How "Three Identical Strangers" Could Be The Gateway to Exposing Child Exploitation in America


Steven and I are always looking for reasons to go to the Alamo Drafthouse. We love the food and drinks, the no-talking policy, the charming compilations they show before the film and really want to make it to "Commandant" customer status by the end of this year. So when I found out there was a new documentary out about triplets who were separated at birth and the dark reasons behind it all, I was more than intrigued.

In the early 1980s, 19-year old Bobby Shafran started attending classes at his local community college, Sullivan County College in Loch Sheldrake New York. On his first day, he was stunned to find that everyone was excited to see him, hugging him, kissing him and telling him they were "happy to have him back." A lightbulb went off in his head that something was amiss. This feeling was confirmed when another guy on campus told him that he looks exactly like a friend of his, and the two of them should meet.

Over the phone, Bobby talks to popular boy on campus Eddy Galland, who he finds shares his birthday and was also adopted from the agency Louise Wise Services. Once united, they realized they were in fact twin brothers. After getting their picture in the paper, their other long lost brother David Kellman discovers the article, and for the first time in 19 years, the three of them are united as triplets.

The story of their reunion becomes a media sensation. They get interviewed on countless talk shows, make an appearance in Madonna's "Desperately Seeking Susan," and even open up their own restaurant together, "Triplets."

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The story sounds fun and fantastic like some big crazy mixup took place at an adoption agency that now lead to a beautiful story of togetherness and fame. But there's a dark side to this tale, regarding the adoption agency Louise Wise Services. And while I won't spoil the entire documentary for anyone, I will say that the reason for their separation in the first place was completely exploitative.

When you think about a documentary about exploited children, what do you picture? Children in China working day and night to keep food on their families' tables? Child brides in the Middle East? Or maybe child soldiers in Africa? Many assume that the mistreatment of children is only an issue across third-world and developing countries.

It's easy to forget that American children suffer from exploitation due to restrictions against them working or being removed from school, our strict statutory rape laws, our lifelong pedophile registration policies, our teachings of "stranger danger," our services such as CPS and the fact that those who abuse minors are generally treated with little to no respect in both our everyday society, to even prison culture. There are so many wonderful protections you feel entitled to as an American in general. But as with all issues in America, I think we have the capabilities to make our treatment of people a lot better and do more to protect our citizens. Our children are the future of this country and should feel safe and able to flourish. And while we're way ahead of many countries when it comes to how we treat them, our duties are not to compete with other governments, but with ourselves. 

We are missing the mark by a lot when it comes to how willing we are to protect the rights and lives of children in this country. And what Louise Wise Services did to Bobby, Eddy and David is just the tip of the iceberg. I am constantly hearing about documentaries coming to mainstream theaters whether it be Three Identical Strangers, RBG, the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career, or Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the tale of Mister Rogers' impact on the country. And their informative quality is getting stronger and stronger due to our technology and ability to research this day in age. I think Three Identical Strangers could potentially be a gateway to informing the world of other ways in which this country exploits children that the public aren't well versed on. Here are some examples of topics I think deserve our attention via a theatrical released documentary.


Exploited Children of Hollywood

Now that the #MeToo movement has gained a lot of momentum, and people feel more comfortable than ever discussing harassment and assault towards women in the entertainment industry, I think it's high time we give those who experienced abuse as children in the industry a chance to expose their attackers.

I have an interest in the inner workings of Hollywood, and the more and more that I read about it, the scarier things get. The original child star Shirley Temple was involved in a collection of films called Baby Burlesk, which featured her in revealing outfits and getting into adult situations, featuring phallic objects and sexual connotations. American darling Judy Garland battled being propositioned for sex countless times as an underage person, claiming that one executive who abused her told her that if she ever spoke out against him, "I'll break you if it's the last thing I do." Nothing was ever done back then about the abuse, and to this day we are no better about exposing the child abusers of Hollywood. The last person to really try to express themselves when it came to this topic was Gremlins and The Goonies star Corey Feldman, who has already been written off by the media for one reason or another.

