Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Who Speaks for Black Girls on CSEC?

By Sikivu Hutchinson*
On Tuesday, February 9th, the LAUSD will vote on a resolution to address commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Los Angeles school-communities. 
Although this resolution makes a general reference to the disproportionate number of African American children affected by the nexus of criminalization and sexual abuse; the resolution is lacking in its failure to identify culturally responsive prevention and intervention initiatives that would specifically address the disproportionate rates of victimization of black girls.  As founder of the Women’s Leadership Project feminist advocacy and mentoring program in South Los Angeles I work daily with young black girls who silently cope with the trauma and PTSD of sexual and physical violence in their school communities.  Inundated with cultural messages that demean and marginalize black girls and women, many of my students have grown up with the pervasive message that violence against black women and girls is normal, natural, and justifiable.  According to the Department of Justice nearly 40% of young black women have experienced sexual assault by the age of 18.  In L.A. County, black girls have the highest rates of domestic sex trafficking victimization and are more likely to be arrested and jailed for prostitution than non-black women and girls. Black girls accounted for 92% of individuals arrested for prostitution in 2010.  Indeed, “the decision to arrest and detain girls in these cases has been shown often to be based in part on the perception of girls’ having violated conventional norms and stereotypes of feminine behavior, even when that behavior is caused by trauma”.
According to the 2015 Human Rights for Girls’ report, girls of color are at the epicenter of the “sexual abuse to prison pipeline”.[i] And exposure to “sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system.”[ii]  African American girls in particular are more likely than their non-black peers to be re-victimized by sexual abuse in and trafficking through the foster care system. In the District, these trends are exacerbated by high push-out, policing and criminalization rates driven in part by low academic expectations, scant college preparation resources, high student-to-counselor ratios and limited health education curricula. These dynamics are especially acute in the South L.A. high schools I work with.  And while there is the perception that only black boys are heavily impacted by high rates of suspension and expulsion, black girls are also victimized by racially disproportionate discipline.

Targeted culturally responsive training, outreach and youth leadership development that addresses not just the victims and survivors of CSEC—but the educational, health and socioeconomic factors that allow sex trafficking to thrive—are urgently needed.  In order for these measures to truly impact CSEC youth the District must make an investment in partnering with community resource providers and advocates who are already working with vulnerable youth in the LGBTQ and gender non-conforming, juvenile offender, undocumented, homeless/foster and disabled communities.  These initiatives must encompass targeting social media; identifying cultures of abuse, predation and recruitment that exist on popular youth social media sites; incorporating boys into CSEC prevention and intervention education; as well as reinforcing mentoring programs, restorative and social justice leadership initiatives that provide healthy alternatives for youth in heavily impacted school-communities in South Los Angeles. 
Finally, it’s important to recognize that sex trafficking does not arise in a vacuum. It’s not only intimately connected with poverty in our communities and the normalization of sexual violence against women and girls, but with the perception—deeply ingrained in a District where black boys and girls are disproportionately suspended and shut out of college access—that certain youth are disposable. The District has an obligation to do more than draft feel good platitudes but to push for equity with real teeth and sustainability.

*Remarks to LAUSD school board

[i] Human Rights for Girls, “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story,” Georgetown University Center for Poverty and Inequality, 2015, pp. 7-15
[ii] Ibid.