New York City's former mayor, David Dinkins, shared many examples of good people who have been too complacent, sitting back while all types of atrocities around the world just happen. He inspired me while giving the keynote address at my high school graduation last month.
Knowing my frustrations around indifference were shared by a public figure was validating. As a Girl Scout, I was taught to be a game changer, not to accept what is, but to develop both the skills and the inclination to make the world a better place. I often wonder how upstanding members of society can sit idly by while others, seemingly invisible to us, are being held powerless and disenfranchised through injustices like sex trafficking every day. Even though we may be living in the most peaceful of times, considering the atrocities of world history, we should still be outraged and take a stand against Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC). From the streets of New York City, to the villages of Kenya, children, particularly young girls, need protection from sexual predators. The time for action is now.
While sex trafficking may seem like a distant occurrence, the fact remains these atrocities are happening everywhere, including on American soil. Men in flashy clothing entice vulnerable young girls by offering what seems to be a brighter tomorrow or solution to current problems in their life. However, their plans are far from beneficial to these young girls, and often results in them being forcefully placed in compromising situations for the financial benefit of their exploiter. This harsh reality, which predominately affects girls, often gets misinterpreted as underage prostitution. Over two thousand girls in New York City fall victim to CSEC each year. Out of those girls, 80 percent are girls of color (OCFS 2007 Prevalence Study). In addition, the average age of entry to CSEC is 13-years-old (OFCS 2007 Prevalence Study). These staggering statistics are not limited to New York City or even the United States. Sex trafficking is an expansive and global issue. Victims are transported from Southeast Asia, Central America, West Africa, and Eastern Europe into the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Europe, and Australia. The FBI estimates that as many as 100,000 children are currently involved in sex trafficking in the United States (2013 Trafficking in Persons: U.S. Policy and Issues for Congress).
The consequences of sex trafficking are not games. Women are dying prematurely because of homicide, suicide, drug and alcohol related problems, and HIV infection. These outcomes stem from their traumatizing experiences at the hands of their captors. We need people to decide that this abusive behavior will no longer be tolerated and fight back on several fronts.
Grassroots initiatives, like the program I completed for my Girl Scout Gold Award project, can be a great support to the victims of sex trafficking. Just knowing that people care makes a huge difference in the lives and choices of victimized girls. As a society, we need to show that we care through our actions, both interpersonally and judicially.
We must advocate for changes in current provisions. More funding is needed for New York's Safe Harbor Act, which is legislation that protects girls who are sex trafficked from being charged as prostitutes. Instead of getting the support that they need, many girls are ostracized from society and treated as juvenile criminals. Putting more monetary support behind the Safe Harbor Act would bring this issue to the forefront, and lead us down the path of ending sex trafficking once and for all.
Let's put pressure on our governments to criminalize the buying of sex, not the selling of sex, and then strictly enforce such laws around the globe. The solution begins with us. Become an everyday humanitarian, and fight for a cause like this one that might be bigger than you. Want for others as much as you want for yourself. Like the Safe Harbor Act, laws do not always serve and protect those who are most at risk. If perpetrators and clients, rather than victims and prostitutes, are punished by strict enforcement, the demand for the sex trade will decrease and a clear signal will be sent that children all over the world are valued, respected, and protected under law.