Demi Moore: Child Sex Trafficking Is a Dirty Secret We Need to Confront

Earlier this year, actress Demi Moore and her husband, Ashton Kutcher, started the DNA (The Demi and Ashton) Foundation, which aims to eliminate child slavery worldwide. Shortly afterward, as part of the Pepsi Refresh Celebrity Challenge, she and Kevin Bacon battled to see who could get more fans to vote for them and their philanthropic causes. Moore triumphed, and as a result, the New York City-based nonprofit organization GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) won a $250,000 grant from Pepsi. GEMS plans to use the funds to train 10 former victims to serve as outreach workers who will assist and rescue underage girls currently in the sex industry. PARADE spoke to Moore about why this issue is so important to her and what she would like Americans to know about sex trafficking.

PARADE: How did you first become interested in this topic?

MOORE: Ashton and I got involved after seeing a TV special about sex trafficking in Cambodia around two years ago. Some of the girls in it were so young, like 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 years old. We felt we couldn’t live in the world where that is allowed. As we started to delve into and educate ourselves on the issue, we were overwhelmed and horrified to discover how prevalent trafficking is. As we looked around, we saw we had a chance to contribute and make a difference. Twenty-seven million people are enslaved today around the world. We’ve tried to scale back our efforts to what connected us in the first place, which was children and sex slaves. Yet our ultimate goal is to participate in bringing an end to slavery as a whole. I don’t think any parent can watch that special and see these tiny little girls going up to men, girls who have Barbie lunch boxes. It’s just wrong, and I think it’s something we can all agree on. It needs to be stopped. It’s a matter of getting in there and getting the support to end it.

We were shocked by how large the commercial sex industry is in America. The average age that a girl enters the industry is 12 to 14. As a mother, I have to say, “Let’s put this in perspective, this is someone’s sister, someone’s daughter. It’s a little girl.” There’s a general misperception that people have about the girls in the industry, that these girls are choosing it. Enslavement is not just physical but also mental manipulation. We’re talking about people preying upon the most vulnerable among us—our children. I’ve met foreign victims who were brought in from Mexico to the United States. Ashton and I have plans to travel and connect with more. I’ve had the opportunity to meet [Cambodian activist] Somaly Mam quite a few times.

Q: What is your connection to GEMS?

A: We went to GEMS offices and met quite a few of these girls and heard their stories. One of them was 11, another was 13, one had been “guerilla” pimped by a trafficker who was traveling the country with underage girls. He was caught by the FBI. What was so moving is that in our country, except in the state of New York where the Safe Harbor Act was passed and it treats underage girls as victims of rape as opposed to teen prostitutes, the law tends to criminalize these girls. Meanwhile, the johns and pimps often get minimal penalties. A pimp can make $150,000 to $200,000 a year from one girl. How can we shift the focus from the criminalization of these girls and place a greater focus on who is creating the demand? The men who are soliciting them look at these girls as having chosen the industry even though they’re 12 or 20. The average john is a 30-year-old married man with no criminal record. We’d like to humanize the victims and also bring names and faces to the johns. I think if we had greater accountability, we’d have a chance of reducing the demand for young prostitutes.

Read More about GEMS: Guiding Young Girls to Better Lives

Q: How did you hear about GEMS?

A: Once you start to open the door, you find the organizations and the NGOs that are making a difference, and we heard about Rachel Lloyd and GEMS. It’s a survivor-led organization and the largest organization for victims that exists in the U.S. I had a chance to see what they’re trying to do, and their model is one that can be replicated in the country. Right now, they have a limited outreach. GEMS makes such a huge difference, transforming the girls they reach into positive and productive individuals who give back. Yet they struggle to have the funds to operate.

GEMS is trying to assist juveniles who are extracted from sex industry. They’re helping them getting high-school diplomas if they don’t have them and going to college. I love the fact that GEMS also trains the girls it rescues from sex trafficking to serve as outreach workers in their communities. One outreach worker can reach 100 girls. The former victims have a level of understanding in reaching out to girls who are not open and under control of pimps, and they’re able to break through that. They often go into the juvenile-justice system to find girls to help, because where do you put them, except for justice system or foster care?

Q: Are you concerned with working against sex trafficking on a domestic or on a worldwide level?

A: We have a worldwide interest in sex trafficking, but for now we want to ground it domestically. We went down with the Department of Homeland Security to the border at San Diego and met some victims who had the enormous courage to testify against their trafficker. The girls were 19 and 20, and they’d been smuggled over the border. Trafficking was a family business, and this man’s mother and brother were also involved. The trafficker told these girls he loved them and said, “If you love me, you will do this for me.”

We want to put the issue of sex trafficking at the top of people’s lists of concerns and not just part of the list. One of the things we’re trying to do is to work on changing policy in the states where trafficking is not a felony. We approached the Governor of Massachusetts and asked him why human trafficking there is not a felony under state law there. That’s also true in Hawaii, Alabama, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C, I think.

Photos: See More Celebrities Who Help Children

Q: What would you like PARADE readers to do?

A: People should see “Playground.” It’s a wonderful documentary about children in America who are victims of sex slavery. In general, I’d like to ask them to educate themselves about the issue. Awareness is the beginning of creating great change. Our society needs to identify slavery and call it what it is and look at it in the U.S. People should also find out, what laws and programs do you have place in your state to protect girls? Is there a task force? The issue is understaffed and underfunded.

When one person is enslaved, we’re all enslaved. We’ve been tweeting to the Senators on the foreign relations committee to ask them to support change. Sex trafficking is this dirty little secret, but I think people are now prepared to hear about it. It’s our obligation to come together and end slavery. Before I end this interview, I want to thank Pepsi. Not only did it support us with our issue, the company provided an opportunity for us in the form of the Pepsi Refresh Celebrity Challenge to go out and get the public to vote on our idea. We won a huge grant for GEMS. Pepsi is affecting change and helping us reach an incredible audience.

Get Inspired: Read More on What America Cares About

source:http://www.parade.com/news/what-america-cares-about/featured/100509-demi-moore-interview.html

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