GEMS YPI Service Learning Reflection
The commercial sexual exploitation of girls in this country and this city is an issue, which for the past several decades has been one of the most secretive criminal industries in the world. In this city alone, there are thousands of girls between the ages of 12 and 24 sexually exploited every single day, which in a nation whose core values are freedom and equality, is unacceptable. Thankfully, after the hundreds of years that this injustice has been occurring, people are starting to realize the importance of this issue. People are starting to realize just how far the commercial sexual exploitation of girls spans and just how close to home it occurs. This generation is the future of our city, our country, and our world, and if the children of this generation aren’t safe, then our future is not secure. People in this country who are not exposed to this issue, tend to think that these atrocities only happen in countries like Cambodia and India. Until people realize that their cities and neighborhoods aren’t as safe as they may seem, and until those who do know about this issue start to realize that the only way to stop these heinous crimes is to empower the exploited youth, and inform the thousands of children at risk, the country that many of us pride ourselves in creating is no better than the countries that we see on the news every single day. Finally, there is an organization full of unbelievably dedicated and amazing people, who realize what this issue is and how to put an end to it. That organization is called Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS).
Gems was founded by one of the most amazing people I have ever met, her name is Rachel Lloyd. After growing up in the United Kingdom in an unstable and often abusive home, Rachel who at the time was just a teenager left her home and fell into the dark and seemingly endless hole that is sex trafficking. She was sold, beaten, raped, gang raped, and nearly killed by both her abusive captors, and herself as a result of her numerous suicide attempts. Rachel; however, was lucky enough to escape the sex industry and relocate to the United States to work as a missionary to help victims of sex trafficking. And in 1998, at the age of 23, Rachel founded Gems with 30 dollars and a borrowed computer, which now has helped thousands of girls directly and reached out to tens of thousands more. Gems’ mission is to empower victims of sex trafficking aged 12-24 and help them achieve their full potential, as well as putting an end to the commercial sex industry by changing individual lives, transforming public perception, and revolutionizing the systems and policies that impact sexually exploited youth. Gems helped 357 girls in 2013 and reached over 1500 children through their hugely successful outreach initiative. They provide court mandated sessions, medical and psychological care, educational help and GED tutoring, crisis and semi permanent housing for up to two years, among many other services to help the girls who come to Gems get back on their feet and feel empowered. Gems also helped pass the milestone Safe Harbor Act, which ensures in the state of New York that a victim of child sexual exploitation, will not be prosecuted and thrown in prison for being a victim of statutory rape, which happened and still happens far too often.
1) In what ways did your attitude toward our social issue change over the course of the project?
When I first heard about and started to research this issue I had a similar reaction to that which I see whenever I try to explain this issue to someone else. There are generally three barriers, which the mind seems to put up when faced with a reality that is so hard to believe. The first step is shock and disbelief, followed by someone trying to rationalize the idea by saying that it happens in different countries or that it’s a small anomaly in this country. Finally, people start accusing the girls of being insecure, or having a mental disability, or just wanting to have sex at a young age as a form of fun or rebellious behaviour. These reactions are understandable given the shocking nature of the reality, which people need to face.
2) What skills did you develop over the project?
When faced with this project and this issue, which I grew more and more concerned and involved with, I worked a lot on my public speaking skills, as well as interpersonal skills when meeting members of Gems and our interview with two members of their team. Furthermore, I found myself devoting a large amount of time to editing media to make it appealing to our audience as well as the presentation, which we presented. Team work also played a huge role in this project, which proved challenging, but ended up being an enriching experience. The biggest thing I took away from this is learning about this issue and in the process meeting people like Nicholas Krystof, Kennedy Odede, Rachel Lloyd, and learning about nonprofits all around the world like Shining Hope for Communities, Half the Sky, The Polaris Project, and Gems.
3) What aspect of the project did you find most challenging?
The most challenging part of this project was getting in touch with and meeting with people who are so busy and dedicated 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Despite the challenges, I think it was well worth the work.
4) What aspect of the project did you find most rewarding?
Meeting the people that I was able to meet was one of the most rewarding aspects of this project. It also felt great to be involved in a cause so much bigger than yourself and to learn about an issue, which is so hidden and secretive, yet the second biggest criminal industry on Earth after the drug trade. I’ll never forget meeting a man with an amazing story at the beginning of this project named Kennedy Odede, who along with his wife started Shining Hope for Communities. He told me that, “the absolute worst thing you can do is have the opportunity to have a world class education and waste it”. I’ve found myself thinking about this quote and how it ties into the way I look at things and the way others think about the issues that face us.
5) How might you remain engaged with your social issue or nonprofit organization?
I definitely want to stay engaged in this issue in the future. A member of my group has secured a spot for Rachel Lloyd to speak at Friends Seminary in late May, and next year we as a group have been considering a fundraiser for Gems and/or other projects who help victims of sex trafficking both in the United States and worldwide, where over 800,000 people are trafficked every year.