|Rev Barbara Jim-George|
Saturday, May 26, 2012 was the Girls Rite of Passage Ceremony. The girls have passed the class and have reached a new level of self esteem and understanding in their young lives. They have been taught the perils of the human sexual trafficking industry and how important it is to be careful of those who would try to victimize them. Unfortunately this world is very dangerous for young girls.
Human trafficking holds horrors for its victims that the average person cannot begin to imagine. It is likely the average American citizen has the perception that human trafficking is a circumstance which prevails in economically depressed, backwater areas of third world countries, among the most abjectly impoverished who reside on the lowest rungs of indigenous caste systems. Sadly, many also labor under the false assumption that prostitution is a choice that is consciously made for economic reasons; however nothing could be further from the truth. No one awkens on a particular day with the determination to become a victim of human trafficking. The fact of the matter is that there are several sets of circumstances that render a girl vulnerable for being victimized by trafickers, which include:
- Earlier childhood sexual abuse
- Running Away
- Inadequate supervision or care
- Inadequate food, clothing and shelter
- Family and/or community history of exploitation
- Exposure to domestic violence in the home
|Julie Posadas Guzman of H.E.A.T Watch|
The Girls Rite of Passage Program (GROPP) provides Primary Prevention against the CSEC. Carefully planned interactive courses help to mitigate the risks to vulnerable teens for being victimized. It is our contention that a faith based foundation of pedagogy can provide strong preventive measures that can help not only at risk girls, but all teen girls to avoid victimization. The importance we place on primary prevention is based upon our belief that this horrific type of abuse can forever change how girls view themselves and approach relationships.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children has no color, no economic, no ethnic, and no gender boundaries. Predators are indiscriminate about whom they entrap, as long as they think money can be made by controlling a minor child and selling them for commercial sex. Parents may feel that because of their economic status their children are somehow be immune to this issue. Please be advised that this is not the case. Many children who are victimized come from very good, 2-parent homes in economically affluent areas.
One of the best ways to protect children is to combine lessons and values learned in the home with a comprehensive program that can enable them to avoid victimization by commercial sex predators.
We accept girls from all faith traditions and backgrounds, all ethnicities, and all Bay Area communities. We invite congregations, community based organizations, schools, and youth programs to partner with us in helping to stop this terrible trend in our communities.
Vulnerable teens are being lured into a life of human trafficking and prostitution - and she wants them to recognize the danger so they can avoid the trap and understand they are worth more than what predators might think.
"We cannot continue to put our heads in the sand," Jim-George said. "We have a responsibility, an obligation."
Jim-George feels it's her calling. An administrative assistant at UC's headquarters in downtown Oakland since 2000, Jim-George is also an ordained minister who made finding a faith-based approach to stopping human trafficking the subject of her thesis for her Master in Divinity degree and the focus of her research as a doctoral candidate at American Baptist Seminary of the West.
In 2009, she launched the Girls Rite of Passage Program at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland for girls ages 11 to 16. The nine-course program spanning five months uses documentaries, guest speakers, skits and group discussions to teach girls about the dangers of human trafficking, and to empower them with a strong sense of self and the ability to make responsible decisions.
While government agencies and nonprofit groups help victims recover, Jim-George believes the faith community should provide prevention programs to stop girls from ever becoming victims.
"It is modern day slavery. Our program is designed to mitigate their risk of getting caught in human trafficking," Jim-George said.
Human trafficking is a lucrative $9 billion global industry, the fastest-growing organized crime in the world, according to the FBI.
Sexual exploitation and prostitution are the most common form, followed by forced labor. Victims are frequently snatched by predators or lured by attention, compliments, presents and promises of a better life that never materialize. They frequently work for little or no pay, are beaten or raped, and threatened with deportation or harm to them or their families.
About 2.5 million people are trafficked internationally each year, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Of those, the FBI estimates 15,000 to 18,000 are in the United States.
The average age of a girl caught in trafficking is 12 years old, Jim-George said; some are as young as nine.
Jim-George is reaching out to teenage girls who are most at-risk: young girls growing up in single-parent and/or low-income households living in cities where criminal behavior and violence have become part of the fabric of the community.
Her program is just in its infancy, drawing a dozen or so students primarily through word of mouth.
Jim-George has noticed changes in the girls that participate: a shy girl who could not make eye contact with anyone, until she gained confidence through the program. She is now performing better in school. Another girl, a repeat runaway, returned home under Jim-George's advice.
Girls Rite of Passage is admittedly small now, but Jim-George envisions an expanded curriculum with workshops and field trips. A component geared toward boys could be added in the future.
It operates on a shoestring budget financed through Jim-George's limited pocketbook and the help of parents who take turns supplying snacks. Local ministries have pitched in to supply food for an end-of-the-year celebration.
She hopes to eventually find a grant writer who can secure consistent funding to grow the program.
"I hope organizations will identify kids at risk and refer them to us so we can help," she said. "I'd like to expand the number of participants and the workshops to create a comprehensive umbrella under which the girls can see a better outlook for their lives, that they are worthy of making plans for what they want to do."