In the spring of 2009, I was searching for something to make my then new high school feminism course have a sense of purpose. I wanted to teach students not just feminist theory and literature but how to learn and care strongly about an issue to mobilize them into action and advocacy.
My students wanted more out of the course, too. One after another, they–both girls and guys–shared in their course evaluations that they wanted to learn about a current issue involving girls and women that they could rally around. I took their request seriously.
That spring, I chanced upon a screening of Very Young Girls (2008) at Bluestockings, a radical feminist bookstore on the Lower East Side of New York. The film documents the work that Rachel Lloyd, founder and chief executive officer of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), has done to stop the cycle of commercial sexual exploitation of children in New York’s streets. Founded in 1998 in Lloyd’s own kitchen, GEMS is the only agency in New York State specifically designed to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.
Among many services that provide prevention and outreach, GEMS ultimately helps girls and young women leave their exploiters–or their pimps–to live new lives of survival and support and eventually, of leadership and vision.
After attending that one screening, my entire course changed. Continue reading