Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Martin Luther King, Jr., August 1963
While at the convening of the U.S. Human Rights Network last December I did a pre-release screening of a new documentary co-produced by ECPAT-USA and WITNESS. The video, What I Have Been Through is Not Who I Am, tells the story of Katrina, a formerly sexually exploited teen who was arrested, when she should have been protected. No one in this small audience could believe that, in the U.S., we jail children who are bought and sold for sex, rationalizing that prison will protect them from their traffickers. Admittedly, when I first heard about this back in August of 2010, I did not believe it either. But we do do this.
In thinking about this reality for exploited children, I asked myself, if I am raped should I be imprisoned to protect me from my rapist? If my domestic partner physically abuses me in my own home, should I be imprisoned to protect me from my domestic partner? The answer is black and white. It’s no. And it’s this very contradiction in laws across the U.S. that the film Not Who I Am addresses and which our partner, ECPAT-USA is working to change.
In the documentary, Katrina, tells the story of being lured into the sex industry while still a teen, and the abuse she suffered from a trafficker who keep her in that life. Her compelling and emotional story takes us from Atlanta to New York City and to Atlanta again, from desperation to recovery and success. Her story illustrates the failure of the criminal justice system to help these youth and call on our state legislatures to stand up and make justice a reality for our country’s exploited children.
Here is Katrina’s story, a story that mirrors that of thousands of young girls and boys in every corner of my country (total running time 21 mins):
ECPAT-USA and WITNESS co-produced the video to educate public policy makers, especially state legislators, about the best way to help children involved in the sex trade and ask them to make changes on behalf of these youth. Legislative reform measures and new approaches, recommended in the film can, and must, shift our collective responsive from a punitive one to a restorative one.
Now that you have heard Katrina’s voice, please use yours.
To help protect exploited children:
- Share this film with your local legislatures and ask them to support and pass state-wide legislation that-
- Protects exploited children under 18 from being treated as juvenile offenders
- Provides victims with emergency and long-term services
- Increases penalties for criminals selling and buying sex with children
- Empowers government and non-profit collaboration assist victims and prosecute offenders
- Share this film with faith-based communities, your local law enforcement offices, shelter services within your community, child welfare offices, family and friends and ask them to write to their state legislators and share the film too.
- Learn more by reading ECPAT’s report on “State Laws and Best Practices for Improving our Response to the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S.” To download the report, click here.
- To report an instance of human trafficking or if you are a victim of human trafficking, call the National Trafficking Hotline operated by the Polaris Project for confidential help 24/7 at 888-3737-888.