Igniting Awareness Of Child Exploitation In New York

Julia Dunn Jul 30, 2009

More than 50 people gathered at Bluestockings Bookstore July 27 to watch Very Young Girls, a documentary on young girls and the sex trafficking industry in New York City.

The screening was organized by the GABRIELA Network (GABNet), a solidarity group that organizes and advocates for Filipina women in the U.S. and the Philippines. The U.S.-based groups works with women on issues ranging from sex trafficking and globalization to labor and militarism.

The film featured interviews with sex trafficking victims, as well as the Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization that works with young women who have been sexually exploited.

The documentary described the experiences of young women like, Shaquanna, 15, who was found unconscious on the side of a street after being beaten by her pimp. In the footage, she is shown lying in a hospital bed with bloodied teeth and a bruised face, and a worker from GEMS sitting by her side. Another young woman, Shaneiqua, 12, described being forced into sex slavery, telling the interviewer that she felt like her body belonged to a man who was twice her age.

The young women that participated in the documentary also received counseling and other forms of assistance from GEMS, the only survivor-led organization in New York that offers services to sexually exploited girls.

The group provides these young women with housing, mentoring and education, as well as job placement services and help with finding apartments. In 2008, GEMS helped more than 200 young women. Some go on to join the staff.

Rachel Lloyd, who founded GEMS in 1999, is also the film’s co-executive producer.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is training, awareness and education,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd, who was a victim of sex trafficking when she was younger, created GEMS to provide young women with a safe place to live and thrive.

The average age of a female sex trafficking victim in New York City is 13-years-old, according to The New York Times.

After the screening, audience members participated in a discussion with Lloyd and other GABNet members about the film.

“I was glad that we had a healthy discussion,” said Catherine Judge, coordinator of GABNet’s New York/New Jersey chapter.

The screening was the first part of the FLAME series, which includes a variety of events ranging from book readings to conferences, to increase awareness of the sex industry. Upcoming events will cover topics ranging from the porn industry to mail order brides. GABNet will partner with the Damayan Migrant Workers Association for their next event, on August 29, the Gender Rights Training conference for Filipino Domestic Workers.

“I think awareness is a big thing,” said GABNet member Kristina Magcamit of her goals for their newly launched FLAME series.

Lloyd also discussed GEMS’ involvement in the passage of The New York Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act last year. The Safe Harbor Act protects young women who are forced into sexual exploitation from facing jail time. The legislation also helps women under the age of 17—who cannot legally consent to sex in New York—by ensuring that young women up to the age of 18 will be provided with services and support through community-based programs like GEMS.

While Lloyd feels that the organization, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has made progress, she thinks that there is still more to be done.

“We have a long way to go in making sure we’re helping everyone impacted by the sex industry,” Lloyd said.

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