By Fiona Cummings, GSNI CEO
You can sell a drug once. You can sell a girl a thousand times.
Did you know that in Illinois the average age of a girl to be trafficked is 12–14 years old? In fact, 1 in 3 girls will be approached by a trafficker who targets girls at malls, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, school sports games, basically anywhere girls hang out. Traffickers target girls of all races, income levels, and backgrounds. Often, they present as young men in their late teens or early twenties who engage with girls as their “loving” boyfriends before compelling them to perform sexual acts through violence, intimidation, emotional blackmail, and dependence.
We are excited and proud to have been awarded grants from The Mill and State Farm Neighborhood Assist to implement Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Programs in the Rockford area of our council. These grants will primarily focus on programs for girls in grades 5–8 in our outreach programs who are most at risk for being trafficked. We are currently seeking funding to roll out a troop awareness program at this time and have already piloted a program to a few troops in the Rockford area.
I’d like to personally thank Girl Scout Leader Heidi Provo for the instrumental work she has done in helping create the programming. We are working with several agencies in the Rockford area that are experienced in education, rescue, and counseling of human trafficking survivors to ensure all our human trafficking prevention programming aligns with other Rockford initiatives, is age appropriate, and will be provided by trained facilitators. We were honored to have recently received recognition from the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Northern Illinois for our work in this area!
Our goal is to roll this program out across our entire council, so every Girl Scout and her family understand the very real dangers of this heinous crime!
In Girl Scouts, we nurture and guide every girl to help her reach her potential and contribute to the strength of her family and community. Beyond service, leadership and skill-building, human trafficking and awareness programs are yet another way we are doing this!