Ending Human Trafficking Is Corrupt Business, Too, Filmmakers Accidentally Discover

"A unique take on sex trafficking in Thailand" was their assignment.

Human trafficking traps a staggering 20 million victims around the globe. It's a notoriously thriving business, but so is appearing to fight it, "The Wrong Light" (2016) directors Josie Swantek Heitz and Dave Adams soon found out. 

"We were approached by non-profit media company Shine Global to make a film with a unique take on sex trafficking in Thailand," Adams told Montclair Film Festival blogger Christopher Dixon. "The film starts as story about girls who have been sold into the sex trade by their parents and rescued by a charismatic former war photographer, Mickey Choothesa. We soon realize that his stories aren’t lining up."

According to the State Department "three to four million migrant workers in Thailand are forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor or sex trafficking" yearly.

Mickey Choothesa founded the non-profit organization Children's Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA), in 2005, marketed as a global sanctuary for trafficked and at-risk girls. More than a decade later, he was charged with fraud. COSA's US board has since discontinued operations in Thailand and relocated its girls. 

"What we uncovered over the course of our filming is that Mickey is deceiving all of us—the public, his donors, the girls he claims to protect, and the media circulating stories of his supposed exploits," Adams explained.

"Allegations have also been made by a team of documentary makers regarding the histories of the girls formerly in COSA's care, with a number of these girls disputing on camera that they were ever trafficked or 'at risk,'" VICE reported; a follow-up to their own investigation of COSA in February 2015.

The directors wholly believed Choothesa going into the project and attributed any inconsistencies in his stories "to his massive workload of running an organization, saving children and having a family in another continent," said Adams. "As the truth started to be revealed, his heroism crumbled in our minds and we were forced to pretend everything was okay." 

"The Wrong Light" has been screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Milwaukee Film Festival and premieres in New York City on July 14.

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Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.