Eden Was a Scary Movie About Sex-Trafficking Based on a True Story—Or Was It?

What does art that claims to be "based on a true story" owe its audience? When the "true" part gets called into question, and the art-makers go silent, what are we supposed to think?


#1 money maker for organized crime. There are more worthy stories about human trafficking than correcting your support of a 'based on' film from three years ago. The film had a point to bring attention to the issue. A story about human trafficking, and there was a bust two weeks ago of massage parlors in Burien, would be a better way to catharsis than this piece . . . .

Thank you to The Stranger for following up on this. I became suspicious because the villain of the piece is portrayed as a U.S. Marshal. U.S. Marshals are "white hat" law enforcement for the most part. They have specific duties defined by federal law. Their duties do not include riding around solo in pickup trucks in the outback looking for trouble. If somebody wants to sue for defamation, it should be the Marshals' Service.

This reminds me of the James Frey debacle where he faked portions of his memoir to make it juicier. In that case there was a nationwide class action suit that resulted in refunds for the purchase price of the book.
Eden should change their disclaimer to "very loosely based on a true story". I am an anti trafficking advocate and have heard Chong speak, and have visited with her personally. I have also heard the stories of other victims. When the Breaking Out announcement was released I was horrified, shocked, and betrayed. Then I went back and read it again. Their claims are completely unfounded. And their continued actions have been petty and misleading. Breaking Out seems to either only attack Chong or ask for money. They do not discuss their efforts. And I contacted local law enforcement in Orange County. They claim to do no work with this group, although they do have a sizable trafficking task force. Isn't that odd? Also, the proximity of the time that they released this information was incredibly close to the news of Somaly Mam's revelation of fraud. It seemed to me like a very opportunistic time to make such an announcement about Chong.

So I went back and watched every interview, read every article, and even attended another one of Chong's speaking engagements. While her versions of her story differ slightly; however, they are not contradictory. Her calling her initial captor her boyfriend vs abductor or leaving that element of the story out all together is not proof of lying. Her story, "nobody's concubine" does have a different ending than her general story, but that does not prove that the whole thing has been made up. It is horrific for me to think that this woman who has been through so much, who has clear disabilities, and who has basically taught herself how to advocate and talk to the media; now has to defend her story as truth. She is being victimized all over again.
No one wants to see the end of 'sex trafficking' more than sex workers. Yet we are viewed as 'victims' and not allowed to give our perspective. If this were about domestic violence, there would be no question in anyone's mind that not all or even the majority of women who are married or in relationships are victims of that horrendous crime.

No one would consider abolishing marriage to eradicate domestic violence, would they? Yes, unfortunately, there are some who would go that far, but to arrest suspected 'victims' of domestic violence or of sexual assault and force them to agree they are victims would not help anyone. Nor does it help to arrest and prosecute the non violent, non abusive clients, employers or associates of sex workers if they have NOT filed a criminal complaint against anyone.

At least some of the media is finally questioning the blatant fabrications of people who financially benefit from the prohibition of consenting adult commercial sex. Everyone- please stop treating consenting adults as if we were children- and allow us access to the justice system as everyone else who may be a victim of a crime has access.

As for the US Marshall, there are plenty of cops who pimp prostitutes- including minors- so it wouldn't be surprising that a US Marshall was involved. That doesn't make all sex workers victims, but what the prohibition of consenting adult commercial sex does do is make it more difficult to go to the police when we are victims, because they may be part of the victimization. Decriminalize consenting adult commercial sex. When law enforcement agents are involved in victimizing anyone- including children- increase the penalties for their crimes. policeprostitutionandpolitics .com for lists of pedophile and rapist law enforcement agents, and other important data and stats which expose the lies of these 'victim pimps.' "Operation Do the Math" shows that the lies these people tell are simply NOT POSSIBLE.
@3, I'd agree. Instead of trying to debunk individual stories, why not focus on the issue? Is there something to be gained through the Stranger exposing her? Even she fabricated a story like this to get the attention as a victim, this was a movie that did not claim to be a documentary. The Rolling Stone article was seeking some action from the university and named a fraternity. If the person alleging the rapes was not telling the truth, there is reputational harm and a lawsuit.
If you voluntarily enter the world of sex work don't go calling yourself a victim and expect any sympathy from me.
You are no more a victim than the person who voluntarily injects heroin or smokes methamphetamine. No more a victim than the thief who is robbed by his co-conspirators.
It's your body. Sell it if you want to. But when shit gets bad, I've got the worlds smallest violin. You've got only yourself to blame.
(I apologize for drifting a little away from the topic of the film....)
@7, voluntarily entering the sex trade to pay a debt to human traffickers is hardly voluntary. I would assume almost all sex workers are not there voluntarily.
I'm so glad to see this story in the paper! In my opinion, Eden is to the sex industry what “Reefer Madness” is to marijuana legislation reform. It’s a titillating sexploitation movie, purposely created for a neoconservative agenda of arresting more people and controlling sexual behavior. It is a feel-good film for a sexual police state, pernicious rubbish used to legitimize stigma and state-sponsored violence against sex workers. It perpetuates the misery of people who are trapped between poverty, a right-wing Christian anti-sex agenda, and the prison-industrial complex. Eden should never have been used to solicit charitable donations and get lucrative grants. It should very definitely not be used to sway voters, influence public policy or government funding, or to direct the focus of law enforcement.

