The article below is a guest piece by Sonoma’s own Stephanie Hiller. It is intended for mothers who want to protect their daughters, but we think that all readers can gain some insight into sexual violence, human trafficking, and more. Read on:
Moms have always worried as their girls enter adolescence that they will be pressured into sex by a boyfriend – because, after all, “boys will be boys.”
But date rape, though common, is not the most violent form of sexual abuse faced by our girls.
Today new threats have left us floundering, pushing us into helplessness and the comforting arms of denial. But there is no safety in those quarters.
The use of the Internet to lure girls into compromising situations, or even into the sex trade, is one of the most insidious instruments of the global threat to young women and girls, and one of the hardest to combat. Says Caitlin Quinn of Verity, “As soon as the police or our advocates have figured out one new lure or app, these guys come up with another one.” And no, there is no place, to her knowledge, that keeps a running list of the latest social media trick. “Snapchat is an app that teens love to use. You can have your location ‘turned on,’ allowing your friends and contacts to see where you physically are, and if you have it set for “public,” then anyone can see where you are.”
Trafficking and the use of underage girls in online sexual videos is so creepy, such an ultimate and cruel violation, that we tend to think it happens to somebody else’s girls.
The image of black and brown girls as more lusty, or loose, persists, a racist projection that feeds our denial while covering up the reality with a slick patina of privilege. These things don’t happen to us.
But they do.
Girls with rough home lives, dysfunctional families, experienced in foster care, or who are otherwise vulnerable due to mental or physical disability, poverty or homelessness are most likely to be preyed upon by traffickers.
Meanwhile, all girls continue to be vulnerable to the many other forms of sexual violence.
Of girls who are trafficked, 86 percent were sexually abused previously, according to Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Bill Brockley, who serves on the Human Trafficking Task Force.
So what’s a poor mom to do?
Building a solid relationship with your daughters is the way to go, according to Verity’s Caitlin Quinn. “Mothers need to do everything they can to tell their daughters that they can talk to them.
“Sometimes that means mothers being vulnerable with their daughters. A lot of mothers don’t want to share what violence has happened to them but that can help daughters understand why their mother feels the way she does. You don’t want your daughters to think you are weak and something happened to you, but being vulnerable is not necessarily weak.”
Mothers can become familiar with warning signs that a girl is being trafficked, advised Quinn. “They know what she is normally like, and if they aren’t afraid to ask their kid. We’ve seen kids who are living at home and are being trafficked, and parents didn’t even know.”
Sometimes a girl may suddenly have more money to spend, but she doesn’t have a job or an allowance. That can be a red flag.
Every parent’s relationship with their child is different. Preventative work looks different for every mom. According to Quinn, for some people, it’s as straightforward as “setting healthy boundaries for your daughters with social media… if they want to have Facebook on their phone and on the go, you need to know their password. Knowing your mom can check what you’re doing is important. Also knowing who they can date, how late they can stay out.” The basics.
Has the #MeToo movement brought more awareness to the problem of sexual violence?
“It did initially. There was a lot more interest in volunteering, being on the Board. But there hasn’t been a huge uptick in clients.”
A roar has become a whisper. Or perhaps it has only gone underground.
Jan Blalock is the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women. Asked whether girls are safer now, she said, “No, but it’s safer to talk about things.
“I think we’re in a very dangerous time right now,” citing the power of the Internet and easy access to porn, “especially for boys who may think this is normal or what girls want.”
Empowering girls helps. It’s important to let them know that sexual violence is not their fault. “The onus is on society to see girls and women as equal, intelligent beings worthy of respect rather than objectifying them,” Blalock said.
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