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Very Young Girls

August 9, 2009

Very Young Girls is a recently released documentary about prostitution in America. To be clear, this documentary and this post have nothing to do with women (or men or transpeople or anyone else) who have chosen to be sex workers because they enjoy it and find it a fulfilling line of work. I have no problem with people over 18 years of age who chose to work in the sex industry of their own free will. What I do have a problem with, and what this documentary deals with, is “girls who spend their teenage years being recruited and brainwashed by predatory pimps, bought and sold on the street, [and then] sent to jail” (quote from IMDB).

Very Young Girls is a thoroughly disturbing look inside the world of pimps and prostitutes in New York City. The film is so named because the average age of entry into prostitution in the US is 13 (!!!!!). This astounding statistic is borne out anecdotally in the stories of the individual girls profiled in the film. Here’s the basic story of a teen prostitute:

1) She comes from a bad family situation, often without a father. She is frequently lonely, or abused at home, or is a runaway.
2) She meets a man (aka pimp) who says that he loves her and promises to take care of her. He is charismatic, and she falls in “love” because he represents both an idealized romantic love and a nurturing father figure.
3) He asks her to prove her love for him by having sex with other people, for money.
4) She does it, and keeps doing it, because he has brainwashed her into believing that he actually cares for her. He has also isolated her from her family and friends so that he is her only support. He is both emotionally and physically abusive to her.

A lot of this (well, pretty much all of it) is rather disheartening. Young girls, kidnapped or coerced into sexual slavery where they remain until they are murdered, arrested, or try to leave. The documentary even shows the court appearance of a 15 year old girl named Nichole who was arrested for prostitution. Nichole was kidnapped, held for five days in house where she was forced to have sex with at least 30 men, and then sent to jail. The clips of Nichole’s mother weeping and moaning “I need to hold my baby” are some of the most poignant in the entire documentary. These girls are abused, exploited, and damaged in so many ways, and then they are all too often treated like criminals when blame really lies with the pimps who perpetrated these horrors on them. Luckily, Nichole’s judge was a kind woman who seems to have her head on the right way, and instead of recommending jail time or any other kind of punishment, she “sentences” Nichole to recovery therapy through GEMS. GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) is a privately and publicly funded organization that helps girls “who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and to develop to their full potential” (from the GEMS website). GEMS is the saving grace for many of these girls, and the only thing that saves the documentary from being entirely depressing. The organization was founded by Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of sexual exploitation, and helps to combat the work of pimps by giving these girls a home and an emotional support network while they leave “the life”.

Here’s the trailer. You can watch the entire film online if you have Netflix.

Hopefully we will have a screening of Very Young Girls on campus sometime this fall.

I’ll end with a few words from the girls themselves.

On having control of your own body:

I felt like this was his body … whatever he felt like was going to happen to it was going to happen

On helplessness:

This is it. This is what I was made for … It’s all I can do

On brainwashing:

You not gonna lose your pimp – he not goin’ nowhere

He got you mentally

you lookin’ for love, but it’s not there

For more information about the documentary and the GEMS “Girls Are Not For Sale” campaign, visit the GEMS website.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. janebejane permalink
    August 9, 2009 3:56 PM

    I found this film on Netflix a couple months ago, and kept trying to get in the right mindset to watch it – because I did want to be informed, but at the same time, I typically watch movies to escape real life, not to have my heart broken by it. Still, I wanted to know what was going on. I did finally sit down and try to watch it recently but could not get past the first fifteen minutes, it was so heart-wrenching. I had to save it for another day. I still plan to watch it, but it is an incredibly tough subject. Thanks for talking about it here!!

  2. Lisa permalink
    August 9, 2009 4:18 PM

    It is a really difficult thing to watch. But know that the last third or so of the movie focuses on GEMS and their work to help these girls, so it definitely ends on an up note. So if you can make it through the first part, it gets a lot easier to watch and it’s very comforting to know that there are organizations and people devoted to stopping the abuse of young girls.

    • janebejane permalink
      August 9, 2009 11:10 PM

      Okay, I will definitely try to check it out again sometime (when I’m not having a bad day already). Thanks!!

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