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Filmmaker shocked by scope of sex trafficking problem in the U.S.

The issue of trafficking children has taken center stage here in Washington state, specifically in relation to Backpage.com.

A documentary filmmaker out of Boston digs into the issue, the ongoing legal battles, and challenges of protecting children from predators in the new film “I am Jane Doe.”

Related: Jungle resident investigated for trafficking teen runaway

Mary Mazzio, the woman behind the film, told KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott that she was reading about a case in Boston and was totally floored.

“Sex trafficking of children actually happens in the United States? This was an epiphany for me,” she said. “I just assumed this was a crime that happened in developing countries. Certainly not 15 minutes from near where I lived. When I dove into it I was shocked by the breadth and the scope of this problem.”

And as she read about the Boston cases she was even more amazed.

“The Jane Doe children in Boston lost their case in federal court. And I remember thinking, how is it possibly legal that a judge could find that it is legal in this country to advertise children for sale. What is up with that?”

So Mazzio got involved and began researching all the other cases across the country involving Backpage.com and the sale of underage children for sex. That led her to Washington state.

“The most notable — outside of the Boston case — was [in Seattle].”

Washington-based attorney Erik Bauer is one of several people featured prominently in the film. He, along with the families of several teens in our state, are suing Backpage for allegedly aiding in the sale of children for sex through online advertising.

Also featured prominently in the film, and among those in the Washington lawsuit, is Nicole and her daughter, a Seattle-area teen referred to as J.S. who, after running away at 15, was pimped out via ads on Backpage.

“What happened to J.S. is what happens to thousands and thousands of girls and boys in this country … they are lured, predatored, recruited.”

Mazzio says advocates estimate there are about 1.5 million to 2.5 million runaway or homeless teens at any time. About 15 percent of them end up getting pimped out.

“You take that estimate of 15 percent, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of children that are sex trafficked, which I think is a sanitized term. It’s repeatedly raped,” Mazzio said.

But she says the children featured in her film are among the lucky ones. They have families who fought to save them.

The film goes on to show the continuing legal battles, including a congressional investigation, and eventual charges against the operators of Backpage.

“I am Jane Doe” opens Friday at the AMC Pacific Place 11 in Seattle.

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