Girls As Part of the Solution

It’s dark outside, 20 degrees, and we’ve taken to Super Bowl Boulevard in NYC with a team of teen girls who are passionate about ending modern day slavery. They’ve traded their usual homework-filled Thursday night for hours of in-the-trenches advocacy. Bundled in Uggs and puffy coats, the girls walk arm-in-arm, encouraging each other with every step, as they engage passers-by with trafficking facts and dispense information on commercial sexual exploitation.

“If girls my age are forced out in the freezing cold every night to make money for some brutal pimp, I can handle this until dinner time. It’s my way of fighting with those girls and being part of the solution.” says Dominique, a 15-year-old from Brooklyn.

Equality Now, an international human rights organization, and The Arts Effect NYC, a feminist youth theatre program, have joined forces with the mission of building an army of energized, young activists. Our journey began in March 2013 with the creation of Project Impact, an arts-based leadership workshop for teen trafficking survivors. We spent three months working with the 15-18 year-old girls transitioning out of a life under constant threat from pimps, johns, and law enforcement into an often overwhelming new life of high school, new homes and possibility. Our goal was to introduce storytelling as a form of healing and advocacy.For survivors, the fear of being shamed and judged often silences them; the realization that their stories can educate and inspire others is freeing.

After learning about the girls of Project Impact, the teens of the 20-member theater ensemble threw themselves into research — reading survivor testimonials, visiting neighborhoods where trafficking is prevalent, examining laws — as they worked toward developing the original play A Day in the Life, which exposes the devastating effects of the commercial sex industry on the lives of girls. In the process, they’ve become fully-charged advocates. “It needs to stop — the only way is for girls to stand up for each other,” explained Nina.

Witnessing this passion motivated us to launch Generation FREE, a teen driven anti-trafficking training for 75 high school students from all five boroughs. Participants unified behind this common goal — writing articles for school newspapers, giving classroom presentations, using social media to amplify their message, and supporting local efforts to end exploitation.

The world benefits when girls are part of the solution.

Visit Equality Now’s Survivor Stories to hear more from survivors of sexual exploitation from around the world.

Learn more at Lauren Hersh’s and Katie Cappiello’s Huffington Post article: When Girls Are Part of the Solution Everyone Benefits.

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