I Am Jane Doe

Movie review by
Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
I Am Jane Doe Movie Poster Image
Wrenching doc about underage sex trafficking, legal battles.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 98 minutes

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Kids say

age 18+
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Never, ever stop fighting for what's right, no matter how intimidating the obstacles in your way. Don't settle for less than what you want. Try to put yourselves in someone else's shoes -- what would you do if it was your child in this situation? On the downside, the immense struggle the trafficking victims face in their lawsuits suggests that it's next to impossible for David to beat Goliath, and the way that free speech/the First Amendment comes into play raises some difficult questions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The young women profiled have endured terrible things, including homelessness, rape, drug addiction, and much more. Despite suffering from poor self esteem, bullying, and other trauma after their experiences, they seem to have overcome much of their past and are now focused on preventing what happened to them from happening to anyone else. Their parents are portrayed as determined and supportive, if not without flaws. Everyone tied to Backpage comes across as heartless, wily, and greedy.

Violence

Nothing is shown, but there are many discussions of rape, abuse, intimidation, and the other horrible experiences endured by sex trafficking victims. Also many descriptions of people's anger and emotional pain/suffering.

Sex

Many pictures, some blurred, of young women in explicit sexual poses, typically wearing little to nothing (nudity is blurred). Lists of sexual words/phrases shown in connection to sample ads from Backpage (ex. "ejaculation," etc.).

Language

Very infrequent but includes "s--ty" and "slut."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Nothing shown, but many references to drug use/addiction (including pills) and drinking to escape reality/numb pain. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am Jane Doe is an eye-opening documentary about the victims of underage sex trafficking. There's plenty of upsetting, mature material related to the girls' experiences -- including references to rape and abuse, as well as talk of drug use/addiction and photos of teen girls in suggestive/explicit positions (nudity is blurred). But ultimately the movie is more about the long, painful legal process that the victims and their families have faced in trying to hold corporations (namely, Backpage.com) responsible for their role in this appalling situation. So be ready for lots of talk about complicated corporate wheelings and dealings, legal loopholes, and the frustratingly slow pace of litigation. Language is infrequent but includes "s---ty" and "slut." The families' determination to fight no matter what demonstrates perseverance, and their plea to think about what people would do if this happened to their daughter is a call for empathy.

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What's the story?

I AM JANE DOE introduces viewers to young women who, as teenagers, found themselves caught up in the sordid world of underage sex trafficking. Recruited by pimps who know exactly how to prey on vulnerable, self-loathing girls who've run away or simply feel alone and alienated, the victims of this appalling abuse are frequently featured in explicit online ads. A website called Backpage.com is specifically called out as the primary online peddler of this kind of solicitation. Narrated by Jessica Chastain, the film describes the horrible things that most sex-trafficking victims experience -- rape, drug addiction, inability to escape -- but also spends a lot of time detailing the lengthy legal battles mounted by the victims and their families against Backpage and its owners/leadership.

Is it any good?

If you've ever been a teenage girl, know any teenage girls, or have a daughter who will become a teenage girl (so, basically everyone), this wrenching film is going to leave you fighting mad. It feels unconscionable that online companies can get away with facilitating abuse and prostitution by claiming that they're not liable for third-party content. But First Amendment issues do come into play, which just ups the frustration level; it flat out isn't right that defending these practices falls under the wide umbrella of protecting "free speech." And then there's the gut punch of a montage of young girls and women repeating the film's title: "I am Jane Doe," they all say, and you can't help but imagine them in the explicit, degrading positions featured in so many Backpage.com. It's horrifying.

I Am Jane Doe's focus on the long, complicated legal fight mounted by the featured trafficking victims and their families offers an eye-opening, discouraging look at the dark corners of both boardrooms and courtrooms. But all the appeals and hearings can be hard to follow, and ultimately those portions of the film don't have the same emotional impact as the stories of the girls themselves. Still, the film sheds light on a terrible situation that demands justice -- here's hoping that it helps keep more girls safe.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the issues raised in I Am Jane Doe. Did you know about underage sex trafficking before watching the movie? What do you think might help prevent it from happening to other girls?

  • Backpage.com's role in advertising sex services plays a key part in the film -- as does their legal protection from being liable for third-party content. Do you agree with that law? How does it relate to the First Amendment? Do you think of this as a free-speech issue?

  • Why do you think the victims were bullied after they tried to resume their regular lives?

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