April has been recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month for the last 24 years, and while campaigns to prevent shaken baby syndrome or positive parenting have become standard fare on subways and billboards, most people are unaware that there are US born children and youth who are violently forced into the commercial sex industry at ages as young as 12 and 13. In fact, the average age of entry into prostitution is now 13.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation has been called the most hidden form of child abuse, yet it is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 sexually exploited youth in the US. Overwhelmingly, these youth are from low-income communities of color, and have experienced abuse and neglect prior to their recruitment into the sex industry. While international trafficking has garnered great media attention, domestic youth are left without protection from the law, and worse are often charged with crimes, including prostitution, and left with very few places to turn.
This week's New York Magazine follows the story of one young woman in New York City which includes brutal details that will be hard for many to read, much less believe. Yet, she is not alone, and her story shares similar elements to many of the girls GEMS works with.
GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, produced a video, telling the story of a hypothetical girl facing the same circumstances as Lucillia. Watch it on Current TV.com here
Full disclosure: Although I have worked for girls and women's organizations, including developing programs for girls in low income communities of color, I had no idea about the extent of this issue until joining the GEMS staff last year. The statistics and sources I quote I have learned from working at GEMS with founder Rachel Lloyd.