Playground: The Child Sex Trade in America – Documentary

*****Note: I don’t go into any graphic details in this post, but it is a sensitive topic for some, so if you are not comfortable with this type of topic do not continue to read this article or view this documentary.*****

For a while when I would scroll through documentaries to watch on Netflix, the cover for this documentary would stick out to me. The cover is blue with a drawing of a swing set on it, nothing special, but the simplicity of the cover is what grabbed my eye. At first I was a bit weary about watching this documentary, because in my eyes one of the worst things that can happen are crimes committed against children. Whether it is sexual, physical, emotional, mental or any other form, it is disturbing and wrong and I usually cannot bear to read or watch something that talks about it. However, this film did not bother me as much as I expected.

The film begins with discussion about the sex trade in Asian countries, but then it shifts to focus on America. I felt like there was not a good enough of a transition between talking about the underage sex trade in both countries and the focus shift came abruptly. Obviously, there is a connection, but it was handled poorly and Asia was never revisited again later in the movie. From time to time statistics popped up, but it was a comparison of the entire world instead of comparing it to Asia. In my opinion, there was no need to discuss anything about the Asian sex trade.

One thing I learned that I thought that was really interesting in the movie was that children and teenagers under the age of eighteen can still be considered sex offenders. It isn’t a thought that had really crossed my mind before, because when I hear the term “sex offender” I tend to think it applies to pedophiles or people who are rapists, which tends to be older individuals. According to the film, the spectrum of sex offenders can go anywhere from intense sexual deviant acts down to public urination or publicly exposing genitalia. While those lesser acts are still wrong, it shouldn’t hold the same weight as someone who did actual physical or sexual abuse. This brought up a good point in the film that America focuses more on catching and jailing criminals than it does to help prevent or rehabilitate offenders so continual behavior doesn’t happen.

There were drawings in the film…I have no clue why. They were pretty good drawings of simple little scenes that would unfold using drawings of a variety of different kids. I was glad that they drawings pretty much just showed the kids doing mundane activities and were not used as reenactments. However, I don’t really understand the point of them. Occasionally, when a woman would be talking, a drawing would pop up and do something, but I felt like they were distracting. Maybe that was their purpose and it was better than having to stare at a blurred out face for a few minutes, but I would find myself getting lost watching the animation instead of listening to the story. I just felt like there was a more effective way to use the drawings.

The “plot” (and I use that term pretty loosely) focuses on the narrator and various people trying to find a girl by the name of Michelle. She was sexually abused very early on in her life, was essentially sold into prostitution, and then went missing for nearly fifteen years (I could be wrong with that amount, but I think it had been a considerable amount of time since she was last seen.) Past foster parents and an old social worker wanted to make sure she was okay, and through a variety of ways, the filmmakers were finally able to get a hold of her. Much like the drawings, I don’t understand why there was such a heavy focus on her.

I will give this documentary a 5 out of 10. It was informational, but did not offer many things that were new or exciting. The film just lacked much of a direction or aim. It went from focusing on the Asian sex trade, to the American sex trade, then it focused on Michelle and her journey, resulting in a sloppy outcome. If one element would have been focused on, it would have been much better. A few former child prostitutes shared their stories, and I found their discussions a lot more interesting than most of what was discussed about Michelle. Don’t get me wrong, I am sorry she went through what she did and has had to lead a hard life, but her personality didn’t allow for a great viewing experience. I can only imagine how incredibly painful it would be to relive and discuss certain things like that, but her tone came across as bored and it left me feeling bored afterwards too.

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