TONY COX, host:
I'm Tony Cox, and this is News and Notes. The Showtime documentary "Very Young Girls" provides a chilling look into the world of underage prostitution. The film is based on video shot by two pimps who believed their footage would make them famous. In it, the men are seeing coercing and bullying girls as young as 13 into prostitution. The documentary also follows one woman's effort to rescue those girls from the streets.
(Soundbite of documentary "Very Young Girls")
Unidentified Woman #1: I guess for me then the bigger question is like, why are you here? Like, why are you not out there tonight? And what makes you kind of stay, or at least try to stay despite the temptations?
Unidentified Woman #2: So this is the only place I know - the only - if I don't know this I'm on the streets. That's it. And I'm trying to go back to the streets.
Unidentified Woman #3: It's like for me to still be here and not even go back to the street, it's like I thank God, like, I pray every day, like, please help me stop doing it. I don't want to do it no more.
COX: Joining me now is Rachel Lloyd. She is the founder of the outreach organization, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services or GEMS, and Shaquana, one of the young women featured in the documentary. Rachel and Shaquana, welcome to News and Notes. It's nice to have you both on with us.
Ms. RACHEL LLOYD (Founder, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services): Thank you for having us.
COX: Let's talk about the documentary first. The very beginning of it, that home footage I guess for lack of a better word, the way it begins - was that your intention? How did you - how did this project come about?
Ms. LLOYD: The project started because we were approach by a film production company, Swinging T, who was originally doing the True Life series for MTV. And, you know, they'd done stuff on child soldiers in Iraq and children caught up in the drug trade in Colombia, and had learned about the issue of trafficking and wanted to bring it kind of back home, and talk about what was happening in trafficking in New York with the domestic children. And so it came to us - we did a little a bit of shooting with some of the girls. The pimp footage that you're talking about actually fell into our laps through an undisclosed source, probably halfway through filming. And I felt reluctant to show that initially, but I think it was really helpful ultimately for people to see the reality of pimping and how harsh it really is.
COX: I mean it is hardcore to watch and to see these young girls and their faces and their stories. Shaquana, you are one of those young girls, correct?
SHAQUANA (Featured, "Very Young Girls"): Yes, I was.
COX: One of the things that came through to me in watching it, it seemed as if the girls who turn to this life in the streets did so in part because there were troubles at home, and there was no love and life for them at their homes. Is that true for you?
SHAQUANA: I can say somewhat of that.
COX: Tell us then why you went into the life.
SHAQUANA: Well, I was 14 years old when I first got approached by a pimp - and it was more so because I thought that he was in to me, that he wanted to be my boyfriend. And it just seemed like I could have a better life, a more loving, happy life with a man.
COX: Now Rachel, when these young girls get caught up like this, is it a situation where once they get in, they don't know how to get out, or is it because they're not sure that they want to get out?
Ms. LLOYD: I mean, I think wanting to get out could be kind of broken down a little bit more. I mean, I think when girls are being approached at 13, 14, 15 and recognizing the average age in this country for entry is anywhere between 12 and 14 years old, I mean, we're talking about really, really young girls who are really easily manipulated. Many of the girls that we serve come from prior abuse. And so, what they're experiencing with this adult predator whose sole goal and mission in life is to recruit them, brainwash them, and make them as loyal as possible in order to make as much money as possible, what they experience with him may feel better than what they were experiencing at home. So, you know, whether it's not necessarily that the girls want to stay in the life, but the trauma bond, the Stockholm syndrome, that's so strong with the pimp, with a trafficker is really, really hard to break.
COX: There's a scene in the documentary where a mother goes to the police station for help in finding her daughter, and she tells the officer that her daughter is locked in a room with the pimp. But she is just summarily dismissed.
(Soundbite of documentary "Very Young Girls")
Unidentified Woman: My daughter's in this apartment. This is a pimp. And he has a bunch of underage girls in his apartment. This girl told me, anonymous caller, this sort of flier(ph).
