I just wrote an article about how various organizations are using Valentine's Day to create awareness and get people involved in some true-good activism. This got me thinking: what can I do, other than write about it? So here I am asking you to do something different this year, and perhaps every year after this one: become active.
Valentine's Day has become a $16 billion industry, and I just read an article that revealed that the average man spends a minimum of $200 to show his love and appreciation to his significant other on February 14. Can't this money be spent on something more important -- perhaps even more significant?
The real Saint Valentine -- the man and the saint --gave his life for the love of others; this is why he was sainted and why the Pope of Rome circa 5th century gave this day his name. Saint Valentine's Day is about sacrificing -- showing love and devotion -- not spending money on flowers, chocolates, expensive dinners, and jewelry. All this stuff is material -- purchased on a dime -- and fleeting.
While writing my article for The New Agenda, an organization focused on creating a better future for young girls and women, I thought about all the girls out there who don't get to celebrate Valentine's Day -- who don't get showered with love and affection. These young girls, aged 8-18 are forced into a billion dollar sex industry, handcuffed, beaten, drugged, raped, and sold. They are nameless, faceless, voiceless ghosts; we hear about them in the news, on blogs, on YouTube, but we don't know them. We think they represent a small number of girls exposed to this kind of existence -- slaves -- silenced and oppressed -- haunting us with the kind of reality that doesn't touch us, therefore making it less real, less fixable -- making us less accountable.
Here are some facts about girls being sold in the US alone:
- In 2009, a University of Pennsylvania study estimated nearly 300,000 youth in the United States were at risk of being sexually exploited for commercial uses - "most of them runaways or thrown-aways," said Ernie Allen, president of the NCMEC.ii
- Almost 300,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. (U.S. Dept of State)
- There are girls as young as 5 and 6 years old in the U.S. that are forced to do sexual acts for economic gain by their pimp (USDOJ)
People may wonder why I take such a stance on this topic -- the answer is that I've known it. I was not prostituted, or forced into the sex slave industry that exists on our soil -- not just in other countries -- but I lived among prostitutes, johns, and pimps, and I lived in fear because at the age of six, I had been told that I too would learn to please men for money. So when I see so many sex trafficking stories on the news, hear so many stories from girls who escaped -- and those who haven't -- something happens inside me -- a surge of compassion for the girls; hatred for the bullies that think they are entitled to ownership of girls' bodies, selling them to strangers who do whatever they please -- as if they are objects without feelings -- without life, or self-possession. And that they feel entitled to do what they do as well, simply because they paid for that right. It pains me, repulses me, hurts me in dark and inarticulate places inside me that still recall my childhood.
This Valentine's Day, in the true nature of the day and in honor of the man who died so that others had the chance to love, I ask that you take that money -- whether it is $20 or $200 -- and you donate it to an organization that needs funding so that it can catch these criminals in the act and save the girls who have been taken away from their families, homes, security -- and who have lost so much of their childhood.
Since having begun my own efforts in creating awareness of sex trafficking, I have come to know a few organizations that concentrate so much of their time, money and efforts at saving young girls from this life of debauchery and horror. Here is a list of organizations that I have come across in my research -- and they all provide excellent resources, new stories, and information regarding this subject. And they all do it for free -- for the sake of the children who are lost to this kind of systematic rape and selling of female girls too scared to defend themselves. And if you live in the city that houses any of these organizations, drop in and see how you can help.
- End Human Trafficking
- The Polaris Project
- Children of the Night
- Shared Hope International
- Women's Funding Network
- Stop Human Trafficking NY
- Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
If you know of any local organizations that I have missed, or you are one of them, please leave a comment with your org's name.
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