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Trade of Innocents: Alumna produces anti-trafficking film

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Oct. 4Trade of Innocents, a sorrowfully hopeful story from the dark underworld of modern slavery, is lighting theatres and minds across the country this fall with one idea: Justice needs a hero. Be one. After the film premiere last week, producer and Northwestern alumna Laurie Bolthouse ’89 is seeing five years of dreams on the big screen.

When the lights dim, moviegoers follow investigator Alex Becker (Dermot Mulroney) and his wife Claire (Mia Sorvino) into a small Southeast Asian tourist town where they fight an impervious local sex trade. Beyond the big screen, a similar tourist town in Cambodia plays in Bolthouse's memory as the place where slavery became real to her for the first time.

Prayer to production

“My daughters and I were on holiday for a few days in the south of Cambodia while my husband William was working with a medical team back in Phnom Pehn,” she said, “We found ourselves able to host a lovely family style dinner for 6-7 girls recently rescued from the brothels there in the town we were vacationing in.”

International Justice Mission (IJM) was helping the girls prepare to testify to a judge and arranged for the dinner with the Bolthouses.  Even with a language barrier, the women laughed and enjoyed the evening together.  When the girls left, the reality of their experience moved Bolthouse and her daughters to sobbing and prayer. 

“We cried out in anger to God and told him he had to do more than just allow us to have a nice dinner for these girls,” she said, “We begged and beseeched Him, ‘Please do something!’”

After returning to the states, the IJM field director emailed that the girls experienced healing that night at dinner and had testified confidently.  Bolthouse thought that was the answer, until they received a letter from friend and director Christopher Bessette, asking them partner with him on a script he was writing.  By 2009, the Bolthouses joined Bessette to produce Trade of Innocents.

Northwestern students pitch in

Inspiring viewers to action was a core value for the film, and in 2011 the Bolthouses ran a collegiate marketing competition to generate ideas for reaching college students as a key audience.  A Northwestern team of students—Hannah Rivard , Anna Carey , Kimberly Mills, Ross Fleming, Josh Svendsen and Lauren Wineinger—won the $12,000 scholarship with their action-focused marketing campaign, “Join the Justice Generation.” 

A year later, Trade of Innocents marketing materials carry clear traces of the team’s creativity, including, an online advocacy center, connects viewers with organizations like Polaris Project, IJM and Invisible Children, and a resource page for film discussions and events. The film was designed to reveal not only a horrible reality, but also that the hope for changing that reality rests on each viewer and how they respond.

“We are not making a Christian film and appealing to the Christian audience only.  We are marketing to all people.  Our desire is to see all levels of people’s knowledge about trafficking heightened from unaware to aware, and for those in the know to be moved toward more deliberate action.”

Trade of Innocents
is showing nationally this fall. For a showing schedule and other information, you can visit




Trade of Innocents: "Not an outreach film; it’s a social justice film"

By Matt Pelishek '06, production director/host at KAXL 88.3

Bakersfield, Calif.—While it is not marketed as a ‘Christian’ film, Trade of Innocents was produced by followers of Jesus who really want to be a catalyst for action to those Jesus referred to as ‘the least of these.’  This is a film about the horrible reality of human trafficking. While I had the opportunity to attend a media screening, I also had to sign a strict confidentiality agreement, so while I can’t give plot points, I can tell you, this is a film that must be supported.

This is not an outreach film, it’s a social justice film. It is about the fight against human trafficking in Cambodia. Most importantly, they got it right. It wasn’t just the high production value, it was also the cast, including academy award winner Mira Sorvino. It is real and gritty and at times hard to watch, but never gratuitous. Having been produced by people from my home here in Bakersfield, CA (including alumna Laurie Bolthouse '89), I was downright proud.  One thing I really appreciated about the film was that it never felt dramatized or beefed up for excitement—although more than once I found myself really wanting Liam Neesen to show up and start breaking faces.  It felt real.

This is a movie that needs our support.  It has industry support from big names like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Ashton Kutcher, but we have all seen how Christians can influence a film by really getting behind it.  This is a film that practically requires that you do something about it, and in the end credits, does in fact tell you how you can.  Compare this to most Christian films I’ve seen where the only action I want to take is to watch something else.

Like it or not, slavery is still very much in existence, as is the sexual exploitation of young children.  And no, it is not just a third world problem, it happens right here in the United States.  Trade of Innocents is poised to to make a big difference.  I’m in no way affiliated with the film or filmmakers, but would ask that you visit the website, which includes movie information, as well as resources and ways you can join the fight.

Trade of Innocents is an amazing example of Jesus followers using their talents with excellence to ignite change in some of the most hurting and dark places on the planet.  It isn’t just a movie, it is a call to action. 

The rest is up to you.