Unidentified Man: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman: She just called tonight. These girls are - they're armed and dangerous, they have guns. There's three of them.
Unidentified Man: They're in the apartment?
Unidentified Woman: She says this is where they keep - he's keeping the girls at, that he got them in there. He locks them in the apartment. He beats them.
Unidentified Man: What do you want me to do for you?
COX: Does law enforcement see prostitutes as perpetuators as opposed to victims?
Ms. LLOYD: We definitely are beginning to see a shift, you know, across the country and locally with some law enforcement who recognize that these aren't child prostitutes or teen prostitutes, but they're victims of trafficking, they're victims of commercial, sexual exploitation, and they treat them like victims. That's not necessarily representative of the larger law enforcement culture, and we have a long way to go to help change people's mind about this issue and who these girls really are.
COX: Now, Shaquana, how old are you now?
SHAQUANA: I'm 19.
COX: Now, you've already talked about how you got into the life. How long were you in it and how did you get out?
SHAQUANA: I want to say up until I was, like, 15 and a half, probably. How I got out of it basically was - like as you see in the movie, I'm in the hospital, and that was when I decided that I just had had enough and I didn't want to do that anymore. I was really scared and I had learned a really hard lesson.
COX: You were clearly abused physically by your pimp and this scene of you in the hospital, what looked like a broken nose and missing teeth and bandaged, how low a point was that?
SHAQUANA: (Laughing) That was a horrible situation, but what I always tell other girls is that even though like that was, you know, it was a horrible thing that happened to me, I was really thankful to be alive and I just had a total new outlook on life. You know, I was really happy to be alive because, you know, there are many girls that, you know, they're not alive because something like that happened to them.
COX: Do you think that you are safe and free from ever going back into that life again?
SHAQUANA: Most definitely. You know, that was something that I struggled with when I was younger, when I was first going through it where, you know, I wanted to be home, but then I just kept running back to the streets and I didn't understand it. And it's just like, you know, I realize now that I have a more - a greater purpose on this life. I'm in college, and it's just like I have so much going for me. You know, why put myself back in a situation where it's only going to be a dead end?
COX: You know, GEMS' Rachel has played a major role in helping these young girls, and you've been doing it for at least 10 years now as I understand it. Are you making progress?
Ms. LLOYD: I mean, just sitting opposite from Shaquana and, you know, I mean, obviously we were just talking about college on the way in and just, you know, kind of remembering that she is in college and, you know, she's a student (laughing), you know, eating ramen noodles and carrying her backpack, you know, that and just remembering kind of where she's come from. Obviously, I mean, just when I look at individual girls' lives, you know, we see real progress.
COX: Shaquana, here is my final question for you. I would imagine that you can identify a young girl who was where you were just by looking at her. And if you see these girls, do you say anything to them? Do you just stand back and watch them? What do you do?
SHAQUANA: I mean, I can never stand back and, you know, and watch someone hurt. Currently at GEMS, I'm an outreach worker and what I do is, you know, I go into juvenile detention centers or other places and I speak to young women, you know, about that issue because it happened to me and I would never want that to happen to someone. And there have been times where it's just like, you know, I see people that, you know, they reminded me of me when I was 14, and it's sad because the one thing that, you know, that I love them, but it's just like the one thing that I don't want to happen to them is not that they wake up in a hospital somewhere because, you know, I don't want that to happen, but that they wind up dead because that's the reality of it.
COX: Let me just say the documentary is hard to watch and hard not to watch. You know what I mean?
Ms. LLOYD: Yeah.
COX: Thank you both very much. Good luck.
Ms. LLOYD: Thank you for having us. Thank you.
SHAQUANA: You're welcome.
COX: That was Rachel Lloyd, founder of the outreach organization Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, or GEMS, and Shaquana, she is one of the girls featured in the documentary "Very Young Girls." They both joined us from the NPR Studios in New York.