Clyde Haberman's New York Times column [Helping Girls as Victims, Not Culprits] provides a vivid illustration of the girls who might be helped by the Safe Harbor law. Haberman introduces Miranda, a young woman from Brooklyn who left home at age 14 and was sexually exploited and forced into prostitution. With the help of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), a Harlem-based organization and former Ms. Foundation grantee, Miranda, now 18, has graduated high school and is exploring college.
Haberman highlights the extent of Miranda's accomplishment and compares it to her advocacy work.
Also not typical are her journeys to Albany to urge that lawmakers rethink how the state deals with children — girls, in the main — who become sexual prey. Her efforts and those of others paid off a couple of weeks ago when the Legislature, by unanimous votes in both houses, passed the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act.Like the domestic violence legislation the Governor will sign, the Safe Harbor law would help in removing these important issues from the criminal courts. Young girls arrested for prostitution for the first time would be "classified as 'persons in need of supervision,' or PINS, and offered social services and protection from their pimps in a dormitory-style shelter," Haberman reports.
Haberman notes that Governor Paterson has not made a commitment to sign the bill and that the Bloomberg administration opposes it. He quotes John Feinblatt, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator, saying "the PINS process has no teeth" and he prefers keeping these children in the court system.
GEMS Executive Director Rachel Lloyd, disagrees. "Born in England, Ms. Lloyd was 'in the life' herself as a teenager. In part, the problem is one of perception, she said. 'These are not kids with cancer — they're not the kids people feel the most empathy for.'" She notes they are not as tough as one might think. "Whatever your stereotype is, when you sit down and talk to them, you see that a kid is a kid."
Young people like Miranda, affected by the policies they help shape and promote, are prime examples of the power of women organizing to change their world. As the ones closest to the problems they can generate the best policy and practice solutions.
Photo - Governor David Paterson. Source: New York State.