Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor
A teenage girl bounds down the steps to her kitchen, assures her mom that she has no time for breakfast but will grab something at school, says she is walking to school with her best friend, heads out the door happy, and vanishes. The police and even school personnel try to characterize her as just a rebellious or flighty runaway. She was actually snatched a block from her home by a sexual trafficker.
This particular scenario is the beginning of a novel by Pamela Samuels Young, Anybody’s Daughter, but similar situations happen daily in real life. Data on child sexual trafficking is complex, not integrated across related issues, and underreported but the following statistics shed light on the problem:
The 2012 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes’ Global Report on Trafficking in Persons reported that 6 in 10 survivors had been victims of sexual trafficking.
Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), a nonprofit that provides services to teen survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, reports that 85% of victims are female, 75% were involved with child welfare services and/or foster care, 70%-90% have a history of sexual abuse, and that in 2015 94% of its clients were girls of color.
Data from the 2015 annual report of The National Human Trafficking Resource Center show that 85% of its calls/contacts related to trafficking of minors involved in sexual exploitation.
As is the case with other issues like missing persons, juvenile justice and reform, and education, sexual exploitation and trafficking of black women and girls is overshadowed by media attention on whites because of racial and gender bias and stereotypes. And as it is with those issues, the black community can’t be content to sit in the shadows while more lives are impacted.
Atlanta attorney Sherri Jefferson is committed to educating the public and raising awareness of the phenomenon she has labeled “urban sex trafficking”, which she defines as “a concept of approaching the experiences of victims of sex trafficking within urban, suburban and rural corridors whose pimps, purchasers and profiteers rely upon and take advantage of metropolitan areas (epicenters or urban centers) to traffic women and children.” Highlighting the plight of African-American and other minority girls and women allows the inclusion of cultural and environmental factors that help people recognize trafficking in inner cities and differentiate it from racially-motivated characterizations that portray sexual exploitation as lifestyle choices and moral deviancy. Gang-affiliated home-based sex parties, exotic dancing and stripping, and music video production are all contexts Jefferson identifies as situations that hide sexual trafficking and exploitation of black females in urban areas. Another entrée into child trafficking is featured in Young’s novel: contact with young girls through ‘relationships’ with fictional people on social media. Vulnerable girls are targeted and approached by men posing as a guy in the target’s age group, sometimes older. The female is groomed by creating emotional attachment and then persuaded to meet the new ‘boyfriend’ away from family and friends. Black and brown girls are especially vulnerable because traffickers pick targets who don’t have a male presence in the home, have been abused/neglected, or are poor and potentially responsive to economic incentives and gifts.
Girls and women subjected to trafficking and exploitation suffer unimaginable physical, mental, and emotional trauma. Being emotionally manipulated then trapped in degradation and made to believe there’s no escape and no one who cares about what’s happening to them, trafficked and exploited women and children who survive and do get out describe the serial rape they endured in shocking yet plain terms. Some describe having to service up to 50 men a day with little rest or food, others report being savagely beaten by especially depraved and violent perpetrators or by pimps and ‘managers’. And for a majority of these girls, their trafficking experiences are simply the latest phase in an ongoing cycle of abuse. Survivors need specialized mental health and social services to heal deep wounds and prepare them for successful living in their communities. There is tremendous need for support, and more organizations are providing resources.
To get involved, get educated. These books and organizations can help.
Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are not for Sale, Rachel Lloyd (Nonfiction)
Anybody’s Daughter, Pamela Samuels Young (Fiction)
GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services www.gems-girls.org
Sherri Jefferson/ African American Juvenile Justice Project www.sherrijefferson.com
Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center www.urban.org/policy-centers/justice-policy-center
FAIR Girls www.fairgirls.org