During his tenure on America’s Next Top Model, fashion photographer Nigel Barker was perennially kind, steady and honest to the young female contestants—making him an antidote to Tyra Banks wonderfully crazy antics. Barker brought that same ethos to a talkback after a performance of Trafficked, a play about sex slavery and child exploitation, at the Bleecker Street Theatre on Thursday night. But this time, unlike his many countless panels on ANTM, Barker was brought to tears by the ensemble cast of local 15 to 21-year-old girls who wrote and performed in the work. (The piece was also put on by the Project Girl Performance Collective.) “This issue is seen as being simply unsavory . . . not for polite discussion, but this play pulls the cover on it,” Barker said. “This show needs to be seen by men . . . because men need to be better men.”
While we might debate the impact of the increase in sexually explicit material of all kinds that floods our national consciousness–and I have met plenty of people who see porn and strip clubs as relatively harmless if not potentially beneficially forms of sexual liberation–the one area of the sex trade that hopefully we can all agree is incredibly damaging is the exploitation of teenage girls and boys. I interviewed a Homeland Security Agent for the Federal Government investigating Sex Slavery.
“It is a lot more common that people think. People think that this could never happen here, when actually it’s there. You just may not see it, may not know about it, may not hear about it. But, believe it or not, it’s a pretty common occurrence. If the girl’s a minor, she doesn’t need to be forced into it for it to be human trafficking. If it’s a 15-year-old girl and you’re her pimp, even if she wants to go out and have sex for money, that’s still considered human trafficking. Once somebody’s an adult, you have to be able to prove that through force, fraud, or coercion that this girl was forced into those sex acts.”
I also interviewed the Executive Director of one of the leading treatment centers aimed at helping teenage prostitutes. “The great majority of these girls have been raped and beaten and forced into prostitution. This is not your middle-class college-educated girl who says, “I can make money turning tricks with CEOs.” That’s not what it’s about. Ninety-nine percent of it is girls who’ve been terribly exploited,” he told me. He helped me understand the pattern of violence and dependency that occurs when a young girl, or boy, is trapped into The Life.
So my question is, can’t we all agree that the evil of Sex Trafficking is not up for debate? Can’t we join forces to put a stop to the exploitation and violence occurring all too often right under our noses?
“During a three-day law enforcement sweep targeting the problem of teenage prostitution, officers rescued 79 children and arrested 104 alleged pimps, the FBI announced Monday. Operation Cross Country 6 took place from Friday though Sunday with more than 2,500 state, local and federal officers working in 57 cities. FBI Acting Executive Assistant Director Kevin Perkins said the children law enforcement freed from their handlers ranged from 13 to 17 years old with one girl saying she had gotten involved in prostitution when she was 11.”
And still there are comments questioning whether this is a real problem.
We debate a lot of things here on GMP, but one thing I am sure of is that this is a problem and it is wrong. We should all do what we can to help the victims of this heinous crime.