Survivor Speak USA is leading Maine's anti-trafficking movement to the Last Girl, so there are no new generations of Forgotten Women.
What is sexploitation? Sexploitation is exchanging sex for money or resources via victimization, exploitation, and oppression. This includes people who are trafficked by another party (pimp, john, etc.). However, sexploitation is a broader term that acknowledges the systemic forces—like poverty, racism, and intensive childhood trauma—that coerce a girl or woman into trading sex to survive and leaving no choice or avenues for safety and security. Sexploitation acknowledges that circumstances, not just individuals, are coercive.
Who is the Last Girl? - Victims of sex trafficking are disproportionately female, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and young. Many are from families and neighborhoods of chronic poverty, where they have been sexually victimized and exposed to abuse early on. Many grow up in situations of neglect, around untreated mental illness and substance use. This is who SSUSA calls the Last Girl, a term adapted from activist Ruchira Gupta, leader of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a fellow grassroots anti-trafficking organization. In January 2017, SSUSA’s reach become international when Director Dee Clarke traveled to India to meet with Ruchira Gupta. This trip was instigated by Gupta’s earlier trip to the U.S. where she first met Clarke. SSUSA's Director spoke in India at the 2nd Congress on The Last Girl First with survivor-leaders from all over the globe, and toured Apne App schools and shelters where she met women who Gupta now refers to as Forgotten Women.
Who are the Forgotten Women? - The Last Girl often grows up to be the next generation of prostitute, becoming what SSUSA calls the Forgotten Women. These women are aged 30 to 50, and many were sex trafficked in their youth by a pimp. The Forgotten Women walk the streets of Maine’s cities like Portland, Lewiston, Biddeford, and Bangor. They are in chronic survival mode, and cannot access needed services, so they remain “on the track”. It is not a choice, but a lack of opportunity and choice. The Forgotten Women are often invisible. But Survivor Speak sees these women; they are the members and leaders of our movement. SSUSA exists for women—including transgender women—who have experienced forced sexual exploitation, including and beyond trafficking, pornography, and prostitution.
The Forgotten Women are often invisible. But Survivor Speak sees these women; we are these women. The Forgotten Women are a breath away from the legal definition of trafficking. The similarities of officially trafficked women and the Forgotten Women are many; both groups are exploited, harmed and robbed of choice. The difference in their outcomes lies with the federal trafficking law. This narrow definition leaves out the Forgotten Women from crucial service provision and legal support, even as their experiences of sexploitation are as severe as other women. Meanwhile, survivors who meet the federal standard receive valuable services including safe shelter, substance abuse treatment, counseling, and case management.
What's race got to do with it? - The American legacy of human trafficking goes back to our country’s founding. For centuries, Black and Indigenous peoples did not have legal rights to control their bodies, labor, sexuality, families, or reproduction. Even as laws changed, racist stereotypes of Women of Color’s hyper sexuality continue to shape if law enforcement recognize their victimization. Black and Brown survivors are often misidentified as criminals or willing participants, not trafficking victims. Black and Brown girls are more likely to grow up in poverty than white peers, meaning less social support and connections to schools and resources that could keep them safe from exploiters. Forces of white supremacy—housing policies, rezoning, over-policing, and de facto segregation—shape neighborhoods where exploitation thrives. Even in a majority white state like Maine, racial injustice contributes to a girl or woman’s vulnerability to exploitation, and if she has avenues for recovery.