Recognizing the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York

I need feminism because I want to decide my future instead of my gender deciding it for me (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).
I need feminism because I want to decide my future instead of my gender deciding it for me (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

I need feminism because I want to decide my future rather than my gender deciding it for me.

When you’re born, your future can be decided based on your gender alone. If you’re a boy, it’s more likely that you’ll earn more money than a woman would in your same position. If you’re a woman, you’re less likely to have an education.

This shouldn’t be what life is like. Everyone should have an equal opportunity in life. No one should be regarded as a “second class citizen” especially before they’re even born.

In Gloria Steinem’s essay, “If Men Could Menstruate” she discusses these “rules” or “expectations” that are solely based on gender and not abilities. She states, “Whatever a ‘superior’ group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever an ‘inferior’ group has will be used to justify its plight.” Clearly, our culture is not based on ability but instead on hierarchy.

Steinem continues to explain what life would be like if men could menstruate. She claims, “Menopause would be celebrated as a positive event, the symbol that men have accumulated enough years of cynical wisdom to need no more.” Society views menopause for women as negative and a mark of old age when women are no longer fertile and therefore no longer valued in the eyes of society. If roles were reversed and men went through menopause, it wouldn’t be seen as a negative thing for the simple fact that they are men.

Societal superiority is linked to female oppression. For the past few weeks of my feminism course, we have been learning about GEMS, an organization that provides educational and mentoring services for sexually exploited girls.  As we were watching the film Very Young Girls, I was completely shocked by the sheer number of girls that are sexually exploited in New York City, the same city that I call home. To imagine that I could have fallen prey to these “pimps,” was brought to light when you saw these girls walking down the same streets that I have. 

We learned about how these girls are kidnapped physically and mentally, abused by their pimps, and forced into having sex with hundreds of older men. I got chills as we watched the scenes where the pimps vulgarly talked about how they were going to find girls. Before watching the film, I wasn’t oblivious to sexual exploitation itself, I knew it existed. However, I never affiliated it with the area I live in. I live in what is considered a very safe area of New York City and although sexual exploitation is just as horrifying no matter where it’s happening, it literally “hits close to home” after watching Very Young Girls.

I believe that Very Young Girls is the perfect title for this film, as the average age for an exploited girl is thirteen. Young girls are being taken advantage of by older men who express their superiority by beating and threatening them. The idea that while I was growing up playing with toys and living my childhood, other girls my age were being sexually exploited, raped, and abused is overwhelming and makes my blood run a little colder.

I feel as though this extremely serious issue has been neglected in our society. I learned that girls at the young age of 12 are charged for prostitution and yet the men who pay to have sex with these underage girls have gotten it completely expunged from their records. For most people, including myself, when the word “prostitute” or “prostitution” comes up they think of women, not girls, who chose to be sex workers. This is why it’s important to use the term “commercial sexual exploitation of children” rather than “prostitute” when describing how girls are sexually exploited.

Shifting the language when it comes to this issue is critical. Indeed, it applies to other ways we use demeaning terms about women in general. “Bitch,” “slut,” and “whore” are only some of the degrading names that men not only call women, but women call each other. We are making the issues of sexism harder to deal with and seem less visible when we don’t shift and change our language. If we stop using this type of language towards each other and make it clear that this isn’t acceptable, it will help us get rid of the “slut-shaming” culture, which we have grown so accustomed to.

The media, particularly music lyrics and videos, glorifies this type of language. Rachel Lloyd, the founder of GEMS, writes in her book Girls Like Us, “Today pimping has gone mainstream.” The idea of being a pimp is glamorized in rap music and everyday life. In Lloyd’s article “Corporate sponsored pimping plays role in US human trafficking,” she writes, “In 2006, the Academy Award for Best Song went to Three Six Mafia’s “Its Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” while many people cheered and felt that it was a great ‘step forward’ for hip-hop.”

Why has it become acceptable for these hit songs to discuss “pimping” as a glamorous lifestyle? The fact that young girls are actually being sexually exploited all over the country and world is disregarded. Even Miley Cyrus posted a picture a few days ago, with the caption “dressed up with nowhere to go #pimpsuit.” The neglect of these issues and the glamorization and looseness of terms like “pimp” make the truth less perceptible.

When two staff members from GEMS came to speak to my class, a student asked how we could help with this issue. They told us that the best thing to do is to generate more awareness about commercial sexual exploitation of children. Although I understood the benefits of awareness, in a way I felt helpless. If I’m not able to comfort the survivors or persecute the offenders, am I really helping? I have grown to understand that this issue does arise from many other societal issues connected to sexism, racism, and classism and that awareness about CSEC is just as important.

The easiest way to begin to solve issues like abuse against women, slut shaming, and sexism is to change the language we use. Stop calling girls bitches or sluts and recognize the glamorization in the media of serious and devastating issues.

I’m not saying that this will magically fix all the problems, but it will make a difference. The fight has to start somewhere. So let’s make it start here.

3 thoughts on “Recognizing the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York

  1. Personally, I can relate to your post because I have always listened to rap and hip-hop. And I notice the derogatory, offensive language used especially towards women. Words like you said: “slut,” “whore,” “bitch” etc. For most of the songs that hit mainstream media, I feel like there is no line anymore for what you can or cannot say in a song. The weird thing is that I listen to it and I know that it’s a offensive and I know that the song objectifies women, but I still listen to it and it seems inescapable. You can change your own choices but it’s hard to make everyone else see what you see and hear what you hear. Without this class and without learning about GEMS and the CSEC that some of the songs talk about is eye-opening. But we can’t force the world to take our feminism class. But I definitely agree with you about using everyday language that is offensive to women. It takes time, and I do believe that one of the small steps we have to take is not to portray women in the media in such a negative light.

  2. I appreciate how the commercial sexual exploitation of children was your topic because I feel like this isn’t talked about often enough. I feel like this sex trafficking at young girls at the age of 12 is less talked about than the idea of feminism itself. You truly brought light to the topic for anyone that had not heard about the problem.

  3. You have a really great beginning! I love how you start your blog post “I need feminism because I want to decide my future rather than my gender deciding it for me.” This is true for everyone. They shouldn’t have their genders decided for them. “Everyone should have an equal opportunity in life. No one should be regarded as a “second class citizen” especially before they’re even born.” I think it’s absurd to classify a someone automatically a “second class citizen” before they are even born, yet in other parts of the world, they are. Sex trafficking victims shouldn’t be classified at second-class citizens too. Why should victims be treated with less respect? It is important for people to recognize this injustice. This is why feminism is important!

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