Very young girls enter the sex trade all over the United States. And by very young, I mean VERY YOUNG. The average age is 13… but there are girls being pimped from the age of 12 and younger. It is impossible to say there is a single reason, because there isn’t one.For Shaneiqua**, a mere 12 years old, being flirted with by an older man felt flattering. She was walking alone at night. A car was following her. A guy called her sexy… she FELT sexy. She felt good. It was cool to have an older man be interested in her. It escalated. She spent time with him, they went to movies together, had sex. He told her loved her. She believed him. She wanted that love. She craved that love. So when he told her that he would love her more if she started bringing in some money, if she starting prostituting, she couldn’t say no. She protested, but there was no going back. After the first time, she says “my whole body just felt dead.”And that was only the beginning. Soon enough, she got fed up with it… with “the life”. She just wanted to be a kid, to live her OWN life, not this one of subjugation and sexual exploitation. She tried running away, but he found her. “You’re shitty. You’re a bitch,” she was told before he raped her anally. It was at this moment when she released her hope and her perception that she could have a better life than this. “At this point in time I felt this was his body,” Shaneiqua says, “whatever he felt like should go inside it or happen to it would.” She makes money, but it all goes to him. She cannot carry a quarter in her pocket without him knowing.
This girl is like so many others. She is called a prostitute. She is called a slut, a whore, a hoe. She is not recognized as a victim, but as a parasite on her society. She is arrested for her actions. She is incarcerated for selling her body on the street, when, in fact, her actions are so intrinsically influenced by the pressure of her pimp. He is a man she has grown to love. She does not think she can leave him. She feels indebted to him. She yearns to satisfy him and to please him. Her story is repeated across America.
Slavery was not ended by the Emancipation Proclamation signed 150 years ago. It is not restricted to Thailand or Cambodia or Amsterdam or Croatia or Africa. Slavery exists around the corner. It exists on the streets around your sport’s stadium. It exists in that club on the outskirts of town. It exists in that ‘shabby’ hotel. It exists in the local nail salon and in that restaurant you love. It exists in the fields where your strawberries came from and in the factory where your shirt was produced. Slavery is everywhere. And it needs to be stopped.
**Shaneiqua is a girl whose story was highlighted in the documentary, Very Young Girls about the commercial sexual exploitation in New York City.