@8 - you know what they say when you assume.
@10, you are assuming, and you are an ass - not me.
A good piece. I just read it this evening. I admit you have gumption attempting to get to the bottom of this. It mustn't have been easy. I especially like your flourish at the end and mentioning "Animal Farm" by George Orwell. That work is one of my favorites.

Full disclosure, I haven't seen "Eden". And don't intend to. I read several glowing reviews, including The Stranger's. But, something at the time of reading them kept me from viewing it. I recall one of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges was cast as a corrupt US Marshall. Maybe it was that. Dunno.

I do know that I've already viewed an excellent feature film on human trafficking, "LYLYA4EVER" by the Swede, Luke Moodysson. It was believable and certainly convinced me of the contemporary horror of that "trade".

It is unfortunate that this film, ""Eden" based on a true story" is well, not necessarily so. But, an original created narrative can render a public service.

There are several major problems with your article, Ms. Jen Jen.

Firstly, people who tell multiple stories tend never to tell one single honest story, which is why they shouldn't be taken seriously on anything!

Secondly, you suggest there might not be any harm done since it was for a good cause (how many times have we heard that from gov't sources after debunking their falsified numbers???).

Negative, Jen Jen, one of her stories denigrates and slanders the US Marshal Service which, no doubt, has had one or two bad apples over the duration of its existence, but is pristine in comparison to the corrupt and creepy FBI, sordid from its very beginning***.

The FBI has a history of taking credit for the heroic work of US Marshals again and again!

It really sounds like the major purpose to her story --- or stories --- was to profit herself either monetarily and/or emotionally.

Had there been any honest purpose, then criminal conviction would have been pursued!

But such was not the case.

Epic fail on all parties concerned: the movie company, CNN, The Stranger for its award, and Jen Jen's article.


*** Historical Note:

The FBI, originally named the Bureau of Investigation, was founded by the grandnephew of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte, essentially to roust and harrass socialists in America, which were growing dramatically in number.

In 1910, just under 2 million Americans stated they were socialist and voted such, and beginning in 1912, socialist platforms and candidates were sweeping the nation in elections.

Over the next 10 years, their numbers would grow dramatically, and on January 2, 1920, the Bureau of Investigation simultaneously mounted raids in 70 cities across the country, dragging out workers and beating them, destroying printing presses, and jailing 10,000 activists. Those socialist candidates who won elective office, but had immigrated to America, were deported en masse!

If not for the raids by the power elites, America could very well have gone socialist, but alas, the plutocracy still reigns stronger than ever.
For an excellent book to clarify this subject, by a lady who knows wherein she speaks, I would humbly recommend Melissa Gira Grant's book,

Playing the Whore

Am in full agreement with @9, Mistress M. --- cumulative statistics indicate that the majority of violence against sex workers, the world over, is from various police forces (and that applies to America, as well).

Any violence against them is despicable.
@6, presents the red herring argument, naturally enough!

Your argument was the same exact argument form some godawful University of Maryland academic stooge/Wall Street endowed and college-paid for jackhole, some years back, when she published a list of males' names in the student newspaper and on leaflets circulated throughout the campus, claiming they were all rapists.

Of course, they were all just random names, but the poor-little-rich-girl academic pseudo-feminist believed her cause was righteous, as she was attempting to make a statement that all men are rapists, so it doesn't matter whether one prints the names of the guilty . . . or the names of the innocent!

