Break the Chain

Logline: Two survivors of child sex and labor trafficking provide a harrowing look at how this overly sensationalized issue hides in plain sight.

Short Synopsis: Kwami and Debbie were enslaved and exploited as children for numerous years within the US before anyone took notice. Both survivors of sex and labor trafficking recount their experiences with a trafficker who promised them a better life. Accompanying their stories of abuse and survival are interviews with those actively working to raise awareness and create creative solutions to combat this hidden global issue. The film strays from the traditional sensationalized ways of exploring human trafficking issues and helps us learn that we are all connected to this billion dollar industry, and we have the power to change lives by choosing how we consume our information, what we support, and ultimately, how we break the chain.

  • Laura E. Swanson
    Every Two Minutes
  • Laura E. Swanson
    Every Two Minutes
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 4 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    February 23, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    12,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Cinema Film Festival of Hollywood
    United States
    Best Feature Length Documentary
  • Human Trafficking Taskforce Black-Tie Benefit Premiere
    United States
    February 23, 2017
    Michigan Benefit Premiere
Director Biography - Laura E. Swanson

Laura E. Swanson is a documentary filmmaker, professional speaker, sexual assault survivor/advocate, and human rights activist currently residing in Michigan. Her work is heavily rooted in building awareness for important, yet misrepresented, issues of social justice using a non-sensationalized and victim-centered artistic approach. Swanson’s films have been screened in university classroom’s around the United States, International Film Festivals, State Supreme Courts and are currently being used in trainings for numerous law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations. 'Break the Chain' is her second feature-length documentary film and has been independently produced and directed with the help of Michigan-based taskforce agencies, law enforcement, and non-profit organizations.

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Director Statement

Instead of a standard statement, I'd like to share a story from the production process that I think represents everything this film is about, and everything I hoped it could accomplish.


Labor trafficking - or forced labor - is not something most people associate with human trafficking. I believe this is because the media often documents cases of sex-trafficking, but not labor exploitation. I therefore decided early in the genesis of Break the Chain, that I wanted to represent survivors of both sex and labor trafficking.

Finding individuals to profile in a documentary can be a time-consuming and challenging process. I partnered with the Michigan Human Trafficking Task force, and was introduced to numerous sex-trafficking survivors who were empowered, and eager to share their personal stories about forced prostitution. However, finding someone who was willing to talk about their experience with labor trafficking proved much more difficult.

In the beginning, I made contact with a handful of individuals who had experienced labor trafficking, but one by one they each turned me down. Many said they were afraid of exposing their identities. Some labor-trafficking survivors made eye-opening statements, like:

"I don't understand how I can be [considered] trafficked, when I entered into this contract [freely] and wasn't raped or anything, like other victims."

As my search continued, weeks turned into months, and production was delayed. Not one labor-trafficking survivor was willing to share their story publicly.

Then, one day, I received a promising email from Bridgette Carr, the Director of the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic. In the email, Bridgette wrote about a young man named Kwami who was brought over from Togo at the age of 11, and had been a victim of forced domestic servitude. Bridgette said this young man was very hesitant to appear on camera, and in previous interviews had always insisted he remain completely anonymous. Still, she had a feeling he might be ready to speak.

For months, Kwami, and I e-mailed back and forth about what an interview would mean to him, and how respectful we would be of his story. Slowly, Kwami began to trust us. He agreed to sit down for an anonymous interview with our team, as long as Bridgette was in the room as well.

The day we conducted Kwami’s interview was one of the most fulfilling and inspiring days of my life. I could tell he was incredibly nervous to share everything that had happened to him, but he kept pushing through. Our entire team was so proud of him.

About a month after his interview, we sent him our first edit of the trailer, in which we had blurred his face. This was his response:

"Wow, wow!!! I love it! Whoever read my victim statement did amazing job! You are going to change lives with this documentary. Thank you!"

Shortly after that message, he sent me a simple, yet profound email, which said, "I give you permission to reveal my identity." I was so honored that he wanted to take that leap with us!

With the release of the film earlier this year, Kwami has become a phenomenal advocate for human trafficking. He attends screenings, even when our crew cannot, and he joins the discussion panels and Q&A's whenever possible. He even hosted a screening at his college, Walsh University, for the entire student body! Kwami has also joined forces with Debbie, the sex-trafficking survivor featured in our film, to work as peer support specialists, and help others that have been affected by human trafficking.

Kwami’s transformation has been an amazing thing to witness, and has given all of us at Break the Chain so much inspiration and strength. Kwami is currently a junior at Walsh University studying education. He is following in the the footsteps of the high school teacher who first recognized something was wrong with him, and helped rescue Kwami from his trafficker. Though Kwami has still not told his family in Togo what happened to him in the US, he hopes to finish college and visit them one day so he can share his story.

Laura E. Swanson
Director, Break the Chain