"Ridge Runners" - What it Was Like to See Human Trafficking Happening in My Small Town



A few nights ago, as my husband and I settled in to watch an indie film that was released earlier this year, I knew I was in for a viewing experience unlike any other. For one thing, I kept noticing dozens of familiar landmarks in this project that was set and filmed in Jonesboro, Arkansas — the thriving college town of about 75,000 where we currently live. However, as I watched, what impacted me most about the film was that it was inspired by true events of a human trafficking case that happened a few years ago in our quiet, little city.

The film Ridge Runners follows the investigation of a missing twelve-year-old girl, led by Detective Rachel Willow. At first, Willow and her community are doubtful that anything beyond a runaway-child case is possible in their peaceful town, but as the investigation continues, Willow finds the case is much more complicated than it appears on the surface.

After watching the film, I had the opportunity to talk with the director, Hunter West, about his passion to shine a light on human trafficking, the true events that inspired the film, and the process of making Ridge Runners — including crowdsourcing it on Kickstarter. Several important themes stuck out to me throughout the process, and these concepts are true not only about the film but about the fight against human trafficking in general. 

Human Trafficking Can Happen Anywhere.

The stirring for West to make his first feature film happened in 2014 when he heard of an incident of human trafficking that happened just two blocks away from his home near Jonesboro. Eighteen men and one woman were arrested in a plot that centered around a twelve-year-old girl. It struck West that human trafficking is not just an international problem or a big city problem— it can happen anywhere. 

PHOTO: Hunter West, Director of the film, “Ridge Runners.”

PHOTO: Hunter West, Director of the film, “Ridge Runners.”

To turn a blind eye to it makes you complicit, and to think that it’s another culture’s problem, or another country’s problem, or another race’s problem is incredibly naive,” West said. “So for us, being white southerners, it was important to not be blind to what’s happening in our own neighborhoods and to let people know that it really does happen everywhere.”

Injustice Doesn’t Happen in Isolation, Neither does Restoration.

Ridge Runners demonstrates how a culture can be set up to allow injustice to occur and be covered up. “It takes a village to let [human trafficking] happen,” West said. “It’s not one person doing one bad thing. It is people turning a blind eye, people being complicit, people not stepping up and saying something. Nothing like that happens in a vacuum.” 

On the flip side, the film shows how a community can rise up to face the facts and help others toward a path of rescue and healing. The viewer leaves with a sense of responsibility to see red flags in their own community, to make sure that the vulnerable are protected, and to create a culture of healing and restoration for survivors.

Everyone Has a Part to Play.

One thing I love about Ridge Runners is that it was funded by a Kickstarter campaign of backers who believed in the project. West emphasized that their vision for the film was tremendous and they realized they could not do it without asking for help from the community. The community stepped up — over 230 backers raised $20,000 in just two weeks.

This communicates something far beyond films and budgets. It highlights the fact that fighting human trafficking is a community effort; it’s not a task that one or two people — even experts — can tackle on their own. An individual may not feel like they have much to give, but when we all do what we can, it can go a long way.

I was so struck by Ridge Runners. It was artistically well-done, respectful of survivors’ stories, and accurate and realistic — both from a law enforcement and trafficking survivor standpoint. Its themes and message will stick with me for a long time. It is an important film for all human trafficking advocates — especially those in smaller towns and cities.

You can buy or rent Ridge Runners on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and Google play


About the Author

Erin Flippin King.png

Erin Flippin King is a freelance writer and editor, loving life in Jonesboro, AR with her husband, Aaron (same name, cute right?) and son, Sam. Erin enjoys dancing like a fool, joking at wildly inappropriate times, spending time in the sunshine, and Dr. Pepper. She recently earned her master's degree in Biblical Studies and Hebrew and shares her writing at erinflippinking.com.