FEMINIST FRIDAY: New HBO Docuseries Examines How Sex Trafficking Cult NXIVM Lured Women With “Empowerment”

Welcome to another edition of Feminist Friday – that part of our week where we take a detour from our regular content and instead share 3 videos we are watching right now, centered around an intersectional feminist theme. This week we are looking at the deeper cost of the global trafficking trade, which includes sex trafficking and child marriage. Issues that we in the West commonly associate with countries far away from us, but the truth is actually much closer to home than we think.

First up is a new documentary series starting on August 23 on HBO, called ‘The Vow’. It looks into the rise and fall of modern day cult known as NXVIUM, whose founder was handed some serious federal charges as the result of a trial, which also included charges against his protege Alison Mack (best known as the actress from ‘Smallville’). This series was helmed by Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, who followed a range of people who joined the group.

While this has been billed as a cult scandal, of which modern American culture has many, the issues of sex trafficking, grooming, preying on vulnerable members of the public, and manipulation against primarily women, are an important look into how sex trafficking is often hidden in various ways in powerful, seemingly “progressive” countries like the United States. It is as much of an eye-opener as it is an education into the signs we can look for, and often how complex sex trafficking becomes.

“The Vow examines the self-improvement group NXIVM, whose leaders have been charged with sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy. The docuseries takes a deep, nuanced look at the experiences of its members, spotlighting their universal desire for personal growth. Amidst claims by NXIVM participants of both profound transformation and devastating abuse, the series seeks to reveal the issues behind the headlines and explore the emotional toll of unfolding events on these individuals,” says the description of the series. Watch the teaser video below:

The second video was made by Unchained At Last, the only organization fighting child marriage in the United States. The founder, Fraidy Reiss, was featured in our founder Asha Dahya’s book ‘Today’s Wonder Women: Everyday Superheroes Who Are Changing The World’, where she spoke about how only 4 states in America have banned child marriage with no exceptions (Rhode Island, Delware, Pennsylvania and Minnesota), and that in some state legislators where her and the Unchained team have campaigned and lobbied legislators and policy-makers to end child marriage, some of the responses are as absurd as “what is so bad about a child marrying their rapist”, for instance. No, sadly this is not an exaggeration.

One of the ways Unchained At Last likes to get their message out to the country is through “chain-in” events and other types of rallies and performances. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, they decided to revise one of their planned in-person events and make a video instead.

“When we first wrote The Girls You Have Destroyed, a chilling poem/song about child marriage in the U.S., we intended to perform it flash-mob style at statehouses across the nation. Coronavirus changed those plans. Instead we present The Girls You Have Destroyed in #LockDownRiseUp style, via this video featuring child marriage survivors across the U.S. — each who filmed herself. Please share this video with your legislators, by email or on social media. We the people demand they take action. #18NoExceptions,” says the video description. Watch the video below and share far and wide:

The final video this week comes from Vice Asia, who released a powerful short documentary called “Sex Trafficking: Sex Trade in Nepal” in May of this year.

“Content Warning: Human Trafficking is the world’s second-largest criminal activity and it rakes in close to $32 billion dollars annually. And, in South Asia, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh top the list of countries where this vile trade is literally making a killing. In this documentary, our focus is on the Nepal-India border as we try to figure out why and how do close to 50 Nepalese women disappear from that border area every day,” says the description of the film.

The heartbreaking stories in this short film are a reminder that many stories go unheard or untold by the media or news. Producer Pallavi Pundir, writing about the filming experience for Vice.com, says filming these women burst her bubble of privilege pretty quickly.

“In stories of women who do not find mentions on social media or mainstream news, I found real acts of feminism that were a far cry from the “visible” heroes who I thought empowered me,” she writes.

We are thankful for media that tell the stories that need to be told. Watch the documentary below and share:

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