CORRECTION 4/9/19 10:40 A.M.: A previous version of this article stated that Judge Toko Serita started Queens Human Trafficking Court. The court was actually started by the Hon. Fernando Camacho in 2004 and later expanded by Judge Serita.
By Jonathan Sperling
In Judge Toko Serita’s courtroom, compassion and education for individuals charged with prostitution-related offenses is paramount.
This understanding, empathetic approach to Queens’ alleged sex workers is the subject of “Blowin’ Up,” a documentary by director Stephanie Wang-Breal that explores the hurdles faced by women arrested and prosecuted for prostitution in the borough. Much of the film, which premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, takes places at Kew Gardens’ Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where Serita presides.
“We deal mostly with women of color, with black and Latina domestic defendants. We have a large percentage of foreign-born women who are Asian and undocumented,” Serita told Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson last week. “And within the past year or so, we’ve been seeing an increasing number of transgender Latina defendants who have been arrested on prostitution-related charges.”
The court was started by the Hon. Fernando Camacho in 2004 and later expanded by Serita, who took over in 2008.
The film’s title refers to the act of leaving a pimp — a theme that resonates throughout its 94-minute runtime.
“The types of issues we see run the gamut,” Serita said in the Vox interview. “But they usually involve issues such as housing, lack of employment opportunities, sexual assault, or sexual abuse history. A lot of them are also very traumatized, dealing with different types of chronic trauma and abuse, substance abuse issues, and mental health issues. This is a population that is very marginalized, and very much in need of intervention.”
The documentary also highlights the partnerships between women accused of prositution-related crimes and organizations like Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which works to end the sexual exploitation of children and young women. GEMS social worker Eliza Hook plays a crucial part in the film.
“Blowin’ Up” will show at Quad Cinema, located at 34 West 13th St. in Manhattan, until Thursday. For showtimes and information about purchasing tickets, visit quadcinema.com/film/blowin-up/.