressive political candidate on hand? I think so!

  6. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” ?Eric Hoffer

  7. Taken was a documentary though. Especially the part about Liam Neeson wiping out a small European village.

    1. Hopefully you are being sarcastic. Perhaps you are aware that the ‘documentary’ was based on the lies told by the fraudster William Hillar, who, as it turned out, was never what he said he was, nor was his daughter ever kidnapped by anyone? He even served time for defrauding the government, which had paid him for ‘training’ officers how to spot ‘trafficking’ victims. Someone needs to investigate the Grand ‘Victim Pimp Daddy’ Bradley Myles of “the Polaris Project” and the numbers of victims they claim which have NO basis in reality. And in 2012, he took in over $7 million from the government and private donations to take phone calls from ‘potential victims referenced?’

  8. “[T]he majority of customers were white Americans. And the customers were anywhere between CEOs, lawyers, police officers”. Sold! Right in the progressive roundhouse!

    1. While this particular individual may or may not have had such men as clients, many of the rest of us have indeed provided services to CEOs, lawyers, politicians, law enforcement agents etc. But I assure you, we are NOT trafficking victims. Not very many men enjoy the company of an unwilling partner, contrary to what the ‘victim pimps’ claim.

      At the high end of sex work, we get to know the clients well, because if we are good at providing them with pleasure, they can and often do become long time clients. And if I could still do the work, I would still be working at this job- it was the BEST job I ever had!

      1. Concur. When I was partaking of such services, my service provider and I shared quite a bit of general personal information but stayed away from anything personally identifiable, and I stuck with the same one for a couple years.

  9. Which overshadows the fact that there is a shadowy world where girls runaway, get a “boyfriend”, and are strung out. Certainly it happens. But it’s not made better by Hollywood or by parts of the intelligentsia or profiteers. There’s no Officer Shiny Badge out for justice, or even Travis Bickles floating around. The stories and lives of these people are under the radar, and if they are truly a part of it, it is unlikely they’d become part of the media. They’d keep their heads low and get on with their lives. If someone is on the talk show circuit, you can pretty much bet the bullshit meter should fly right to the red-zone.

    1. “If someone is on the talk show circuit, you can pretty much bet the bullshit meter should fly right to the red-zone?” depends which side of the issue they are on. I was on the talkshow circuit for a long time – during my legal battle with the LAPD, running for office on the libertarian ticket (Lt. Governor of California in 1986), going to prison for writing my book (on “60 Minutes with Ed Bradley” 1988) and when my book came out (1993- “Cop to Call Girl- Why I Left the LAPD to Make an Honest Living as a Beverly Hills Prostitute”). But MY position was and is that prostitution should be decriminalized because the prohibition causes so much police abuse and corruption and was part of the reason I left my “moral” job working for the LAPD to become a call girl. In NONE of my appearances on talk shows was I attempting to raise money or trying to pass laws to take away someone else’s freedom.

      1. Why I Left the LAPD to Make an Honest Living as a Beverly Hills Prostitute

        Nice.

  10. This moral panic is falling apart and reminding me a lot of the satanic panic and false-memory-syndrome panic of the 1990s.

  11. What proof do you want from her? photos of her captors? of her johns. Shame on you. I would bet your family business is running a sex slave camp.

  12. Please send a negative-reply if you’re a hetero white male conservy who’s actually able to get his p-niss up while watching Chonky on the activist-CNN vid.
    ..or, please do the same if you’re able to strike wood while fantasizing on:
    1) EricCartman as obese World-of-Warcraft addict:
    reapergaming.com/wp-content/uploads/
    2011/04/Cartman-wow-RG.jpg
    2) EricCartman as Dog (The Bounty Hunter)’s wife:
    vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/southpark/
    images/a/a2/Beth.png
    3) Ursula (octopus-witch of Little Mermaid) to the exact mole:
    upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
    en/a/ab/UrsulaTheLittleMermaid.jpg

    LeGoBoT-activists can never stoop too low to impose their narrow-scoped narrative.. and when they finally achieve it- they’re unable to relax in content with the ‘change’ they achieved.. They take their over-excited energy & look for something else to ‘change’ (basically an’activist’ bullet for the resume). It’s in their college-white-kid-ADHD-nature to get out & feel important for ‘a cause’. They can’t sustain/maintain/conserve ANYTHING. Progress the wrong direction is called REGRESS. We can’t make any “progress” in MAINTAINING/CONSERVING something that is already great. Sure, every nation has little flaws everyone hates for one reason or another, but our nation isn’t forcing women into burkas or chucking manhole-pluggers from rooftops!! We were once the greatest nation in the history of humanity, and you STILL wanted ‘change’. LeGoBoT-logic 101: “If it ain’t broke, then FIX IT UNTIL IT IS!”

  13. Phew! I’m so glad that a few wierdo’s making up a story to scam people for money means there’s no actual truth the the reality of the sex trafficking experience of the many who report it. What a relief that some people lying automatically invalidates the whole cause which (c’mon we all knew from the get-go, anyway) is a whole bunch of bullhuey cockamamey the irrational left bought hook, line, ‘n sinker!

    It’s such a relief to read this. Now I don’t have to put down my MGD, get off my ass, and do something about the problem so that I’m protecting the children like any decent human being would. Hey, has anyone seen where I put the remote?

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