Wynona’s House screens documentary on online grooming and exploitation

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NEWARK, NJ — The Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center presented its second event in its 2022 Training and Workshops on Child Maltreatment series, titled “Child Safety in the Dawn of the Metaverse – Are We Ready for This New Frontier?” On Nov. 14 at Montclair State University, Wynona’s House was the first to stream a newly released, award-winning documentary in the tristate area. The film is an investigation into the world of online grooming and exploitation, a present-day reality for one in seven children online. 

Director, editor and producer Maria Peek, and producer and cinematographer Stephen Peek were present to answer attendees’ questions after the screening. View the trailer at vimeo.com/673752770.

“The extremely disturbing yet timely subject matter, combined with the challenges of filming during the pandemic made making this film almost an impossible task. We had to adjust, improvise, and rely on court drawings and animation when filming just was not possible,” Maria Peek said. “The written stories of survivors, obtained in person and from the court documents, have opened my eyes to the severity and cruelty of this crime, especially the psychological long-term effects on the children and their futures. It is my hope that in the same way, the eyes of the viewers will be opened, and awareness, education and civil action will become the result of this film. We simply cannot allow this to go on.”

“This award-winning documentary is an eye-opening resource for the community at large. In the dawn of the metaverse, we need to stay alert and help others understand the negative effects this new platform has on children,” Wynona’s House CEO Dominic Prophete said. “We’re honored to be the first to screen this documentary and be joined by Maria and Stephen Peek to educate child welfare professionals here in New Jersey.”

In addition to the peeks, Gina Cavallo spoke at the event. Cavallo is a leader, speaker and mentor in the anti–human trafficking movement and a passionate advocate for victims of human trafficking. 

Cavallo shared her life experiences as a survivor of childhood abuse and trafficking, and educated others about the part they can play in survivors’ freedom, healing and restoration from shame in order to help prevent the victimization of others. Recently, Cavallo was appointed as a commissioner to the New Jersey Commission on Human Trafficking, and she is also a state-certified advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.