Shot in Seattle, the documentary “Rape for Profit” is a work of impassioned advocacy. Its subject is the sex trade, more specifically, the exploitation of underage girls coerced into working the nighttime streets of the city.

The film advocates on behalf of these girls, asserting that most have been abused and sexually exploited, often by their parents, from very early ages. Robbed of innocence and self-esteem, they are preyed on by pimps who, a counselor says in an interview clip, provide a sense of community — a perverse community to be sure — to these vulnerable kids.

“I was so hungry to be wanted by somebody,” a tearful young woman named Darly confides, that when a woman she soon discovered was a madam told her she would protect her, Darly thought she was being “saved.” By the time she learned the truth, her supposed savior had her working the streets.

Using a combination of talking-head interviews with sociological experts, politicians (Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Attorney General Rob McKenna both weigh in briefly) and cops, and grainy handheld footage shot during ride-alongs with officers from the King County Sheriff’s Department, writer-directors Jason Pamer and Eric Esau offer a wide-ranging overview of the issue. Occasionally the picture tilts into grandstanding, particularly in a scene where Pamer angrily berates a handcuffed john during his arrest and attempts to shame him for his behavior.

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A ray of hope: The movie highlights the creation of a drop-in shelter called the Genesis Project, founded with the help of officers who work the prostitution beat, where kids can get off the streets and receive help to try to turn their lives around.

The picture is most effective when it concentrates on the young women themselves (many have their identities concealed by digital blurring of their faces) and gives them a forum to speak of the heartbreaking circumstances of their lives.

Soren Andersen: