‘Gridshock’ exposes the grid of sex trafficking in Iowa


Vanessa McNeal

Sage Smith

Filmmaker and national speaker Vanessa McNeal showcased her documentary Gridshock, a film about sex trafficking in Iowa, Monday evening.

McNeal introduced her documentary and put emphasis on understanding what sexual abuse, assault and sex trafficking is.

Gridshock opened with a few interviews and a narration by McNeal explaining the basics sex trafficking. A person featured in the film said the victims of sex trafficking aren’t treated as humans but rather commodities — the sex trafficking business is huge as victims are sold hundreds, even thousands of times.

Three different Iowan women shared their experiences as victims of sex trafficking in the documentary, including how they were forced into the business and how they escaped the life. Each are currently in healing stages of the trauma they had endured.

One of the women, listed as Amber, was homeless and found herself befriending a man she had met at her local mall. He eventually got her into sex trafficking after gaining her trust. Amber joined the military after escaping the business.

Another woman, who went by Heather No. 1 had been dating her boyfriend for about six months when she attended a New Year’s party with him.

She witnessed her boyfriend’s dad sexually assaulting him. The dad confronted Heather No. 1 about this, he then raped her and had her microchipped. Describing her experience, Heather No. 1 said she was trapped and had no idea how to get out of it.

The last woman, Heather No. 2, grew up in what she called a conservative household. At the age of 16 she was past curfew and therefore was too afraid to go home. She met a young woman at a hotel party in Cedar Rapids who propositioned her with a road trip to Wisconsin and Heather No. 2 agreed.

Once in Wisconsin, they arrived at a house where Heather No. 2 was locked in a room alone. Later she was let out of the room, cleaned up then struck by a tire iron as she was instructed on how to behave.

She was picked up by a man who did numerous nice things for her. He bought her food and told her what to say to the woman when returned, however, he decided to rape her as payback for being so nice to her.

McNeal incorporated other various perspectives such as law enforcement and nonprofits dedicated to helping victims, as well as sex addicts.

The documentary highlighted people known as the buyers. Buyers are the people who purchase the services of the sex trafficking.

According to the film, buyers are primarily employed men between the ages of 30 and 50, who are often married with families and have no prior criminal history. 

Gridshock wrapped up with explaining how victims are often arrested and charged with prostitution. The victims are labeled as criminals while the “traffickers creep off into the night and the buyers go home to their wives.”

After the screening of the documentary the event featured a panel discussion.

The panel spoke on the misconceptions of sex trafficking such as sex trafficking being associated with kidnapping when the victims often already know their traffickers. McNeal said it’s a very complex topic, and it is not black and white.

Those who are victims of sex trafficking or may know someone who is can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888) 373-7888 at any time. “HELP” or “INFO” can also be texted to 233733 for help or to learn more about the topic.