“Very Young Girl”
In September, Governor David Paterson signed into law the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act, which is intended to stop the practice of charging sexually exploited children as criminals.
Problem is, the law doesn’t go into effect until 2010.
Until then, New York will continue to charge child prostitutes under the age of 16 as criminals, rather than treating them as victims. Boys and girls as young as 12 who are charged with prostitution are often sent to juvenile detention centers. The new law will instead send them to safe houses.
For years the bill signed by Paterson had been at the center of a debate over whether it would make it harder to crack down on prostitution.
But one stipulation of the act is that children arrested for prostitution would be diverted to the counseling and treatments programs created under the new law only if they agreed to help prosecute their pimps. They would then be given housing and assigned case workers to track their progress.
“We have been working very hard to get this Act passed,” says Rachel, Lloyd who founded Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which focuses on sexually exploited girls. “The last thing you want to do is change a law and not have services in place.”
Lloyd understands well the hazards these young victims face. She was pulled into the world of under-age prostitution while in her native England. From the age of 14-19 she progressed from nude modeling to selling sex. Ten years ago she started GEMS and annually helps over 300 girls escape pimps. According to a 2001 study, in New York 80 percent of young female prostitutes are African American, 15% are Latino, and 2% are white. Their entry in the profession is often running away from an abusive home or being kidnapped. The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry is now 11-12 years old. According to a 2007 report from the NY State Office of Children and Family Services, more than 2,200 children are victimized through commercial sexual exploitation in New York City.
Lloyd is taking the story of her organization and its crusade to end the sexual exploitation of children to the small screen. “Very Young Girls” will begin airing Dec 11th on Showtime (premiering at 8:30pm).
“What I hope comes from this movie and seeing how the system was in place [before the passing of the Safe Harbor Act],” says Lloyd, “I hope people understand that kids are not only screwed over by adults but by the system. Don’t look down on them, label them criminals, shame them. You have to give these young girls and women an opportunity.”