On Wednesday, the Women’s Center presented a screening of the film “Very Young Girls” to assist in raising awareness for Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The film begins with a troubling truth: the average age of entrance into the commercial sex industry is 13 in the United States.
Produced by David Schisgall and co-executive producer Rachel Lloyd, the documentary brings to light the heartbreaking details of how these young girls find themselves drawn into the world of commercial sex.
During an interview with Diane Rehm, Lloyd explained, “A mix of circumstances, substance abuse, family problems and poverty lures vulnerable girls into the world of teenage prostitution.”
Each girl featured in the film held unique dreams, goals and personalities, but all shared a similar story. Seeking to escape homes riddled with domestic violence, abuse, neglect and poverty, each of these girls was lured into the world of commercial sex by a cunning predator. Pimps entice the girls by telling them what they need to hear: “You’re so beautiful.” They take on twisted roles, from boyfriends to father figures and brainwash the girls into working for them on the streets.
The situation appears ideal for the girls at first, but in every situation, the relationship transforms from fairytale to nightmare, as many of the girls in the film reported daily abuse from the pimps. Abuse came in the form of cruel punishment for misbehavior such as beatings, sexual acts, starvation and imprisonment. Any attempt to escape from the pimp’s control would result in a severe penalty that often placed girls in hospitals from serious beatings and sometimes cost them their lives.
Each year, according to Lloyd, between 200,000 and 300,000 young girls are at risk of being drawn into the lonely and dark world of commercial sex. “Very Young Girls” shows the world of sex trafficking through Girls Education and Mentoring Services, the only nonprofit organization in New York City aimed at assisting young girls caught up in this illegal and dangerous industry.
Lloyd, founder of GEMS, began in her own apartment in New York with a laptop computer and the dream of making a difference in the lives of these young girls. When GEMS first began, Lloyd opened her own home to the girls, offering a place to sleep and even the clothing out of her own closet. Today, the organization assists more than 300 young girls yearly through an outreach program, offering resources from group support meetings to food and lodging.
Some of the girls go to GEMS through court orders meant as alternatives to jail time and others seek help on their own free will, but all struggle to free themselves from the world of commercial sex and the powerful grip of their pimps. Lloyd said in the film, “The exiting period is the toughest period. One foot still there, no money, no clothes and no I.D. Starting over and looking back.”
The commercial sex industry is a billion dollar business in the United States and illegal in every state with the exception of Nevada. The Sage Project reports that there are currently between one and two million young girls and women on the streets across the country and 70 percent of felonies committed by women are charges of prostitution.
Programs such as GEMS and many others scattered across the United States assist girls that seek help with a variety of resources. Many of the girls are homeless and these assistance programs often offer temporary homes, food and clothing while they are in the recovery process. Other resources include assistance in starting over with new identification, schooling, GED programs and employment. But despite available resources and a strong support group, many girls relapse and return to the streets.
“There’s no major cure, no detox, no methadone and it’s an addiction,” Lloyd said in the film.
Many Eastern Michigan University students were in attendance for the screening and while each came for a different reason, all left with a new understanding of the severity of human trafficking in the United States.
“I couldn’t imagine. I don’t even know what I would do if someone approached me at 13,” said Nakayla Clark, a biology major.
The film also assisted in making EMU students aware of the many programs currently working to end the problem of human trafficking.
In addition to the New York based program GEMS, the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force is composed of over 90 member agencies collaborating in an effort to battle human trafficking in the state.
“I didn’t even know any programs existed that helped people until today,” said C’aira Pickering.
Throughout the month of January the Women’s Resource Center will be providing events and activities to continue raising awareness for the serious problem of human trafficking, including brown bag events every Wednesday at noon in the Student Center. The events will feature workshops and guest speakers from agencies around the state.
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