Closing out our week on Human Trafficking, we thought it would be great to include an interview with the NY based organization, GEMS. As they state on their website, “they serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.” We were grateful to have this important organization on board this week and thought that they could answer some questions and expose some misconceptions about the trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls and women.
Muhammida El Muhajir, the Media Relations Coordinator at GEMS answers our questions below.
1. Can you give our readers a little bit of background on GEMS and why it was founded?
Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) is the nation’s largest organization empowering girls and young women, ages 12-21, who have experienced sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and develop to their full potential.
GEMS founder/executive director, Rachel Lloyd came to the U.S in 1997, a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation as a teen and began missionary work with adult women exiting prostitution. While working with adult women in correctional facilities and on the streets, she observed the overwhelming need for services for young women at risk for sexual exploitation who were being ignored by traditional social service agencies. It became clear that specialized services were essential for this disenfranchised population.
2. Do you think that there is a misconception in the US that human trafficking is more of an international problem rather than a domestic one? If so, why?
Until very recent, domestic human trafficking had not received very much exposure in the media and was an issue that was ignored and pretended to not exist. It is for this reason that seemed to not exist here.
3. What, if any, are the stereotypes you’ve found that people have about women in the commercial sex industry?
We deal specifically with young people which is different from adult women in the commercial sex industry in the sense that most children did not choose to be in the industry but manipulated and forced. So that is definitely one misconception that the girls made a conscious choice when in fact it is an adult male that has lured, manipulated and utilize force and violence to keep the girls in the sex industry. Another misconception is that the girls are ‘loose’ or ‘fast’ or promiscuous. The reality is that most of the children in the sex trade have been sexually abused BEFORE ever entering the trade. They don’t love sex any more than the average girl but it becomes work, a job that must be done in order for them to have a place to eat, sleep and to avoid abuse from their traffickers.
Another common misconception is that the girls make a lot of money and that they are doing it for the money. The reality is that the girls rarely get to keep any of the profits of their labor, it all goes to the trafficker. Many girls tell stories of going for days without being able to eat because the trafficker refused to give them money even for food.
4. What can someone do who wants to get involved in stopping the trafficking of girls and women?
• Someone who wants to get involved should become very educated on the issue.
• They should research their local laws and find out how their state, city, community deals with child victims of sex trafficking, perpetrators and traffickers.
• They can advocate that changes be made to local laws with letter writing/email or telephone campaigns.
• They can also increase awareness for the issue by hosting a local screening of Very Young Girls and engaging in dialogue.
• They can also support GEMS (and other ant-trafficking organizations) with a monetary donation.
• Volunteer, donate items such as clothing, books, toiletries to local organizations.
• Hire a survivor in a job or position.
5. Have you found that the trafficking of girls and women has become more prevalent? If so, why do you think that is?
Trafficking of girls and women has always existed. It has become more prevalent because profits have grossly increased. It is an underworld market that doesn’t have the same risks as other illegal/illicit products (drugs, guns, etc.) Traffickers rarely got to prison!
There is also a large global population of vulnerable young women who are looking for better opportunities and believe the lies that traffickers tell (that they can make money, receive foreign visa, etc.)
There also seems to be a greater increase of men who desire sex with children with beliefs that having sex with a child will lessen the risks of certain STDs and/or AIDS.
6. Can you tell us a little something about the women you work with? What are their initial needs when coming out of such harrowing situations?
Many of the girls have experience the worst trauma and abuse and have been continuously re-victimized (by family first, then by traffickers, and often by the legal and governmental agencies)
Initially they need the basics food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, counseling. Then we move on to group therapy sessions where girls are allowed to talk about their experiences and begin to understand that it was not their fault and that they were a victim. This is a concept that is the first step towards recovery. An environment of unconditional love and non-judgment are also key to their transformation as well as education, job and leadership training.
7. Do you find that the victims of trafficking that get out, are able to remain out?
Many victims are able to stay out of the ‘life’ especially with continued love and support from friends, families, support workers and if they are provided the necessary tools for success.
To learn more about the issue of Human Trafficking, please visit - GEMS