If you check out our exhibition Girl for Sale, you’ll notice that we talk about girls being trafficked all over the world. Oftentimes, when we think of trafficking, we imagine girls from Asia being sold to tourists or smuggling underage Eastern Europeans into Western countries. But, as I learned from reading Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd, the truth is that many girls are trafficked within their home countries. Often, because they aren't forced to travel great distances, many people see them as willing participants in the sex trade, rather than as victims of exploitation.
Lloyd comes to this subject from a unique viewpoint: she is the director of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), New York’s only organization that helps girls who have been domestically trafficked. Every day, Lloyd works with teenaged (and younger) girls who have been uprooted from their homes and schools, fed lies by a much older pimp, beaten, raped, and forced to perform sex acts for adult men. Despite all these girls have been through, and the fact that they are not legally adults, law enforcement often treats them as criminals. In many cases, girls who are caught selling sex can go to jail for extended periods of time.
Lloyd's perspective isn't just based on others' stories, however – she was also a trafficked girl whose life was controlled and nearly ended by several pimps. She recalls how as a seventeen-year-old runaway she turned to stripping and prostitution in order to survive. She was in "the life" for almost four years before a church group helped her realize how valuable she was and how she could do so much more with her life. This knowledge of how girls become trafficked and how difficult it is to get out helps Lloyd explain just how much work it will take to end the cycle of domestic trafficking.
So what can we do for these girls? The most effective solution is to address the conditions that put girls in harm's way. Many trafficked girls come from poor, dysfunctional families of color. By addressing and trying to correct these disparities through programs, girls can have a chance to see that they have other options. And by treating trafficked girls as victims rather than lawbreakers, we can nurture their spirits and help them transition out of "the life."
Girl Museum Inc.