Human trafficking is an epidemic that I was introduced to years ago by watching late-night television. One night I was awakened from sleeping and began watching TV. It was one of those times that Showtime would offer a free week of their network, and a show came on called “Very Young Girls.” Because of the kind of network Showtime was, I was nervous to continue watching.
I thought to myself, “It’s 2:00 a.m., and ‘Very Young Girls’ would probably be inappropriate to watch.” But, I decided to continue watching, because as the movie was coming on, it featured a young girl, and she was telling a story that caught my attention. As I listened, the girl was speaking about her horrific history of being trafficked and how that changed her life forever.
I watched as girl after girl came on the screen telling their stories of survival and their inabilities to leave “the life.” One particular teenage girl came on the screen, and as I heard her story, I began to become outraged as I witnessed how the laws were punishing the teenager instead of the people who were abusing her.
I eventually found out that the movie was a documentary that was created by a woman named Rachel Lloyd who resides in New York. This documentary was the beginning of her fight to change the face of child prostitution and to give it a name called “Commercial Sexual Exploitation,” also known as human trafficking. Lloyd had begun to fight an over 10-year battle to start treating the trafficked teen as a victim instead of a perpetrator.
I was so captivated by this documentary that I just couldn’t change the channel. I sat up in my bed and I continued to watch and cry as I realized that this was something that was going on in the United States of America.
I immediately went onto the Internet and began searching to try to find out how I could contribute in any way possible to bring awareness to this thing that was going on right here in the United States, and also to offer my services to an organization Lloyd had created called Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS).
I contacted GEMS and learned that one way I could support them was to donate money to their efforts. But I didn’t only want to send money; I also wanted to become a voice for change.
I am a songwriter and recording artist, and I had previously written a song called “Who Will Cry (for the Little Girl)” years before that brought awareness to child sexual assault. I decided to make the second verse of the song one that brought awareness to this thing called human trafficking that I just couldn’t get out of my mind.
One day as I was driving down the street, I felt like I heard a voice from God that told me to go back and revisit the song and write it from a survivor’s perspective. I had originally written the song so that it wasn’t so dark and gloomy because I didn’t want to offend anyone. But the truth of the situation is not happy. It is not beautiful. It is dark and gloomy. Therefore, I needed to write the song so that people could understand what those girls and boys were going through. So, I went home and I rewrote the song and sent it to my music producer J Thomas in Indianapolis, and he said, “We got a song; let’s do it.”
After writing the song, I decided to create a music video because I wanted to have a visual reminder for people to understand what it was that I was speaking about with my lyrics. I released the music video, not knowing that it would later be picked up by various organizations as one of the songs that they use to help people understand what human trafficking looks like to a young girl forced into “the life.”
I was eventually introduced to the attorney general of Indianapolis at the time; her name was Abigail Kuzma. Her husband was a radiologist at one of the hospitals that I was employed at, and he saw the music video and subsequently introduced me to the work that she was doing in human trafficking.
I traveled to Boston to learn a curriculum called “My Life, My Choice,” which was founded by a survivor and a social worker to help at-risk young girls from being caught up in human trafficking. I now present this curriculum to young girls in various organizations throughout Indianapolis. As the years have passed, I have met many young ladies who have been trafficked and have helped assist them in their quest to reclaim their lives.
The full-circle moment came when I learned that the My Life, My Choice program used Rachel Lloyd’s documentary “Very Young Girls” as a visual of “the life” for human trafficking victims.
Looking back in reflection, my heart was changed forever after watching “Very Young Girls,” and it moved me to do something.
Schawayna Raie is a national recording artist and philanthropist located in Indianapolis. She is an executive producer of “Schawayna Raie & Friends: A Christmas Benefits Celebration” fundraiser, as well as the creator of Uplift Your Sister, which presents the annual PhenomeMOM Awards. You can connect with Schawayna on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as on her websites www.SchawaynaRaie.com and www.UpliftYourSister.org.
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