Film review: “Nefarious – Merchant of Souls”

With a title like that, you’d be forgiven for expecting this film to be some LOTR/Game of Thrones-style fantasy flick (more so when I tell you that it’s part 1 of a trilogy). In actual fact, Nefarious is a hard-hitting documentary exposing the dark side of the sex trade.

The Nefarious film trilogy is produced by Exodus Cry – one of a number of organisations that have cropped up in recent years with the aim of tackling human trafficking and raising awareness about it. This first episode takes us to see the Eastern European gangs who shift women across the continent and into places such as Amsterdam’s red light district. From there, we head to the Far East, where we see men who travel across continents to buy girls as young as 10… and then hear the shocking news that many of the girls in the brothels have been put up for sale by their own parents.

After Eastern Europe and the Far East, our next stop is the USA itself – and it was at this point that for me the film seemed to veer off-topic – or rather, to settle in on the subject it was really interested in. The stories we heard from ex-prostitutes interviewed in the film were no less harrowing than the ones we heard from trafficked European women and Asian girls. But to describe them as being “trafficked” in the same way that the first batch of girls/women that we met had been just didn’t work for me. When we were in Eastern Europe and Cambodia/Thailand, we saw organised gangs of people making a concerted effort to round up women and girls for sale. In Las Vegas (and London), we saw a handful of individuals who had been abused earlier in life and had drifted into prostitution more or less of their own accord years later. I’m not saying that one route in is any better or worse than another, just that they’re not exactly the same.

Also, having been told that I was coming to see a film about human trafficking, it bothered me a bit that all we ever saw about trafficking was the sexual side of it. I did raise this issue with someone from Exodus Cry after the film, and her reply was that they had deliberately chosen sex trafficking as their primary focus, but were planning to expand their vision and to start looking into trafficking for labour purposes. I hope they do; it’s great that trafficking is on people’s minds, but it does sometimes feel as if all the focus is on sex and no-one is speaking up for the slaves hidden away sewing our designer clothes, assembling our electronic toys and harvesting our coffee and chocolate.

Anyway, back to Nefarious. As I said before, prostitution is where the film’s heart really is. We’re told of the psychological damage it takes to make a young woman prostitute material. The ex-prostitutes interviewed tell us of their scariest experiences “on the job” and the low spots their lives hit before a turnaround came. We go to Sweden and see how effective their policy of criminalising prostitutes’ customers has been (by this time, I’d forgotten the little Cambodian girls, and instead found myself gaining a new appreciation for Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels). This being a film made by a Christian organisation, the obligatory Christian testimonies are in there, along with the equally obligatory reference to William Wilberforce in the form of a rallying call to become an “incurable fanatic” in the fight against the sex trade.

And that was Volume 1 of the Nefarious trilogy; harrowing and heartbreaking, but ultimately full of hope. Although I still think it doesn’t fully do human trafficking justice as a subject, I would happily recommend it to friends of mine who work with prostitutes.



  1. Ola Olaniyi says:

    Hey George,
    Thanks for this post. I was looking for such resource when I did a write up on my blog a while ago. Painful to see what goes on with these happenings really. Was going to ask, do you know of any support programme we can put out there for people to get involved in?

    1. George Luke says:

      If you’re thinking of support programmes in relation to the issues covered in the film, it’s probably best to get in touch with Exodus Cry, the guys who made the film. If you’re just looking for organisations that tackle human trafficking as a whole, you could probably try Stop the Traffik or the International Justice Mission. And thanks for commenting.

  2. Raechel says:

    Hey there,

    I really appreciate your insight into the film and glad that there are people out there discussing these issues. I’m especially glad that you are concerned with human trafficking as a whole (labor, sex, service). I feel strongly though that the social focus you mentioned is not on sex trafficking. For instance, sex trafficking is now the number two most profitable business in the world behind drug trafficking. We all see drugs in every parts of our daily lives from restaurants, schools, high-income homes, low-income homes, parties, etc. Sex trafficking is immediately behind drug trafficking, so why don’t we all see it? It’s a scary thought for me to consider why I’m not seeing it. We choose to misinterpret the victims and the system has a difficult time with those who are mislabeled.
    The film talks about the sale of human beings, which is separate from prostitution. In the U.S. the average age of entry into sex trafficking ranges between 12 and 14 years old ( Victims of trafficking are extremely common in strip clubs and in pornography because of the legal loop-holes in hiring independent workers. These two things are very popular in mainstream culture and sometimes are considered rights of passage for some men.
    Thank you for providing resources for those who want to get involved in stopping this injustice. The film can illicit a lot of emotion and it’s good that you provide that for your readers.
    Respectfully yours,

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