On International Women's Day, a young woman named "T" is testifying at a U.S. Senate Caucus roundtable on child sex trafficking. T was trafficked at the age of 10, and through her childhood, she endured being sold to at least 8 different men a night.
T's story is not an international story. It is not the story of an exploited girl from India or Cameroon, or some other far away nation. T is from Oakland. And she was trafficked in California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada.
T, and other girls like T who exist at the dangerous edges of the American dream, are invisible. They are not included in the international discourse on women and girls' rights and dignity. Their conditions of poverty, rape and sexual violence are excluded from a human rights framework -- and reduced instead to conversations of cultural pathology and crime.
T's voice, and the voices of other vulnerable girls in the U.S., should be part of the global effort to end violence against women and girls. Discussions of gender-based violence cannot be ghettoized to developing nations. T's story is inextricably linked to the stories of other hurt, injured and exploited girls in Africa, Asia and Latin America because violence against women and girls is borderless.
And, this is not only T's story. Or the story of girls left behind in poverty. This is, painfully, the story of most American women and girls.
Violence is commonplace in the lives of so many young women and girls in the U.S., regardless of economic, educational, and racial background. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently published the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Among the key findings were:
· Nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped at some point in their lives.
· Most female victims of rape are under the age of 25.
According to the (CDC), in another nationally representative survey:
· 60.4 percent of females were first raped before age 18.
· 25.5 percent of females were first raped before age 12.
Other studies have revealed:
· Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
· 1 in 4 girls will suffer some form of sexual violation by the time she reaches 18.
These disturbing statistics are comparable to the rates of sexual and physical violence experienced by young women and girls in developing countries.
On International Women's Day 2012, it is time to name gender-based violence in the U.S. as a human rights violation. It is time to include the conditions of rape, sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking, endured by American young women and girls, in the global movement to recreate a world that is free from gendered violence and exploitation. Here in the United States too.