Every community thinks sexual exploitation and trafficking can’t happen here. Not only can it happen, but it’s happening already. Often, those doing the trafficking are people no one would think would be in that position. They can be neighbors, community members, coworkers.
“There’s a billion-dollar sex industry — parts of it legal, most of it not — that is constantly in need of feeding the beast,” according to Rachel Lloyd, keynote speaker at the Speaking of Women event to benefit the Center for Family Justice.
Trafficking is a form of modern slavery that forces and coerces victims into the commercial sex industry. Minors under the age of 18 who are bought and sold for sexual purposes regardless of the degree of force, fraud or coercion are considered victims of sex trafficking. What people for a long time called teen prostitution is trafficking, according to Lloyd, a survivor herself who has done pioneering work to help others.
Presented by People’s United Bank, the Speaking of Women event took place virtually on Sept. 22. Anna Zap, co-host of the Anna & Raven radio show on STAR 99.9, moderated the conversation and served as emcee.
“We know across that board that anywhere from 70 to 90% of children and adults who wind up in the sex industry were sexually abused as children,” Lloyd, a survivor herself, said. “When you put physical abuse, neglect, domestic violence in there, those numbers are going up to over 90% of children and adults who were sexually abused as children.”
Young people living in poverty, those who are part of the child welfare and juvenile justice system are especially vulnerable, Lloyd said. The Center for Family Justice sees abuse that’s been carried on for generations in many of the survivors it serves.
“I had never met anyone who successfully made it out of the life until I had gotten out and was on the other side,” Lloyd said. “I learned it was possible. after I got out of the life at 19, came to the United States at 22 and started GEMS at 23. ”
Girls Education & Mentoring Services (GEMS) is the New York City-based nonprofit Lloyd founded at just 23 years old with $30 and a borrowed computer. Her goal was to help girls who, like her, had experienced sexual exploitation and trafficking and subsequent stigma and punishment. GEMS provides support and mentorship to girls and young women who have been victims.
“While so much has changed this year, what hasn’t changed is the vital work at the Center for Family Justice to support survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse in the six communities it serves,” Zap said. “The coronavirus has caused what the experts here at CFJ are calling a second pandemic of trauma and abuse.”
She said that calls to domestic abuse hotlines have spiked 56% statewide since Connecticut’s Covid-19 emergency orders went into effect back in March.
“Throughout this time, CFJ’s staff has been there to help everyone in need,” Zap said. “Last year they helped almost 10,000 people touched by domestic violence and abuse. That’s why CFJ is so important. CFJ needs your help and support now more than ever.”
Zap welcomed Debra A. Greenwood, president and CEO of CFJ, who recognized co-chairs Patti Masarek of Milford and CFJ Board Member Sarah Cwikla of Easton, committee members and staff for working tirelessly to make the virtual event a success.
Greenwood offered heartfelt thanks to People’s United Bank for sponsoring Speaking for Women for the past 23 years. Valerie Senew of People’s United Bank was one of the speakers and represented a team of bank employees who contributed help and support.
Greenwood spoke of CFJ’s 125-year history as a “beacon of hope” for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. She presented the Leadership Award to Marge Hiller, an active community volunteer for 50 years.
For 23 years, Speaking of Women has been held each fall to raise awareness about issues related to domestic and sexual violence and child abuse, and to raise funds for CFJ. The event brings inspirational speakers to its podium to discuss issues impacting the lives of victims and survivors in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.
Last year Zap interviewed Aly Raisman, gymnastics star and gold medal winner, on stage at The Waterview event venue in Monroe. Raisman courageously spoke out as one of many victims sexually abused by former Olympic team physician Larry Nassar. Local business people, politicians, police officers and volunteers attended the popular and stylish annual luncheon.
This year, Lloyd and the other speakers conversed remotely from their homes and offices. Kathryn Maiolo of Monroe, CFJ’s board chair, spoke publicly for the first time about her experiences as a survivor of abuse and trauma during her childhood and teens. Previously she had confided in trusted friends and family members but had not disclosed it beyond a close-knit group. She acknowledged the extraordinary help and support that CFJ afforded her in her recovery.
Greenwood praised Maiolo’s courage in engaging in such an important conversation and said she hoped it would help other survivors of childhood abuse and sexual violence to find solace and support, as Maiolo has done. Greenwood said the Speaking of Women event also benefited Camp HOPE, which is run by The Center for Family Justice in partnership with the Coastal Connecticut YMCA. Greenwood said it’s a place where children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse can make friends and partake in summer recreational activities.
White Ribbon Campaign
Gary MacNamara, executive director for public safety and government affairs at Sacred Heart University, chairs the White Ribbon Task Force, a male effort to combat domestic violence, sexual abuse and child abuse.
MacNamara recognized the outstanding contributions of Tim Shaw, Easton’s former police chief, to the White Ribbon Campaign. Shaw became chief of Stamford’s police department in April.
“Easton is a smaller community, but Tim had just as much of an impact,” McNamara said. “Tim has the heart, dedication and determination to press forward [and]the unique ability to analyze information and come up with common sense solutions. Thank you, and know you’re doing great work.”
MacNamara also thanked the men who were attending the virtual event and who contributed to CFJ and its mission.
“We collectively need to come together,” he said. “Most men aren’t offenders, but most offenders are men. We all have to remain committed.”
Recognized globally for her pioneering work supporting girls and young women who have experienced sexual exploitation and trafficking, Lloyd has worked tirelessly to support girls and women who are forced to work in the sex trade and enact legislation so that they are no longer treated as criminals.
GEMS sees its clients as victims, not criminals, and encourages them to become survivors and leaders. It is the nation’s largest service provider of its kind, offering services, support, outreach, education, and training.
“As an ordinary person, what should I be looking out for, that I should notice that something’s not right here,” Zap asked. “How do I get in the middle, how do I help?”
Lloyd said, “Prevention is the better approach, once we realize abuse is a pattern. It’s most likely people who have already experienced abuse, already experienced poverty, already grown up in the child welfare system.”
Before these vulnerable girls and women get recruited into the sex trade, she urged people who want to help to think of becoming a mentor, joining CFJ or a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“Anything we do to build the foundations of society and help raise up well cared for and loved young people we’re going to do a lot to address trafficking down the road,” Lloyd said.
In addition to being tirelessly dedicated to “her girls,” Lloyd is passionate about changing policy and public perception. She was instrumental in the 2008 passage of New York State’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth, the nation’s first law to protect rather than punish trafficked and exploited youth. Thirteen states have since followed suit.
Through her documentary “Very Young Girls” and memoir “Girls Like Us,” LLoyd has begun a national dialogue on these issues. She has advocated for survivors at the White House, United Nations and before Congress. She continues to pave the way for survivors nationwide.
Her honors include Ms. Magazine’s “50 Women Who Changed the World,” a Reebok Human Rights Award, a 2009 Ashoka Fellowship, the North Star Fund’s Frederick Douglass Award and the National Organization for Women’s Susan B. Anthony Award.
“We are still tallying numbers, but we believe we were able to meet or exceed our fundraising goals, which is something I am not sure we thought we expected when we took the event virtual,” said Beth Fitzpatrick, CFJ’s community relations manager, after the event.
Visit the Center for Family Justice website to find crisis and prevention services, to donate, and to find out more. Hope is #notcancelled.