I'd like to see this history of child abuse in Hollywood come to light. I'd like to see it become as big as the #MeToo movement and perhaps give a voice to the abused child stars who have had to keep their secret pain all the way to the grave.


Exploited Children of the Internet

We as a society have come a long way since the innocence of "Charlie Bit My Finger" and "David Goes to the Dentist." No longer are people just filming the natural reactions of their children and posting it on the internet to share the laughs and warmth. Going viral is as profitable as ever. Through YouTube monetization and royalties from major publications, it's easy to make a buck of your child's appearance and personality. Even if that personality is 100% scripted by you.

Every single day, I see footage of children being coached by their parents as to what to say whether it be in a vine, makeup tutorial or even vlog series. I've seen kids peddle beauty products, promote veganism, and spread their parents' political ideologies. And don't even get me started on the multi million dollar industry that is kids being filmed unboxing and playing with new toys on the market. Those are part of some of the biggest channels on the internet. 

But recently, parents have been getting exposed more often for the exploitation of their child for the sake of internet virality. The mother and older brother of nine-year old Instagram flexer, Lil' Tay - known for the lavish settings and products in her videos, and use or profanity - were recently exposed for faking her entire persona. Her mother, a real estate agent, was using her boss' luxury cars as well as the interiors of homes she had access to, to film her child reciting a profanity-laced script concocted by her teenage son.

And the couple behind vlog series Daddy O'Five have also recently been exposed for pitting their emotionally fragile children against each other in order to create shocking content and gain a greater following. From allowing their older children to beat up their youngest, to playing pranks that mess with their psyches, to public humiliation tactics, there's nothing this couple wouldn't do for views. This all came to a screeching halt when other YouTubers including Phillip DeFranco brought their channel to the attention of the general YouTube population, which ultimately got two of their children taken away and could potentially earn them some jail time and fines. They have since issued public apologies and taken down their channels, but it's still unclear whether or not justice will be served.

With the nature of the internet, how quickly you can start to profit off of your fame and how popular content regarding children is, it's no wonder that exploitation is taking place. And for every Lil' Tay or Daddy O'Five type case we hear about, there are countless others not being brought to our attention. I'd like to see a documentary delving into the art of viral content featuring minors and the repercussions of this industry.


Police Involvement with Exploited Children 


Two years ago, the Bay Area was disgusted to find that the Oakland Police Department had been responsible for having relations with a minor. The story unfolded when one officer committed suicide and left a note confessing to abusing an underaged sex worker. Investigators looked further into the situation, and discovered that the minor had been having sex with over a dozen members of the Oakland Police Department ever since one of them saved her from her pimp. But I was shocked to find that one day while trying to research this topic, that all the stories of the Oakland Police Department were buried under hundreds of other counts of police having relations with minors. If this is as common as a quick Google result reveals, this is something I believe needs to be taken to the mainstream.

For so long the police have covered up sexual crimes against children, or have many times also been the perpetrators. From the Johnny Gosch case to the Franklin Cover-Ups, there are countless stories in this country of children being exploited sexually, and police turning a blind eye or even getting involved to assist their kidnappers/attackers. Over 300,000 children are trafficked in the US each year. And it's a topic that is just as important as it is uncomfortable. And part of why it's such a huge problem is that the people whose jobs it is to protect these children are many times in on it. While there are plenty of officers in this country who join the force for the right reasons, we have to put an end to the culture of wolves in sheep's clothing when it comes to law enforcement. The first step to implementing change is to make sure there are repercussions for the breaking of laws, and honest people willing to hold others accountable. We as one of the most privileged and prosperous countries in the world should not harbor 15% of the world's trafficked children. All it takes is one wealthy individual or company willing to fund and promote a theatrical released documentary about this issue to get the ball rolling.


These are just three of countless topics regarding child exploitation that should be shown to the public on a large scale. What are your thoughts on this new crop of documentaries? Have seeing advertisements for them gotten you out of your house to see them? And what issues do you believe we will be better able to discuss as a society with this particular brand of storytelling?