“It’s called blowin’ up when you leave your pimp…so I blew up,” said Kandie with self-assurance in her voice and a sweet, nervous smile painted across her face.The documentary, Blowin’ Up, set out of a dim-lighted courtroom in Queens, NYC, does not hold back on the immense heroism and the massive strides taken by Honorable Judge Toko Serita and GEMS counselor Eliza Hook to revolutionize how sex-trafficking and prostitution is perceived by the American judicial system.
Judge Serita is neither interested in prosecuting and criminalizing the women that nervously step into her auburn paneled courtroom nor does she even utilize terminology like “sex-workers” or “prostitutes” in her practice.
On the contrary, what Judge Serita is interested in, is humanizing and providing solitude for the women that find themselves at such crossroads that they deem selling their bodies as the only suitable answer to provide for themselves.
Serita works with the inspiring women of the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) in order to offer the defendants of her courtroom an opportunity to begin again. Rather than pleading guilty, the women are encouraged to take on an alternative treatment program, which in turn eliminates all records of their offense(s) six months after completion. All records are dismissed under the condition that they have not been placed under arrest again within that time.
Many of the exemplified women turned to sex work as a result of societal class restrictions and easy money in times of strife. One woman was an immigrant that behaved as an employee of a massage parlor until she was pressured and forced into performing more than just massages for the customers.
Blowin’ Up puts forth a need for reform and for a more proactive and considerate judicial system. It’s a matter of seeing these women as survivors and victims of a vicious cycle, rather than as the perpetrators of a crime. Judge Serita and GEMS’ Eliza Hook are the leading example of the necessary change our legal system needs.
Although a bit slow-moving at times, the emotional and informative journeys of the various survivors is immensely inspiring and introduces a new angle to the conversation encompassing sex work and trafficking within the United States.
Blowin’ Up shares a hopeful story about women providing for each other and revolutionizing a system that enslaves them. It humanizes sex workers and trafficking victims in a particularly intimate way. The documentary invites audience members to reflect on the perpetual reality of life and to empathize with its deep complexity.
Blowin’ Up recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21st in New York City.