Girl Number 26 was abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself on the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
In desperation, she took a job at a club but soon found herself forced into satiating the sexual cravings of customers to pay her bills. Stripped of her identity and dignity, she became despondent.
“Sometimes I thought I would never get out of that place,” she said. “That if I died, nobody would really care.”
The girl, given a pseudonym to protect her identity, is one of several child trafficking victims who will be featured in “26 Seconds,” a documentary by Chapman University professor Kelly Galindo. The film’s name refers to the statistic that a child is globally trafficked every 26 seconds.
Galindo, 54, of Orange has been traveling the world over the past two years for her film in an effort to document the expansive child trafficking industry, making stops in Cambodia, Thailand, India, Iraq and Mexico.
Galindo worked as an actress in various independent films and guest-starred on such shows as shows “ER,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Closer.”
Her film, expected to be released in September 2018, will follow trafficked girls as they try to heal and piece their lives back together.
While in Kurdistan in January, Galindo learned the intricacies of a trafficking system whereby ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has been attacking villages, initiating boys into their ranks and selling young girls into sexual slavery.
Dedicated to obtaining the story of the girls, Galindo traveled to refugee camps for interviews flanked by members of the Kurdish military, a necessary security measure considering she was about 20 miles from ISIS-occupied Mosul, which was liberated by Iraqi forces in July.
“We were incredibly fortunate in Iraq,” Galindo said. “The Kurdish soldiers are like Rambo.”
But the menace isn’t just abroad. Galindo’s film will also analyze trafficking’s effects in Orange County and other parts of Southern California.
“I have been to every third-world red light district and I was the most afraid on Harbor Boulevard in Garden Grove,” Galindo said. “It’s crazy there.”
Galindo said one survivor recounted staring out of the window of a hotel across from Disneyland at age 10, watching families head to the “Happiest Place on Earth” as she was being raped by male customers.
Galindo said there’s a lot of trafficking around the amusement park.
Despite the horrific circumstances Galindo has learned about, her film will largely highlight the organizations that are trying to defeat child trafficking, including Destiny Rescue, Children of the Forest, Side-by-Side Church International in Santa Ana and Magdalene Hope in Bakersfield.
Deidre Pujols, wife of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball player Albert Pujols, will also be featured in the film along with her organization Open Gate International, which she started about a year ago to provide vocational training to trafficking victims after they’ve been rescued and rehabilitated.
When Pujols, 41, of Irvine and Galindo met a few weeks ago, they immediately realized the similarities in their personal journeys.
Pujols traveled to many of the same places Galindo visited to learn more about child trafficking and she valued the film’s intent of illuminating the organizations combating trafficking rather than focusing on the darkness.
“[Galindo] wants people to get a sense of the monster we are dealing with but also to highlight a more positive perspective,” Pujols said.
The final step in the filming process will be in February, when Galindo will head to Minneapolis to capture the increased trafficking during the Super Bowl, when traffickers bring in “bus-loads” of girls. Then the film will head to the editing table.
Galindo said a public screening will be held in the spring at Chapman University. A preliminary cut of the film was shown on the campus on Nov. 14 with a panel of sex trafficking experts.
Galindo said the film will be done in time to submit to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for 2019 Oscar consideration. Sid Ganis, former president of the Academy, is an advisor on the project.
Galindo said if the film isn’t accepted she’ll be content because she’s spreading awareness.
“It’s been a long two years of hard work and heartbreak,” Galindo said. “But, I have also been witnessing miracles.”