When Siddhali Shree was 6 years old, she fell victim to sexual abuse at her home in Southern California.
Her abuser demanded her silence. This traumatic event lay dormant in her memory until later in life.
Shaped by her experiences, "Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking," is a new film by Shree, 33, screening Friday in New Orleans.
As an adult, Shree joined a Jain monk community and devoted her life to spreading nonviolence around the United States. Jainism is a nontheistic religion that originated in India in the 6th century B.C. Her personal experience with abuse, along with a film that introduced her to the world of sex trafficking, inspired her to make the documentary with members of her spiritual retreat center.
“Knowing the pain and suffering hit me in a deep way, I knew I would do something with the retreat center,” she said.
Human trafficking for sex is a form of modern slavery. It affects women, men and children of all ages, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. According to UNICEF, 27 million people are trafficked each year. Still, it seldom makes headlines.
Breaking that silence is one of Shree’s primary goals for her film.
“if we don’t talk about it, it will never get the attention it needs," she said. "A lot of souls are raped and tortured.”
"Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking" is Shree’s first effort as director and producer of a full-length film. She and her team, which included two other monks from her retreat center and Jeannie Mai, co-host of the television show "The Real," taught themselves documentary filmmaking and managed an online campaign to fund the process.
Around the world, sex trafficking is the second-largest criminal institution, after only the drug trade. A CNN report found that the average cost of a slave is $90, making this industry as much as $150 billion annually.
Domestically, human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The states with the most incidents reported to the Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 are California, Texas and Florida.
The industry also affects New Orleans. Susanne Dietzel, of New Orleans' sex-trafficking recovery and advocacy center Eden House, is featured in the documentary discussing domestic trafficking and how people become entangled in abuse.
Shree and her team are working to make it easier to fight sex trafficking, especially for young people.
“This generation is very creative, very passionate and very energetic, and if you give them a cause, they will fight,” she said. The film's website, stoppingtrafficmovement.com, encourages activism and lists facts about the trafficking industry.
"Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking" will premier in 10 cities around the country, including Friday, Sept. 29, at the AMC Elmwood Palace 20 in Harahan.
"Unless the communities are aware, they will not be inspired to take action,” Shree said.
It's not an easy subject, she admitted. But it shouldn't be.
"Human trafficking is a very hard topic to talk about, very taboo," Shree said. "The least we can do is be uncomfortable and listen and learn about it.”