Among many undertakings, Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS) periodically trains volunteers to operate a sexual assault crisis hotline that is available 24 hours to victims of sexual assault in Connecticut. Volunteers are trained to understand the historical context of feminism, the intricacies and psychology of sexual assault, and basic counseling skills to assist callers in returning to a “pre-crisis” state. In addition to answering calls made to the hotline, volunteers may be required to meet victims at hospitals or police stations to provide support. The CONNSACS sexual assault crisis volunteers empower victims and provide information regarding short-term and long-term resources. CONNSACS consists of a coalition of various sexual assault crisis agencies located throughout Connecticut, whose mission is to “end sexual violence and ensure high quality, comprehensive, and culturally competent sexual assault victim services”(CONNSACS). Through community education such as primary prevention efforts, workshops and trainings, and victim assistance, and policy advocacy such as research, publications, and lobbying, CONNSACS works to ameliorate and end sexual violence (CONNSACS). CONNSACS’ overarching technique for preventing sexual violence is empowering victims. CONNSACS and its supporting agencies do not make decisions for victims, whose decision making power has been removed by their abusers. CONNSACS agencies validate victims, explore options, create safety plans for victims and their families, and provide counseling, resources, and information to assist in healing.
During my Certified Sexual Assault Crisis Counselor training at Women & Families Center (WFC), a CONNSACS community-based agency located in Meriden, CT, I viewed a documentary entitled, Very Young Girls, that depicts the incredible work of Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of forced prostitution. GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services), located in New York City and founded by Rachel Lloyd, assists girls and women in removing themselves from forced prostitution. Very Young Girls is an account of sexual exploitation in the United States, the work of GEMS, and the stories of multiple girls who were forced into prostitution in New York City. As an individual who is passionate about creating global gender equity, the documentary stood out because it reminded me that, sadly, sexual exploitation and gender inequity still hold a place in the U.S., when many of us chose to believe that it is a thing of the past. Although all of the material from the CONNSACS training is crucial to the success of working the hotline, the information gained from Very Young Girls could be used by anyone to join in the fight for gender equity.Very Young Girls helped myself and the CONNSACS volunteers understand society’s perspective on sexual assault and prostitution, and how we should look at things differently. The news, TV, Facebook, movies, and literature, too often, depict women as vulnerable, acting out for attention, crying rape, and symbolizing lust. It is usually the women’s fault. She asked for it. She’s lying. According to The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, only 2-8% of rape accusations in the U.S. are false. The CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, estimated that 1.3 million women were raped in 2009, and the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that the average annual number of rapes that were not reported to the police from 2006-2010 was 211,200. Additionally, Very Young Girls tells us that, at-risk young girls (average age 13) in the United States become victims of forced prostitution more than we think. According to the FBI, an estimated 293,000 youths in the United States were at-risk of commercial sexual exploitation in 2011. Let’s change our perspective. Let’s change society’s perspective.
In Very Young Girls, two young pimps videotape the abductions and abuse of girls in New York City, hoping to air their footage as a reality TV show. As a result of their poor decision-making, viewers get a real depiction of the characteristic procedure for exploiting and pimping young girls. Typically, the men begin by locating at-risk girls and treating them as their girlfriends. In some cases the girls are as young as 11 years old, and many have run away from home often fleeing other types of abuse. After a dominant abusive relationship is established, in which the girls completely rely on the men for food, clothing, and shelter, the men successfully force the girls to become prostitutes as a way to display their love and make money for the “couple”. The pimps control the mind, body, and income of the girls. The emotional abuse and psychological damage in the victims is clear through the documentary’s heart-wrenching interviews. (Eventually, the two men were arrested and the tapes were used as evidence against them in their trial.) On a more positive note, GEMS works to eradicate this abuse in New York City. Employing the underlying value of empowerment, similarly to CONSACCS, GEMS provides resources and opportunity for girls to escape imprisonment from their pimps. Please visit the GEMS website for more information.
The documentary highlights two important and coexisting themes from the CONNSACS training: the importance of empowering women without judgment and the very real tragedy of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the United States. My CONNSACS training and the documentary, Very Young Girls, helped instill within me the following ideas that we should all keep in mind: think twice before judging someone, they might need your help; human trafficking and violence against women is STILL REAL in the United States, not only in far away places; we don’t need to let the status quo of gender inequity remain, not even in our colloquial language and jokes; and resources are readily at our disposal to prevent and curb the effects of sexual violence. CONNSACS and the numerous other sexual assault crisis centers across the United States provide us with signs of hope and social change amidst these tragedies. According to Arte Sana, an internationally recognized sexual assault victim advocacy organization based in Austin Texas, there are active sexual assault crisis centers in all 50 states! Even if we are not CONNSACS employees, hotline volunteers, or Rachel Lloyd, we need to remember that small contributions such as simply changing our perspective and reminding others to do so, too, is a big part of ending gender inequity across the world and in the U.S., where this epidemic still lives.
Please visit the CONNSACS, GEMS, Arte Sana, and Women & Families Center websites for further information and ways to show your support! A schedule of television airings for the documentary Very Young Girls can be found via the GEMS website.