Again, I agree with the reasoning and logic of @9, Mistress M.
@8 I see, you 'assume'. Well we have your assumption, I guess that is all we need.

As soon as we can start to believe that most anti-sex trafficking organizations are anything other than anti-prostitution organizations, motivated far more by puritanical sex phobia than a desire to help victims of trafficking, we'll start to believe what they are saying.
I feel like I just got "Mike Daisey'ed" by The Stranger and SIFF.
"Trauma leads to PTSD, Gomez emphasized, and "a lot of what comes from that is memory loss.."

Please do not let assertions like this pass unchallenged. This is a deliberate conflation of physical brain trauma (which can and does cause memory loss) with psychological trauma, which does no such thing-- and often quite the opposite.

This conflation was made deliberately and with malice aforethought by the "repressed memory" theorists of the 1980s, and was used to destroy the lives of dozens of innocent people who rotted in jail based on it. And it is complete fucking nonsense and a gilded invitation for grifters and hustlers to sell you a bill of goods: from the "ritual satanic abuse" hustlers of the 80s to the "sex trafficking underground" hustlers today.

(God help me, I'm going to agree with sgtdoom about something: go read Melissa Gira's book. In fact, I'll go futher: go read her book even though sgtdoom recommended it.)
In this article, Jen Graves shows herself to still be the best writer at the Stranger.
Mistress Matisse needs to make her own goddamned movie. You feel slighted, misrepresented, unfairly maligned? Make your own fucking movie.
"By claiming to be based on truth, Eden causes itself to be compared to real-life footage. And if it is only a false alarm, then it causes problems while changing nothing: Society's existing bias toward doubting survivors of sexual violence is reinforced, as is the oversimplification of stories about sex work. Nothing is improved for anybody. The movie becomes meaningless in the same way as the video."

Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously? That's an awful lot to level at somebody who had your full support and that of your paper just a short time ago. If anybody lied and set back any causes, it wasn't Griffiths. The worst you could charge her with is working off of some bad information, and as a result the story ended up being more of a composite than a biography. So what? That, to you, is enough of a reason to totally throw her to the wolves and try and burden her with that kind of guilt? Jesus Christ, Jen, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

And Matisse - "It's a titillating sexploitation movie, purposely created for a neoconservative agenda of arresting more people and controlling sexual behavior." Oh my god, seriously?

I honestly can't believe what I've just read here, from either of you. Wow.
Thank god for Mistress Matisse.

There isn't a single iota of actual data to support the inflated estimates of forced sex trafficking the anti-prostitute crowd likes to throw around during their fundraising efforts. It's all a fraud.

That money should be spent on real children with real problems.
@biffp: I would assume almost all sex workers are not there voluntarily.

You've never met a sex worker, and you have no idea what you are talking about.

Fantastic piece, Jen.
So much for Stranger Genius awards, and the "research" behind giving those awards.
I hate this new culture everybody's trying to push of "don't blame the liars, blame the people who believe them."

Don't blame that liar at UVa, blame Rolling Stone.

Don't blame Chong Kim, blame Megan Griffiths. (But not The Stranger, who had more of a commitment to truth telling than Griffiths)

While using the power of 'AND,' don't forget that both of these stories started with liars, and they shouldn't be supported because their falsehoods weaken other people's truths.


At least Jen didn't go on to say that everybody's story should be unconditionally believed, and "I believe you." is a powerful statement, unlike Paul Constant did when reporting on UVa.
@19, doctored memory,


(Oh yeah, and be sure to win one of those Stranger Genius Awards for doing so!)
@23, makes an excellent point.

Routinely, we are bombarded with fantasy financial stats with nothing behind them, pure fiction that some reporter asks some "stink tank" individual, who then belies she or he can cite any humongous number which pleases their psyche.

And to repeat something I've ranted about previously, always research thoroughly those so-called foundations out there and the backgrounds and financial remuneration of their directors and staff.
FYI, @19, , should you ever wish to meet me late at night in a downtown alley, here is an approximation of how I'll appear (I'm the dood at the top with the battle axe, the lady at the lower left is one of my many groupies, and the fellow at the lower far right is my Uncle Ralph, who will be accompanying me).


