Rachel Lloyd, the executive director of GEMS: Girls Educational & Mentoring Services, testifies at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law Hearing: “In Our Own Backyard: Child Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the United States”. Statements were heard from Committee Members, The Honorable Patrick Leahy (Vermont), The Honorable Russ Feingold (Wisconsin), and The Honorable Richard J. Durbin (Illinois) with additional testimony from United States Senator for the State of Oregon, The Honorable Ron Wyden, Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons, Luis CdeBaca, U.S. Attorney Western District of Missouri, Beth Phillips, Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, and GEMS Youth Outreach Worker and Trafficking Survivor, Shaquana.
“Trafficking in human lives is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise, victimizing children, women, and men throughout the world. It is easy to pretend that such an abhorrent practice does not exist here in our own country, but the sad truth is that the United States is not immune. We must do all we can to end human trafficking in the United States and around the world,” said Senator Leahy who worked with then-Senator and now Vice President Biden, Senator Brownback and Senator Wellstone on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 which aimed to protect victims of human trafficking.
Rachel Lloyd is the founder and executive director of GEMS, the nation’s largest non-profit organization designed to service and empower American girls and young women, ages 12-21, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. “In Our Own Backyard” is a fitting title for this hearing as every day GEMS sees the commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of children in New York, and as a national trainer and advocate sees the exploitation of children in every community across the country. Yet for many years the approach to this issue has been “Not in My Backyard”. Trafficking and sexual exploitation has been something that people believed, or wanted to believe, happened in other places. Yet there are an estimated 100,000 children bought and sold for commercial sex in the US and an estimated 300,000 children are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation each year,” testified Lloyd, a recognized expert on the issue of domestic human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Shaquana, a 19 year old survivor of commercial sexual exploitation who was lured and manipulated at 14 into the trade, shared her experience as a child trafficking victim before the Committee. Through GEMS services and leadership training, Shaquana now educates at-risk girls and young women throughout New York City as a GEMS youth outreach worker and graduated as her high school’s valedictorian. She is now a college sophomore majoring in liberal arts.
“Today’s hearing signifies how far we have come in beginning to address this issue. The attention of the federal government is critical in addressing this issue and the presence of representatives from law enforcement, the Department of Justice and the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office demonstrates significant progress in the recognition of what’s happening to children in our own backyard,” concluded Lloyd.
For information about GEMS, visit: www.gems-girls.org