Last Friday, GEMS came over to SMART Youth to teach an important workshop. GEMS stands for Girls Educational & Mentoring Services and is the “only organization in New York State specifically designed to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.” Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Domestic Trafficking is sexual activity involving a child under the age of 17 in exchange for money, services, or other things of value.
It’s hard for a lot of us to recognize that commercial sexual exploitation happens in our very own communities. Often times when we think of commercial sexual exploitation, a very specific image comes to mind and it’s usually of someone from outside of the United States; but we don’t realize that prostitution or sex work involving minors in the US is also considered commercial sexual exploitation. In New York City, it is estimated that 2,200 children are involved in commercial sexual exploitation every year.
There are many factors that can increase the risk of a child becoming domestically trafficked such as poverty, running away, child abuse/neglect, and sexual abuse, but these are not the only factors. This was highlighted when we watched a clip Very Young Girls, which is a documentary revealing this issue of youth being sexually exploited.
How can we help and become advocates? One way is to challenge our assumptions of what a victim of sexual exploitation looks like. Often, people see young girls (usually of color) who may be involved in some sort of sex work and assume the worst of them. They may blame the victim and say things like “She made a choice to be a prostitute/sex worker.” We need to remember that a child is still a child and that no child can independently choose to be a sex worker.
If you want to find out more about the work GEMS does, about Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Trafficking of children, or how to link someone who is a victim of this to services, check out the links below:
- Main website: http://www.gems-girls.org/
- If you want to refer a young girl who may be involved in domestic trafficking: http://www.gems-girls.org/what-we-do/victim-referral-form
- Resources and Facts: http://www.gems-girls.org/about/research-resources
Thank you to GEMS for visiting and giving a very informative presentation!