I have a very sensitive nature, which you have assaulted verbally!
I've been using this as my email signature for a few months now: "The Idea that made-up stories can matter is sort of the foundational assumption of our species." - John Green
Instead of delving into a potentially interesting discussion of truth vs. fiction in film, I can feel Ms. Graves swinging for the journalistic fences on this. Cross-checking Ms. Kim’s story for holes, transcripts of interviews, gotcha!

If we’re doing thought-provoking retrospectives on The Stranger's film Genius Award-winners, might I suggest a look back to 2010? That's the year The Stranger lauded one of its own staffers after watching "14 minutes of footage" from a still-unfinished experimental documentary. Seems like a great opportunity for some gumshoe reporting!


But in all seriousness, that award was probably based more on the Mudede-Devor projects Zoo and Police Beat. One was a documentary that was entirely a reenactment and one was a narrative poem based on the actual police beat blurbs from the pages of The Stranger. Both are gorgeous indie films, take a great deal of liberty in mixing fact and fiction, and avoided scrutiny—or even examination—in this article. Why? Because the holes in a sex trafficking victim’s story are more exciting than an actual discussion of what responsibilities filmmakers have to their audience when dealing with true stories, or whether or not those responsibilities even exist?

What a wasted opportunity on a potentially interesting subject.

Eden - based on a truthy story.

Wasn't that Colbert Report final episode awesome?
Why reposted to SAT, DEC 20, 2014 at 11:00 AM? Yet still showing comments dated earlier than that post? i.e. from a few days ago?
In addition to Melissa Mira Grant's book, the work of Laura Augustin on the rescue industry is important here. Let's not go all the way to the claim that sex trafficking is entirely a hoax; it does exist, and it's awful. But the "rescue industry" is full of inherently unreliable inflaters and exaggerators. Some people in that world are sincere and truly concerned about the liberation of actually enslaved people, but it's shot through with grifters and anti-prostitution/anti-sex activists who are trying advance their considerably more controversial agenda under the flag of a seemingly unimpeachable one.
@28: not unless you provide a notarized affidavit that you're finally up to date on your shots. And we all know how you feel about that sort of thing.
Of course this story was fake. I can't help but see a comparison to the UVA gang rape allegation story. People don't really want to fact check these stories, since the people telling them (and the victims, and the advocates) are both discouraged from asking questions (we've all seen The Stranger et al stating, in so many words, the being skeptical of a sex-abuse victim's claim is "re-victimizing" them and that, essentially, it's better to punish a few innocent people than to let a guilty person go free) and, of course, see an avenue to advance their own agendas
@9 You sound like a smart snitch.
@9 any sex worker under 18 is still a child. this film seems to be about underage sex trafficking, not adults engaging in consensual behavior.

go ahead and keep doing your best to conflate the two groups, but we don't have to listen.

the film is still based on a true story.
Yo, if your in the game you know what really is going on. This article was beautiful, it is a portrait of how people on the outside see the underworld for lack of a better term. The most striking part was how naive those kids making the documentary were. I'm up north and i know some dude who have Rv's who help girls. Real Talk, there is a huge local story that would be awesome to see someone with balls go after, them boards.....
According to the film's website "A portion of the net profits from EDEN will benefit anti-slavery organizations." Is there any evidence that this promise was followed through? Could Griffith at least comment on that?
This whole thing played out just months ago with the Somaly Mam/Nicholas Kristof sex trafficking rape scandal. And with “Sex Trafficking hysteria” in general.

Not only did Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times write many fake made up stories about “Somaly Mam” and sex trafficking he also promote it, and wrote books, made documentaries and did marketing for her.

Somaly Mam and Nicholas Kristof should have lawsuits filed against them for committing fraud and stealing money from the public by providing the public with false sex trafficking horror stories that were lies to send money to the Somaly Mam and Afesip charities. These charities then committed human trafficking themselves by forcing women and girls to stay in their (rescue) centers against their will and to lie about being forced into sex trafficking to the western media and donors.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times newspaper appeared with Somaly Mam at many fund raising events. He acted as her press, marketing and celebrity agent. Writing books and making documentaries about her. It seemed like Kristof was working for Somaly Mam. Was he getting a kick-back from her? Why was he doing all this work for her? How much money did Nicholas Kristof make from Somaly Mam?

And guess what? Somaly Mam continues to make millions of dollars off of her lies with her new anti-sex trafficking NGO. Nicholas Kristof was never fired and continues to make millions off of lies.