Here’s how sex trafficking works.
“Someone contacts a girl on the Internet. He pretends to be your friend, building a relationship and trust. Then you’re invited to a party — and you don’t come home.”
That’s what Molly Venzke, the author of “Caged No More” and screenwriter for the movie “Caged No More,” wants everyone to know about the problem that enslaves an estimated 27 million people wordwide and 1.2 million of them children. “It’s happening in Belleville, in St. Louis, in O’Fallon.”
Molly Olson was raised in Belleville and graduated from O’Fallon Township High School in 1988. She received a bachelor’s degree in theater performance from SIUE in 1994. Now 45, she lives in Auburn, Wash., a 30-minute drive from Seattle, with her husband, Jay, and three girls, Alex, 11, Madeline, 10, Tessa, 8.
“Caged No More” opens Friday in theaters across the country. The movie, starring Kevin Sorbo, Loretta Devine and Cynthia Gibb, is the story of Aggie Prejean, a grandmother on a desperate search to find her two granddaughters, Skye and Elle, who have been kidnapped by their sinister father. He has taken them overseas to be sold into slavery to settle his drug debt. Aggie enlists the help of the girls’ uncle, a well-respected local philanthropist, and his son Wil, who is former Special Forces. They stop at nothing to see the girls safely returned home.
“Most people think they’ll come out of a movie about sex trafficking feeling down,” Molly said. “But it’s a story of hope. It’s PG-13. We don’t concentrate on the horrors of sex trafficking. The book and the movie offer hope that these girls can be saved.
“Can you tell I’m passionate about this?”
Molly, the daughter of Richard and Janice Olson, of O’Fallon, has fond memories of attending Cathedral Grade School in Belleville.
“My favorite thing to do in Belleville was going to the Skyview Drive-In. That was golden. We’d get ice cream at White Cottage and head to the drive-in.”
She also has “amazing memories” from O’Fallon High, her teachers and students.
“Gail Fleming, my music teacher, is the one who inspired me most,” she said.
Gail, now an associate teaching professor in the music education department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, could tell Molly was destined for great things.
Molly had a special quality about her. A light in her eyes. I expected her to do something special like this.
Gail Fleming on Molly in high school
“She is extremely talented and extremely creative,” Gail said. “She had a beautiful voice and was a great dancer. She always smiled and she was always there for the other students. She was ready to take on any project.
“Molly had a special quality about her. A light in her eyes. I expected her to do something special like this.”
Feeding the passion
After college, Molly toured two years with St. Louis Repertory Theatre. She moved to Seattle 20 years ago.
“I was a stay-at-home mom with my girls,” Molly said, but she always had several irons in the fire. She is the campus minister and teaches junior high and high school students at Christian Faith School in Federal Way, Wash.
“I was a ghost writer for 12 books by other people.”
During that writing and editing process, in 2007 she was working with an author who was one of the founders of Trafficking Hope.”
While doing research for Trafficking Hope, an international organization dedicated to rescue girls from sex trafficking and restoring them to their families, she met some of the girls and heard their stories.
“It was heartbreaking. That’s when I realized this is an enormous issue I didn’t even know existed. We couldn’t afford to make big donations, so I asked myself, ‘What can I do?’”
Writing about it was the answer.
She wrote stories about the girls to help bring in donations. She wrote her own novel, “Caged,” on sex trafficking and self-published it in 2011. She contracted out all the book and movie rights before the book was written. All of the proceeds go to Trafficking Hope.
In 2012, producer and director Lisa Arnold called and said, “Can we talk?”
“She lives in New Orleans and the story is set in New Orleans,” Molly said. They hit it off and, in 2013, Lisa asked her to write the screenplay.
“I was so grateful to be the screenwriter. We made big changes in the movie. You can’t get everything in 300-plus pages of a book into a 100-minute movie. I made the choices. We kept all the characters and the integrity of the book.”
Lights, camera, action!
Molly went to Greece with Lisa to scout locations.
“It’s nice to have an exotic location in your movie. But it’s a huge problem in Greece. Prostitution is legal. Tens of thousands of girls are involved in sex trafficking in Athens alone.”
She returned to Greece for filming in 2014 with a cast that included Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules”; “He is so smart and so kind.”), Loretta Devine (“Grey’s Anatomy”; “She has a soft voice, but she’s spicy, very spicy.”) and Kathie Lee Gifford’s daughter, Cassidy Gifford.
