‘Gridshock’ filmmaker honored for Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month

Alex Schuman (L) and Vanessa McNeal, directors of ‘Gridshock.’ — video still

The new documentary on human trafficking in Iowa, Gridshock, will be screened for audiences at the world premiere hosted at The Des Moines Civic Center on April 2.

Director Vanessa McNeal is a survivor of sexual violence who has gone on to become an acclaimed speaker and documentarian. Drawing on her deeply personal experiences, she educates others on social issues and how to overcome a myriad of challenges.

Gov. Kim Reynold made a statewide proclamation declaring the month of January to be “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month.” On Jan. 17, McNeal will be a recipient of the 2019 “Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Award,” which will be presented by Gov. Reynolds when she signs the proclamation at the state capital building.

This award was created by the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery to honor “the outstanding efforts of those individual Iowans and organizations who have inspired others in the fight to end human trafficking.”

“It’s really a big honor and I’m so grateful they thought I was deserving of it,” McNeal told Little Village.

McNeal said, “It’s been a really long journey. I want to say that actual production, when we were filming, was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally. There’s so much content, so many people we were getting information from.”

The filmmakers’ hard work on this passion project will finally be seen this spring at the Des Moines Civic Center. Tickets go on sale Jan. 18 with prices ranging from $39.50-$104.50. Doors open at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. for VIP ticket-holders) and the film will start at 7:30 p.m.

Last year, McNeal and fellow filmmakers Alex Schuman and Taylor Bluemel launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for filming and post-production on Gridshock, an investigation on the causes and consequences of human trafficking in the Iowa.

Just one day before the deadline, the Gridshock team reached their goal of $35,000 and have surpassed it. The official trailer for Gridshock was released online on Oct.17, reaching over 15,000 views to date.

Filmed on location in Iowa, Gridshock features team interviews of survivors, law enforcement, advocates, politicians and a recovering sex-addict to shed light on this topic. A major focus of the film examines “buyers” or those who procure the services of human trafficking.

According to McNeal, “If there weren’t buyers or ‘johns,’ there wouldn’t be a demand that has created a multi-billion dollar global industry. I want to spotlight them, and we did that in the film. But I hope that, for people, it will make them think about why this industry exists in the first place.”


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To quote the narration from the trailer’s opening: “While many think this is only a problem in other countries or large cities, that is not the case. These atrocities are occurring every day in our own backyards.”

‘Gridshock’ raised funding for its release through IndieGoGo. — video still

Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Dorothy’s House in Des Moines, which first opened its doors three years ago as “a safe place for the practice of life for those teen and youth girls whose lives have been interrupted by the sex trafficking industry.”

Dorothy’s House was founded by Iowa native Kellie Markey, who makes an appearance in Gridshock.

After graduating college, Markey embarked on a 12-year career in the marketing and advertising industry in Chicago and California. She then spent five years working for eBay as Vice President of Global Direct Marketing and Vice President for International Development.

“After leaving eBay, I traveled and reconnected with my family,” Markey told Little Village. “I started dabbling in philanthropy through volunteerism. While doing that, I worked with needy girls in the Des Moines community, trying to recognize the nature and severity of abuse that our children are faced with.”

Markey reached a turning point in her life. “During that time, I was able to learn about the issue of sex trafficking in Iowa. I was flipping homes for a living and decided I should be helping in a more significant way.”

Dorothy’s House was originally conceived to help girls with severe sexual assault and abuse profiles before Markey decided “we should do it for those with the greatest needs,” meaning trafficking survivors.

While there is more awareness about the extent of human trafficking, it is still widely misunderstood.

“I think awareness has increased significantly over the last five years in central Iowa and all of Iowa,” Markey said. “I still think there is a lot of confusion about how it happens, who it happens to and what it looks like in our community.”

When asked about the major misconceptions surrounding human trafficking, Markey said, “People still believe that it’s largely something people get kidnapped into or abducted into. For the most part, this happens through people that are known to them, and even in some cases related to them.”

Markey, who watched a rough cut of the film, said she hopes the film becomes an important tool in helping build awareness on a much broader scale.

“I think it is incredibly impactful and well-rounded in terms of exposing this issue. I think Vanessa has done a terrific job in pulling this story together.”

After Gridshock’s premiere, the filmmakers will arrange for future screenings across the state and around the country. The film has been submitted to numerous film festivals and will be available for online purchase at a later date.

“My hope is that it raises overall awareness for sex trafficking and that once people are talking about it, they are talking about it in the right way,” McNeal said.

For more information about Gridshock, visit

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