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From Liberty to Captivity

A film by Debbie Wright

“From Liberty to Captivity” will search for the answer to the question of how one of America’s original 13 states, Pennsylvania, went from a place that represented freedom to so many and now has become a state where human trafficking and slavery are flourishing.  With its proverbial lens, “From Liberty To Captivity” will zoom-in on Pennsylvania’s booming and profitable sex trafficking industry, which is threatening to destroy the principle of “liberty and justice for all.”  This feature-length film will reveal the reality and complexities of sex trafficking crimes and this social justice issue and present the very real hope of conquering it.  We will follow several individuals through their personal and professional experiences with trafficking.  Our mission is to awaken people from all walks of life to the pervasive reality of sex trafficking in Pennsylvania and to plant seeds of hope, inspiring them to carry forth the legacy of the abolitionists who came before them, fighting for freedom and rewriting America’s history.

“From Liberty to Captivity” will peer into Pennsylvania’s past and its historical stance for freedom.  Notable and published historians and experts such as Dr. Randall Miller (St. Joseph’s University and board member of Historians Against Slavery), Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., (great-great-great grandson of Fredrick Douglass and the Founder of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives) and Professor Van Beck Hall (University of Pittsburgh), as well as historical footage, will bring us through Pennsylvania’s history during the time of the Underground Railroad, as we begin to look at the current problem of modern-day slavery.  

We will also tell the powerful stories of sex trafficking victims who were brutalized beyond what one could imagine, and yet their lives are great examples of the triumph of the human spirit.  In addition to Holly Austin Smith, author of Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, and Danielle, who was trafficked by a boyfriend that she met on Facebook, we also would like to introduce the audience to Gabby, Linda and Marian.  Mother and student Gabby was trafficked by a university professor who “took his mother to lunch on Sundays after church.”  Activist Linda was trafficked as an adult by another woman who befriended her, and Linda ended up being sold on a “circuit” from Pennsylvania to the Midwest.  Marian was a very successful businesswoman who earned a six-figure salary and was a divorced mother when she got involved with a boyfriend who abused her, which led her down a pathway to drug addition and ultimately being trafficked.  Marian is now the Human Trafficking Coordinator at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and leader of the National Johns Suppression Initiative (NJSI.)  Marian has also been featured in the OWN documentary, “Prostitution: Leaving the Life,” and Pulitzer Prize Winner Nicholas Kristof’s documentary, “A Path Appears.”

Another way that this film will be unique in its approach to raising awareness about human trafficking is through the hope that can be found in the efforts of the “citizen heroes” who have heeded the call to action in Pennsylvania and are doing remarkable things using their skills, talents and passion to change the course of history.  We may not have had the ability to film the efforts of those everyday citizens who were a part of the Underground Railroad, but we do have an opportunity to capture the inspiring stories of those in communities throughout the state who are changing the tide in this fight.  These “citizen heroes” remind us that making a real, lasting difference in this world and in the fight to eradicate sex trafficking does not require superhero efforts or superhuman strength or specific education or a lot of money—it requires a caring heart and willing hands. 

“From Liberty to Captivity” will also tell the stories of the unsung heroes (front line workers, educators, law enforcement personnel, etc.) who are on the battlefield fighting for freedom.  Examples of those featured in the documentary may include: A prosecutor from the US District Attorney’s office; PA Assistant District Attorneys; published experts in human trafficking; individuals representing International Justice Mission and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; a Director of Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at University of Pennsylvania; a detective who specializes in internet pornography; FBI Task Force members; Vice Squad officers; founders of organizations to help victims; and a former sex trafficker.

The film will be submitted to film festivals in Pennsylvania and across the country in the hopes that this will open doors to independent theaters and theater chains as well as Netflix, Pay-Per-View and other mass media channels.  Parallel to being submitted to film festivals across the country, the film will be shown at churches and other places of worship, universities and colleges, community events, and other venues in each of the 67 counties of Pennsylvania and in other states where people can view the film and then be immediately connected to and get involved with and/or provide support to individuals and organizations that are actively working to help victim survivors and eradicate human trafficking in the very community where the film is being shown.  

PRODUCER: Debbie Wright

Associated Members

Debbie Wright


We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation