Sex Slavery Begins At Home
by Ariela Martin | Mar 13, 2013 12:49 pm
Posted to: Schools
New Haven Academy senior Jo’Anna (JoJo) Sutton had an optimistic way of spelling out “W.O.M.E.N.”—and a disturbing message to go along with it.
Last weekend Sutton conducted a day-long conference at Dwight Hall on Yale’s Old Campus called “We are W.O.M.E.N.” The acronym stood for “wise, optimistic, motivated, empowered, and natural.” The event itself focused on the plight of human trafficking, specifically girls and women in the United States. Some 25 people took part.
The event was part of a community project Sutton has undertaken this year as part of a growing initiative in New Haven’s public high schools called “The Future Project.” (For three recent stories about the project and its growth, click here and here and here.)
“I first became inspired when I read a book called Sold about a young girl who becomes a part of trafficking. I read the book my sophomore year and never thought I could do anything about it until I started my Future Project,” said Sutton (pictured). “I then decided I wanted to put together a conference and make the community aware of this tragic thing that happens all around us.”
Sutton’s message to the conference: “Sex trafficking is modern-day slavery. It’s an industry making $32 billion annually. The majority of people who are affected by these horrific crimes are young women, 13 years old and younger. After being sex trafficked, many young girls face a lifetime of trauma, shame, low self-esteem, depression, and isolation. Many are sex trafficked for their entire lives.
“This issue isn’t just prevalent in other countries—it happens here in the United States, in Connecticut and on our home turf. Today, we heard from [state] DCF—the Department of Children and Families—about young girls here in New Haven under the age of 17 leaving their facilities for days at a time. The DCF state employees marked them AWOL, and later the girls would return with makeovers—new clothes, their nails done, everything. They had clearly all been with pimps.
“The young women were not able to see themselves as being trafficked, just as finding love from older men. These sad stories tell us that trafficking does exist on our own soil and we need to find ways to help stop it.”
The five speakers and breakout session coordinators last weekend included Nicole von Oy, the training and outreach coordinator for Love146, a national nonprofit based in New Haven “dedicated to abolishing child trafficking and exploitation.” Von Oy worked closely with Sutton and her Future Project since the start of the school year. “We need to create awareness and educate people on this issue,” von Oy said. “It exists. It’s modern day slavery. Children should not be enslaved. It’s been amazing to work with a young woman like JoJo who is so passionate about this topic.”
Sutton wanted conference participants to take away and “understand that it happens here and it happens to anyone. When it comes down to what you look like or your race, it doesn’t matter. It happens everywhere and everyday and we don’t see it as much as we should.”
New Haven Academy senior Taylor Gatison, a friend of Sutton, “This day really opened my eyes, because I didn’t know much about human trafficking,” Gatison said. “I am very interested in it now. I was really shocked to hear about women trafficking in the U.S., because you really only hear about it overseas.”
Ariela Martin, a student at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, is an Independent contributing writer.
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posted by: Josh Levinson on March 13, 2013 1:59pm
I’m a little confused—is Sutton implying that there is no difference between prostitution and sex trafficking? Not to imply that underage prostitution is an acceptable crime, but I believe there is a distinct difference between this and actual sex slavery, no?
Yes there is a distinction between prostitution and trafficking, I was not implying that there is no difference :)