“Very Young Girls”

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A documentary:

Very Young Girls is a documentary film that chronicles the journey of young women through the underground world of sexual exploitation in New York City.

A 14-year-old girl is lured from her home, beaten, raped, held captive, and sold for sex in New York City. The police find her — and arrest her.

A man who has sex with an underage girl should be prosecuted as a criminal rapist. But there is a loophole: if the child accepts money in exchange for sex, the rapist is now a “john” and rarely is subjected to greater punishment than a fine. For the very same act, the girl is often prosecuted as a prostitute and sent into detention. The average age of entry into prostitution today in the Untied States is 13 years old.

The United States government likes to say it leads the world in combating sexual trafficking, and grades other countries on their compliance. If a woman has been brought from the Ukraine to Manhattan and coerced to have sex for money, the US government provides her services under the 2002 Sex Trafficking legislation. She is a victim. But if she is a African-American girl brought to Manhattan from the Bronx, she’s a criminal and she’s going to jail.

Our double standard arises partly from myths about prostitution, promoted in the movies, song, and reality TV – girls are empowered sex workers, strung-out crack whores, greedy “hos,” or hookers with hearts of gold. Very Young Girls shows clearly, that with the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States at thirteen, that sexual exploitation is simply a commercial form of child sexual abuse, the effect of which can continue into adulthood and beyond.

The film follows the girls in real time, using verité and intimate interviews with the girls both when they are still working and when in recovery, The film also uses footage shot by pimps themselves that illustrate exactly how it all starts. Very Young Girls tells the story of girls who spend their teenage years being recruited and brainwashed by predatory pimps, bought and sold on the street, sent to jail, and then recovering from the trauma of sexual exploitation.

Trailer at the link above, and here. Might a federal approach, consistent across states, that treats young, coerced prostitutes as victims rather than criminals be a good idea? Glad you asked. See also. See also.

–Ann Bartow

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