SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! In this age of technology, social media has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. The need and prominence of virtual connection and knowledge have changed how we conduct ourselves. This has many upsides, such as updating loved ones in, more or less, real-time about big events. Unfortunately, it also provides predators a new playing field to appease their heinous and depraved acts. It allows them to provoke and bully the young, innocent, and vulnerable into providing sexually-oriented collateral to be held against them.
Director Maria Demeshina Peek’s documentary, Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic, offers direct insight into the creepy and disturbing world of sex extortion through a criminal investigation and trial that uncovers its global reach. Through unsealed documents emerge a Homeland Security and Department of Justice investigation into a predator who extorted a Virginia teen and a fourteen-year-old girl from Japan. When new leads and details emerge, the agents and officials looking into it conclude that one suspect is behind both crimes. Also revealed here is the sad fact that hundreds of victims in similar situations exist the world over. Even more outrageous is the predator’s life, who served in the U.S. military and also tried to break out of prison once.
Through first-person accounts, Peek constructs a two-part film: the first is anger. The second is courage. These two halves provide a 360 view on the effects of sextortion on its victims and loved ones. The filmmaker also sheds light on the potential rising problem of devices degrading comprehension in future generations, which will exist as abnormal brain development or virtual autism, which is yet to be fully understood.
“…insight into the creepy and disturbing world of sex extortion…”
Preying on innocent young teenagers who become victims online through social media, sex traffickers are skillful at luring young girls into their traps. Reenactments, animated courtroom trials, and many interviews with investigators and high-level officers provide a sense of the damage one man could do to so many. Unfortunately, that damage and harm led to the suicide of a young girl in Canada through online bullying and demands. And mind you, all this started from a simple friend request on Facebook.
The film includes snippets of celebrities such as Ashton Kushner fighting the crusade against this growing pandemic, which is great. But it’s the real-life stories of victims, their parents, and the investigators who make Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic so very compelling. So many investigation tactics and detective work had to be coordinated to prosecute one predator. It’s unfathomable to know there are hundreds of these people out there performing online grooming and sextortion, which is happening to one in seven children online.
Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic is a film about what it takes to finally achieve social justice. Peek’s documentary is an essential watch due to its importance in helping start the conversation between parents and guardians with their young children who need to understand what’s lurking in cyberspace. The film is as equally emotional as it is hard-to-watch, but that is the point.
Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic screened at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.