Very Young Girls Shows Something Worse Than Criminal


Rachel Lloyd’s accent is a study in transition: Neither the chewy drawl of her native Portsmouth nor the clipped patois of her adopted Brooklyn, it’s an odd fish that swims against both currents, vowels flailing all the way. Most of the talking she does in Very Young Girls, David Schisgall’s heartbreaking look at the trafficking of underage girls in New York City, is to the girls living at GEMS (Girls Education & Mentoring Services), the halfway house Lloyd founded after escaping from prostitution herself. The GEMS girls, some of them as young as 13, are in a volatile gray zone, struggling to detox from what they call “the game,” a life of psychological and often physical enslavement. Schisgall combines startlingly acute, level testimonies from the girls with footage of their time spent at GEMS, where they hash out a future separate from that of the wretched subjugation offered by their pimps. The potency of the pimp-prostitute bond is the stuff of a Freudian field day; home movies of two pimps on the prowl give a sickening illustration of the paternal, psychosexual technique that grown men use to hit these kids—most of the them black and without fathers or families—where they live, offering the structure and support they seek before exploiting that need in a way that seems so much worse than criminal.