In the News
Exclusive: Sex Trafficking in America
Help Gloria Steinem stop the exploitation of young girls
-Mary Dixie Carter
Here in the U.S., 12 and 13-year-old children who are victims of sex trafficking are treated as prostitutes and subject to arrest, prosecution and incarceration. Yes, that’s right, we’re talking about children (mostly girls) who are legally too young to consent to sex. They don’t wake up one morning and decide to join the sex industry. It takes coercion. We call it statutory rape if a child has “consensual” sex with an adult, because a child is easily manipulated. I repeat: We call that rape. In those cases, the adult is prosecuted. But, in every state except for New York, when a young girl has sex with an adult man (so far, everything’s the same), and then the adult man gives her cash which, in all likelihood, she turns over post-haste to another adult man (her pimp) — in those cases, she’s the criminal. What, how, and why?
In the United States, the average age for entering the sex industry is 13. (Globally, it’s 11 or 12.) Though human trafficking is second only to arms trafficking in its prevalence, a lot of us don’t know about it and don’t talk about, but that’s changing because of events like the one I attended at the Brooklyn Museum. The always awe-inspiring Gloria Steinem led a panel discussion entitled “Sex Trafficking and the New Abolitionists.” Joining her on the panel were Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now, an organization dedicated to ending violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world, and Rachel Lloyd, Executive Director of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services). As a survivor of sex-trafficking, Ms. Lloyd speaks about this industry from first-hand experience. As co executive producer of a gripping documentary, Very Young Girls, which just premiered on Showtime, she is working to bring awareness to the systematized exploitation of these children. In one of the interviews included in the documentary, an adolescent girl describes meeting her pimp when she was 12, and he was 29 or 30. He followed her in a car, as she was walking home from school one day. He flattered her and asked her out. Over the course of a few weeks, as a result of physical force and emotional manipulation, she came to believe that her body belonged to him.
Raising consciousness is the first step in this or any movement, as Ms. Steinem points out. In the same way that incidents of sexual abuse and domestic abuse were invisible for so many years, and barely acknowledged, sex trafficking is out of sight. If we don’t see it, we don’t know about it. If we don’t know about it, we won’t know to look for all the dirt and grime where it’s hidden.
What can you do about this? Make your family, friends, and coworkers aware of sex trafficking here in America and around the world. In September of this year, Governor Paterson of New York signed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act. However, New York is alone in decriminalizing sexually exploited minors. Find out if your state has a bill like the one that was passed in New York. If so, write the governor and say you support its passage. If no bill is pending discuss this issue with your state senator or assemblyman. Also check out the Web site of GEMS for more information.