27,000,000 Estimated people enslaved worldwide
1,200,000 Children involved in sex trafficking
“The set was so positive,” Molly said. “All the actors and crew understood that we were doing something important, something bigger than themselves.”
The movie does have a cliffhanger, Molly said. “But don’t write about that. A really cool thing is, before the credits role, real-life news people tell you how you can help to change the problem.
“At a screening in Seattle, the audience stood up at the end and applauded.”
Back to work
“Caged No More” is the first movie in a trilogy. Molly is writing the next two books and screenplays. “The goal is to film the second and third parts in 2016, then release the films back-to-back in 2017 and 2018.”
She is also looking forward to coming back to O’Fallon High School on April 29 to give a presentation on sex trafficking and talk about the book and the movie.
“Most people don’t want to hear about sex trafficking,” Molly said. “But educating girls can prevent this so much.
“I’m not worried about my kids. They have been educated not to get in that position. Red flags would go up in their minds.”
For more information about the book and movie, go to mollyvenzke.com
Meet Molly Venzke
Here are some things you should know about Molly Venzke
- Age: 45
- Residence: Auburn, Wash.
- Grew up in Belleville; 1988 graduate of O’Fallon High School
- College: Bachelor’s degree in theater from SIUE in 1994
- Family: Husband Jay, a financial adviser; three daughters, Alex, 11, Madeline, 10, and Tessa, 8
- Parents: Richard and Janice Olson, of O’Fallon; 2 brothers and a sister
- Occupation: Campus pastor at Christian Faith School, teaching Bible in junior high and high school
‘Caged No More’
Movie opens Friday at AMC Dine-In Theaters West Olive 16 in Creve Coeur; Wehrenberg Mid Rivers 14 Cine in St. Peters, Mo.
- Cast: Kevin Sorbo, Loretta Devine, Cynthia Gibb, Alan Powell, Cassidy Gifford, Abigail Duhon, Dallas Lovato
- Director: Lisa Arnold
- Rated PG-13
- 90 minutes
From “Caged No More” by Molly Venzke
Aggie lumbered out of her car, feeling the stiffness of the hour-long drive. “Dis da last time I’m gone do dis,” she mumbled under her breath once more. “Aggie, you best be takin it careful gettin down out da car, else you slip in all dis snow.”
Slowly, she climbed the narrow porch steps, cautious to test each one’s sturdiness before trusting it with the fullness of her weight. And once she arrived at the front door, she noticed it was slightly ajar. She entered the house saying, “Girl, what you tinkin keepin dis door open with all dis snow and it being so ...”
Her words trailed off as something just did not feel right. What was that smell? Burnt metal? Bleach? Rotten food? Sour alcohol? It was a noxious mix of it all.
“Macy?” she called out. There was no answer.
The hair stood up on the back of her neck as she rushed into Macy’s bedroom. She wasn’t in her bed, so Aggie checked her bathroom. Vacant. Next, she tried the kitchen, which turned out to be the source of the horrible smells. Covering her mouth with her hand in hopes to keep from gagging, she scanned the wreckage. One end of the kitchen looked like a chemistry lab with glass vials, empty pill bottles and deeply charred saucer pots. In the sink was a heap of unrecognizable, rotting food, and on the floor tile in the opposite corner, it looked as if someone had vomited ... a few days ago. Aggie’s heart sank down into her stomach.
“Macy, you in here?”
A soft moan came from the girls’ room, and Aggie hurried to respond. When she opened little Elle’s bedroom door, she found Macy crumpled on the pink carpet beside Elle’s empty bed. Half dressed in a t-shirt and men’s boxer shorts, Macy looked as white as the snow falling outside, and the blue hue of her lips brought panic to Aggie’s chest.
“Macy girl, Aggie’s here,” she said as she knelt by her side and tried to cradle her. The stench coming off her body was sickening. “Can you hear me, Sha? You here?”
Aggie could see Macy’s nostrils flaring with each breath; even so, her breathing seemed quite labored. She pulled a blanket off Elle’s bed and did her best to wrap Macy’s torso with it. Macy let out another soft moan.
“Mama Aggie? Did you come, after all?”