I Am Jane Doe

Movie review by Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
I Am Jane Doe Poster Image

Common Sense says

age 15+

Wrenching doc about underage sex trafficking, legal battles.

NR 2017 98 minutes

Parents say

age 18+

Based on 1 review

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Community Reviews

age 18+


This film is both confused and confusing. It purports to be about child sex trafficking, but its real subject seems to be a campaign to hold the owners and managers of a website, backpage.com, legally responsible for running child sex ads. We start out by meeting the mother of a girl who ran away from home and became a victim of child sex trafficking, then another and another, cutting back and forth between the victims and the legal battle they undertake. The website and its management are rapidly identified as the enemy, and agents are enlisted to bring them down. As one legal forum after another thwarts their quest, we’re invited to shake our heads in disgust. How can they all be so blind? What if it was their daughter? We hear from the victims’ families, the victims themselves, their legal counsel and their allies—statements by the courts and the other side are framed by expressions of derision (not rebuttal) by the good guys. But there are lots of problems. For one, the portrayal of Backpage may simply be false (unsealed prosecution documents note that the website had been “remarkably responsive to law enforcement requests,” for instance.) A scene in which Backpage’s brass take the fifth at a senate hearing is treated as climactic, ignoring the (apparent) fact that they were legally obliged to do so because of an ongoing case in California. A voiceover (apparently a US senator) conflates “cross-border human trafficking” with the situation of the children in the film. (“Cross-border human trafficking” is overwhelmingly for cheap labour, according to the statistics.) One of the victims tells us about how much more about sex she knows than her peers, although her only experience of “sex” is being repeatedly raped by strangers. (Rape isn’t sex, right? It’s heartbreaking she doesn’t know that, but the film seems to take her at face value.) The victims’ stories are told as if they were snatched off the street, which creates a false picture of how child prostitution works (according to Covenant House). And of course the closing chorus of “I am Jane Doe” by so many children’s voices makes it sound like we’re in the midst of an epidemic. I could go on. OK, I’m not an expert: I spent a few hours researching this online, and the filmmakers, well, they made a movie. We all agree that child sex trafficking is evil, and all power to those who fight it. But I’m not convinced that this film is helpful, or even that it wants to be. Backpage was shut down shortly after the film was made, and it seems it’s not clear what effect that had on child sex trafficking. If the demise of Backpage helped, then this film deserves, well, maybe, one more star.

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