While WEDU-Ch. 3 will debut a documentary on Tampa Bay's human trafficking issues this week, a Tampa television company is preparing to produce a documentary series that will focus on 10 major U.S. cities, including Tampa Bay.
Creators say Blind Eyes Opened will begin filming in Tampa Bay this year and feature survivors who found healing through Christianity.
Ships of Tarshish, the nonprofit TV company behind the project, will host a fundraiser Oct. 3 at the Straz Center. More than 25 antitrafficking organizations are scheduled to attend.
While not singling out WEDU's Too Close to Home, the producer of Blind Eyes Opened stressed that his series will use faith-based testimonials, not explicit imagery, to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States.
"We are different than other documentaries because of the way we are approaching this topic," said Geoffrey Rogers. "We won't include any material that can't be shown in a church. We won't use shocking images or graphic details. It will be appropriate for family viewing."
Rogers said the idea is to educate Christians and promote change.
"A lot of people don't know that Tampa is on the FBI's list of top 14 cities for sex trafficking," Rogers said. "When people think about prostitution or strip clubs, they might think that is the individual's choice, but we are learning it is often not by choice, that many of these individuals are forced into the sex trade or forced to stay there."
Edie Rhea was 10 when her mother's boyfriend began selling her to men for sex near Busch Boulevard. Now 45 and the founder of Healing Root Ministries, Rhea, who also is featured in the WEDU documentary, shares her story to help other girls. She will appear in a video short at the upcoming Blind Eyes Opened fundraiser.
"Absolutely you can spread awareness without making it graphic," Rhea said. "How else will children learn that this is out there?"
Rogers said children old enough to understand the content in Blind Eyes Opened are among the age group often targeted by traffickers. In Tampa Bay, the average age is 14, said Laura Hamilton, president of Bridging Freedom, an organization working to develop a tri-county safe home for rescued children. In some cities, the age is 12.
Hamilton's group is featured in a promotional video for Blind Eyes Opened.
"We are very excited about what Ships of Tarshish is doing," Hamilton said. "We definitely believe God is putting his people together to come against this thing. This is happening in our own back yard."
Rogers said Blind Eyes Opened will follow antitrafficking organizations in each city it highlights. Other cities to be featured are Dallas, Las Vegas, Detroit, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Rogers said he expects the Straz Center event to largely fund the production.
The fundraiser will feature state Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, former state Rep. Rachel Burgin and former FBI investigator Rolando Lopez. Anyone interested in learning more is encouraged to attend.
"When most people become aware of the problem it is so large they don't know what to do, and so many don't do anything," Rogers said. "We want people to know they don't have to go out and rescue someone and bring them into their home. In fact, they shouldn't do that. What is needed is for people to use the gifts God has given them to engage in this, so that together we can stop it."
Sarah Whitman can be reached at [email protected]