Why Girls Empowerment?
“The political empowerment of women and girls almost universally means less human trafficking.”
– Fmr. President Bill Clinton
In its 14 years of serving survivors, GEMS has found that empowerment programs make girls less vulnerable to traffickers and more likely to recover from their trauma if they have been victimized. GEMS’ pioneering girls empowerment approach has helped develop survivors into youth leaders who now advocate on behalf of trafficked children in the State Assembly, the US Congress, and to national newspapers, magazines and TV news outlets. It is GEMS’ belief that survivor empowerment is a critical component in any strategy to fight the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of women and children.
Child Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation
The average age an American girl is first trafficked into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 12 years old. Each year in our nation, between 100,000 and 300,000 American children – primarily girls – are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation. Yet in all 50 states, there are less than 50 beds specifically dedicated to providing safe housing for trafficked American children. Nearly 1/3 of these beds are managed by GEMS in New York City.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) comprises of sexual abuse by adults and payment in cash or kind to the child or a third person or persons and is a fundamental violation of children’s rights. Commercial sexual exploitation is a contemporary form of slavery of children and consists of practices that are demeaning, degrading and many times life-threatening to children. The child is treated as a commercial and sexual object. CSEC is expressed through multiple forms of prostitution and pornography as well as the sale and trafficking of children for sexual purposes.
Statistics show that as many as 90% of prostituted youth have been sexually or physically abused and many have run away from home to escape such abuse only to encounter far worse on the streets. In New York City, low-income young women of color are most affected by sexual exploitation and are rarely seen as victims, but rather criminalized for their victimization. Hard data for New York City is scarce, a failing that is indicative both of public interest on the issue and the difficulties of capturing statistics of an underground and transient population. National research does however indicate a clear correlation between factors such as poverty, lack of education, abusive backgrounds and recruitment into prostitution.
From Victim to Survivor, From Survivor to Leader
In 2008, New York became the first state to pass legislation that recognizes American children who have been commercially sexually exploited as victims of sex trafficking. This legislation was passed due in part to a 5 year campaign waged by the youth leaders at GEMS, who testified in the State Senate and Assembly, spoke to the local and national media, organized rallies at City Hall, and educated thousands of New Yorkers through the critically-acclaimed Showtime documentary Very Young Girls.