“When you’re a prostitute, ‘cause I have been one for a couple of months now, like, when you’re a prostitute, you gotta stop going to school because [prostituting] is something that you have to do all day…[but] you could still go to school for like, a couple of months. You could still get your education…that’s if he lets you.” - 13 year old American human trafficking victim
Earlier this month, in response to a growing international condemnation of the April 14th kidnapping of more than 300 Nigerian girls, Abubakar Shekau, a leader of the terrorist group Boko Haram, stated, “I will sell them in the market, by Allah.”
He is not alone in his intentions.
Girls in the U.S. are too often left out of the public outcry against sexual exploitation, and instead are presented as “prostitutes” who “choose” to participate in the sex trade. Latent in our willingness to cast them as willing participants in this underground economy are gender stereotypes about the hyper-sexualization of young girls and which has since morphed into a stereotype about “slutty” girls that renders them vulnerable to multiple forms of abuse.
Sexually exploited girls are not choosing to participate in the sex trade; they are in the traumatic throes of a “domino effect” of choices made for them.
Did they choose to grow up in poverty? Did they choose sexual abuse? Did they choose to get raped, some of them before they could walk? Did they choose to grow up in a world where women and girls are not safe?
As women and girls become more sexualized in the world, the more they are seen as property.
This cannot continue. We have a responsibility to continue to address the acts of terror that objectify and victimize girls. Recognizing that there is a universal threat to the safety and well being of all of “our” girls, we ask for the safe return of the more than 200 Nigerian girls who remain missing, as well as for every other girl in a similar predicament.