Virtual Voices

Breaking trust

Movies

Let us have a "time out" from the wars and upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa to consider another war taking place in too many of our homes. That would be the war against our children and the one between parent and child.

A report from the website The Daily Beast should get our attention. The story, written by Conchita Sarnoff and Lee Aitken, reveals how new documents the writers obtained show how hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, who last year completed a 13-month sentence for soliciting prostitution from a minor, managed to "finesse the kinds of sex-crime allegations typically associated with a hefty prison sentence." The Daily Beast found that, "despite overwhelming evidence of sex crimes with dozens of young girls," a "protracted campaign to undermine the prosecution" coupled with "fear and intimidation experienced by victims during pre-trial proceedings" resulted in "a set of charges that became a virtual slap on the wrist."

A new film, not about hedge fund managers, but about online predators who scour the internet preying on children, will help many parents (and teens if they'll listen) become more aware of the threat they face. It's called Trust and it is being released Friday in a small number of theaters. You'll have to look for it (or demand it), but it is a film all parents should see with their teens or preteens. The film is rated R for rough language and sexual content, but it is real and the shock value is appropriate for the subject matter.

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Directed by David Schwimmer, who starred in the sitcom Friends, Trust is the story of 14-year-old "Annie," who makes friends with a "boy" named "Charlie." Charlie, supposedly 16, texts Annie and begins his seduction by addressing the insecurities many teenage girls feel about their looks and lack of self-esteem.

After weeks of email and chat room exchanges, Charlie's magnetism draws Annie into a face-to-face meeting. At first she is sickened that he is much older than he said, but by now she is hooked by his flattery and even though she knows he is a liar, she wants to believe his lies. They have sex in a cheap hotel room.

Annie's girlfriend learns about this and tells the school principal. He calls the police. Officers tell the parents and the maelstrom begins. Annie hates her girlfriend and her parents. Even though Charlie has committed statutory rape and clearly has exploited her, Annie can't bear to tear herself away from him. When the FBI identifies several other young girls he has similarly abused, Annie at first doesn't believe them until cruel reality sets in.

The parents, who see themselves as protectors of their children, feel betrayed and suddenly powerless. Annie feels betrayed by her best friend. Trust is broken on several levels. The ending is not what you might expect, because there is no end to child exploitation, there's only awareness and an effective defense.

In an age where every cell phone is a computer with internet access, there are no "parental controls" that can fully protect our children and grandchildren from sexual predators. In this cyber age, the old parental warnings not to take candy from strangers or get into a stranger's car have limited effect, especially when pedophiles can slither directly into your child's bedroom via internet connection.

David Schwimmer is not new to this subject. He is a member of the board of directors of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, which says it has assisted more than 40,000 sexual assault victims, both children and adults.

"Our hope," says Schwimmer, "is that this movie starts a dialogue for parents and their children about internet safety and how sometimes the internet can be the 'scary uncle' that no one wants to acknowledge."

We'd better acknowledge it and Trust helps us do so. It is a powerful and necessary lesson for parents and children. Go see it. It isn't entertainment. It's real life.

© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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