Why do I need feminism? There’s an obvious answer to that question.
I need feminism because children shouldn’t grow up with the belief that women are inferior to men. In a society where we have trafficked girls and the media is hyper-sexualized, it is hard to imagine children not succumbing to these destructive messages.
Recently GEMS visited my feminism class to speak about how they help victims of commercial sexual exploitation. From their visit, we absorbed copious amounts of crucial information.
The commercial and sexual exploitation of girls is a disgusting practice, as it is very similar to someone preying on the weak. The pimps prey on vulnerable girls, and portray themselves as the only moral and emotional support these girls will ever receive in order to attract them into a life of trafficking.
The girls believe these pimps because they believe that for once, someone cares about them. When introducing a girl into “the life,” a pimp acts as a father figure to these girls. The girls believe that for once, they have a family. The exact moment in which the girls realize that the pimp is not their family, and does not care for them, they cannot leave, for if they even attempt to leave, their “daddy” will beat them.
But wait, there’s more.
As time progresses, these girls are emotionally and mentally scarred by their pimps. There are two different types of pimps: the “nice” pimps and the guerrilla pimps who beat girls into submission. These pimps may flip at any moment from “nice” to “mean,” from “mean” to “nice,” or they might not even flip at all.
Due to this uncertainty, the girls can never be comfortable, for the smallest step outside of their boundaries can result in either physical or sexual abuse. The longer a girl is in the life, the more they accept it. They know that it is really hard to return to their former lives, so they accept this new one that was forced upon them.
The girls also become addicted to the life, and it takes some time for them to completely exit, as it is a very hard transition. When outreach workers from GEMS recently visited my high school class to speak about how they help victims of sexual exploitation, Julie Laurence, the Chief Program Officer of GEMS, explained to us that “it usually takes 5-7 tries before they can [completely] leave their abuser.”
From an outsider’s perspective, the scariest part of the sexual exploitation of girls is that the entire practice is able to be concealed in broad daylight.
Sexual exploitation is all around us, without us even knowing. When I see documentaries such as Very Young Girls, I wonder if the commercial and sexual exploitation of girls is going on in front of my bare eyes. This exploitation also isn’t usually noticed, because in the media, pimps are portrayed as black men with profuse amounts of jewelry, holding a “pimp cane,” and wearing a zebra-print suit. This is inaccurate, as today’s pimps keep a low profile by wearing casual clothing in order to make them indistinguishable from the guy across the street. The portrayal of pimps and trafficked girls distort it from the actual truth, and in many ways the situation is taken lightly, almost as a joke.
When GEMS visited my class, we discussed the risk factors that could lead a girl to be sexually exploited. First, many of the girls that are taken by pimps have no money. The pimps tell the girls that they will be able to give the girls money, and with no other options, these girls believe that this is the only way for them to have an income.
Second, the girls also lack family support. Pimps convince these girls that he will stand in as the girl’s new father and the other girls will stand in as their new family.
Other risk factors include not having an education, experiencing violence in the home, not having hope for the future, having a child with their pimp, and being repeatedly told they’re worthless. These girls also have a distorted view of love.
In addition, after they enter the life, the girls experience judgment and shame from their communities and or families, which is essentially “slut shaming,” a common component of the society that we live in. When others discover that a girl is being trafficked, the girls are “disowned” and shamed.
GEMS tries to change the perception of trafficked girls. Society names all those who work in the sex industry as “prostitutes,” which implies that there was a choice to enter the industry. Instead, GEMS addresses these girls as ‘commercially sexually exploited children,’ because the average age of entry is 13 and they are in fact exploited victims.
Once coming to GEMS, the organization plays a large role in these girls’s lives after leaving her pimp. GEMS helps the girls get a job through their stipend program and they help them build self-confidence. They also provide them with positive role models, housing, education, and much more.
By now you must be thinking: one, GEMS is an incredible organization, and two, what can I do to help?
Well, one thing would be to raise awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Get the word out there that this is happening and that this is serious; explain the severity of the issue. When you hear the word “prostitute,” try to shift the language, for these girls are not in the life by choice.
Why do I need feminism? I need feminism so my children do not grow up in a world where women are constantly portrayed as objects. I need feminism to give me a platform to pass on the knowledge I’ve learned from GEMS, my feminism class, and Gloria Steinem herself. Why do I need feminism?
I need feminism to change the world.