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JCAST Chicago June 2017 Blog

22 Jun 17
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I Am Jane Doe

I Am Jane Doe is a film that tells the true story of a legal battle between several mothers of sex trafficking victims and Backpage.com. Two of the plaintiffs, who are identified using pseudonyms, and their families tell their story of the harrowing experiences they went through when they were trafficked, at ages fifteen and thirteen. Since reuniting with their families, they have taken on legal battles against Backpage, the website on which they were sold for sex. What started as two individual cases multiplied to include several court cases across the county as well as a United States Senate investigation. Backpage repeatedly argued that they were not liable for the ads sold on their website due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This act was created to protect new media from lawsuits due to the content on their websites. Backpage used this act and the protection of the first amendment to win or dismiss several cases filed against them. However, the battle is far from over, as the families of the Jane Does are willing to do whatever it takes to get justice for their daughters.

The screening of I Am Jane Doe that took place at Columbia College in Chicago was introduced by John McKay, the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defense in Canada, and Lisa Madigan, the attorney general for the state of Illinois. At the conclusion of the showing, there was a panel of six speakers: Yvonne, a mother who tragically lost her 16-year-old daughter at the hands of a Backpage buyer; Gina DeBoni, an attorney representing the Jane Doe family; Yiota Souras, the Senior Vice President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Marian Hatcher, the senior project manager and human trafficking coordinator for the Cook County Sheriff’s office; Martin Castro, the former chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights; and Mary Mazzio, the writer, director, and producer of the film. They answered questions from the moderator, Lynn Sweet (the DC Bureau Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times) and the audience, adding their own experiences and knowledge to supplement the film. When asked what the audience could do to help, Hatcher responded that they should continue to educate themselves and those around them, and to call their representatives to voice their thoughts.

I was fortunate enough to see this film as a part of my internship with JCAST for this summer while I am home from college. While many in the audience were led to imagine themselves in the horrible scenario that the Jane Does’ parents found themselves in (What if this happened to my daughter?), I had a different horrible scenario in my mind (What if this happened to my friend? What if it happened to me?). The film demonstrated how easy it can be to fall through the cracks; before they became victims of sex trafficking, these victims were just normal kids. According to one study in the Midwest, 40% of children who run away from home are trafficked. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one in every three homeless teenagers will be sex trafficked within 48 hours of leaving home. I Am Jane Doe tells the story of girls who were sex trafficked, and the legal battle of their families to make sure the people at fault are made to pay for their pain. But it also serves as an awakening for audience members of all ages and genders: what is happening all around us is wrong, and innocent people are suffering. I think everyone who saw the film would agree that they cannot go back to when they did not know about Backpage and the stories of the girls who have taken the name “Jane Doe.” We know, and now we have the responsibility to act.

I Am Jane Doe is currently available on iTunes, Vimeo, Google Play, Amazon, Netflix, and DVD. 50% of all the profits will be donated to organizations supporting Jane Doe children. To learn more, visit iamjanedoefilm.com.

– Eliana Fleischer, JCAST Chicago Intern

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