By David Crumpler Fri, Oct 24, 2014 @ 6:52 pm in Florida Times-Union
The See the Girl Summit Friday focused on child sex trafficking, which one expert described as existing “at a crisis level” in the United States.
Hosted by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, the conference at the Main Library in downtown Jacksonville included workshops on counseling and intervention strategies, advocacy and activism and research practices.
It brought together nearly 250 people, including at-risk girls, social workers, mental health professionals, teachers and advocates for girls, according to Blythe Duckworth, senior project manager at the policy center.
The day began with a keynote speech by Malika Saada Saar, founder and executive director of the Rights4Girls project in Washington. She also worked to shut down Craigslist ads that led to child trafficking.
“We rarely talk about girls at the margins,” Saar said in an interview later. The human rights lawyer prefers the term to “at risk,” but in either case, these girls are the ones most vulnerable to child trafficking and sexual violence, she said.
“Often the attitude is that, except for teen pregnancy, our girls are OK,” she said.
Her organization’s focus is “girls and violence in the United States,” Saar said, “and it’s important to be able to correctly name and frame these issues. Otherwise, we don’t move forward with policy reform. It starts in the public square, and a conference like this is an excellent way to start those conversations.”
The group advocates to nullify child prostitution laws “and reframe who the girls are,” Saars said. “They are victims of child rape. They are not victims of child prostitution.”
Audrey Morrissey, associate director of My Life My Choice, a Boston-based organization, was the first survivor in Massachusetts to mentor commercially sexually exploited girls. The My Life My Choice prevention curriculum is now used in 24 states.
In their workshops, she and Lisa Goldblatt Grace, the group’s co-founder and director, included strategies for supporting survivors.
“We talk about the importance of pairing survivors with young people who are being exploited,” Morrissey said.
“They get to hear about real experiences from three to four survivors in the course of the curriculum. It’s very powerful. It gives them someone to identify with.”
Kate Price, a child sexual abuse and exploitation survivor, addressed risk factors associated with commercial sexual exploitation, and the complexities of recovery in her workshop “Longing to Belong.”
Studies show that exploited children often leave and return seven to 10 times before they successfully break the cycle. Breaking that cycle, she said, “is a process, not an event.”
Growing up in poverty, “I was told this was normal, what was happening to me,” said Price, who is now a project associate at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, and a survivor advocate.
Child sexual exploitation “has been happening for a very long time and it continues to go under the radar,” she said.
But Price offered her audience these encouraging words: “It takes one caring relationship with an adult to make a difference in the child’s well-being.”
And these: “I have seen tremendous change in the way we are dealing with commercial sexual exploitation, and I am grateful for the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center for furthering the conversation.”
The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, designed to help at-risk girls, opened in April 2013. The nonprofit center was established with funding support from Weaver, a longtime advocate for girls and young women. The center conducts research, develop programs, provide training for people who work with at-risk girls and advocate for supportive policies and practices.
David Crumpler: (904) 359-4164