Fighting Exploitation Before it Starts

By Amy Corbett, LMHC, Director of Prevention

Each day, girls are manipulated, coerced, and forced into the commercial sex industry. At My Life My Choice, we are privy to the pain caused by exploitation—pain that can leave lasting scars. If we are to stem the tide of exploitation, we must find a way to prevent this pain from ever occurring.

Our Prevention model, developed in 2002, was created to fight back by equipping girls with the knowledge and skills they need to reduce their risk. Our Prevention Curriculum, written with the authentic voices of survivors, uses an eight to ten session psycho-educational group model that meets once a week. It is designed to reach adolescent girls who are disproportionately at higher risk to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Groups, which are co-facilitated by a clinically-trained group leader and a survivor of exploitation, teach vulnerable girls how to recognize and avoid the recruitment tactics of pimps and find a path out of exploitation if they are already involved. Including survivor leaders into the facilitation model helps to make the group more authentic and gives survivors the opportunity to dispel myths and the potential glamorization of exploitation.

Susan Alves, one of our Survivor Mentors, who has co-facilitated our Prevention Groups regularly over the last three years described her work: “As a survivor myself, I find that in facilitating groups I can always share an experience of my own when it is necessary and it is conducive to the group. A lot of times I see that the girls in group will not believe that exploitation exists or that it can happen to them, so I have to deliver this pertinent information and use snippets of my own experience with exploitation. Many times I have witnessed the girls in group identify with a piece of my story that was shared or information from the curriculum, and then the state of denial in the youth seems to dissipate. When I experience this, it confirms that today I am a living example of the solution to end exploitation, and, at the same time, I am able to be the segue for that child to get the appropriate help to prevent them from any further abuse. Many years ago, when I was in the Life, there wasn't much around where we could seek help, support and education on staying safe. Today, prevention and education to me is the main antidote to end exploitation. I always express to the youth that I don't want any child to go through the horrors of exploitation as I did. Last, in co-facilitating the prevention groups as a survivor, it continues to give me peace, healing and the strength to be a powerful example of a survivor leader.”

The impact of our Prevention Groups and the Survivor Co-facilitation model is clear and immediate. Kara*, age 15, one of the group participants, said “Wow...her story was sooo inspiring, now I really want to do better in life. I really want better for myself. I felt her, well I felt like I was with her. She really opened my eyes.”

Our goal is to prevent the violence and degradation of commercial sexual exploitation of children by educating and empowering adolescent girls to protect themselves and serve as peer leaders. Prevention is the first step and The My Life My Choice Prevention Curriculum is one primary tool to fight back—girls deserve better.

*Name changed to protect identity

As a licensed clinician Amy has provided services to vulnerable adolescent girls and their families for over 15 years.