October 1, 2012


The last paragraph in the book HALF THE SKY by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn reads:

The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings.  The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction.  Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings, and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding.  The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete - and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement or a bystander.

This coming week, tune in to PBS for a 2-part series based on the book.  Being broadcast this week, the series presents women and girls living under some of the most horrible circumstances imaginable -- and fighting to change them.   The series was filmed in 10 countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the United States.

HALF THE SKY is the book that first profiled the Chrysalis INSPIRED 2012 Event speaker, Dr. Tererai Trent.  In her keynote address, Dr. Trent pointed out some of the shocking statistics occuring today across the world - girls and women subjected to honor killings or genital mutilation, girls sold for slavery and prostitution, women raped and beaten, women and babies dying in childbirth - females considered less worthy than the males they served or the animals they raised.  Hundreds of thousands simply disappearing from their families, never again to be seen. 


Although we not believe that these issues occur in the United States, we need only remember the case of Jaycee Dugard to recall that girls our country, and all over the world, are missing.  Boys, too, particularly in Europe and America, disappear without a trace.  The numbers can only be estimates; The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children created a report attempting to count.  It estimates that 800,000 children under age 18 to missing each year in the United States - that's roughly 2,000 each day.

The report notes that of this number, an estimated 200,000 are taken by family members, 58,000 by non-family members, and up to 300 are simply kidnapped by a stranger.  Another 3-4,000 are abducted, sexually assaulted, and released.  Only 90% of the 800,000 children are found, leaving 8-10,000 who are never found.  The most dangerous age for girls' abductions is said to be around 11 years old - and experts report that the abductor typically contacts a victim within half mile of her home.  Walking to school, at a bus stop, or in the shopping mall are common sites. 

Perhaps most alarming, the internet can be one of the first sites an abductor or predator will use to identify potential victims.  95% of US teens, ages 12-17, are online, and nearly 60% of 12-year-olds have cell phones, which are even more difficult for adults to monitor.  Cyberbullying, revealing too much personal information, exposure to inappropriate websites and materials, and online predators are tremendous risks to children and youth. 

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has created "NetSmartz," a program for parents, educators, and law enforcement to use in working with children using the internet.  The program notes that to keep children safe online, it's important to know a few vulnerabilities that may make children more susceptible to online predators:

Curiosity - Children are naturally curious - about risky behaviors, forbidden substances, and sex.  Predators can guide this curiosity, gradually luring children into sexual activity.  Adolescents are at high risk, as they go online with questions about sexuality or with the intent to find friends and companions.  Predators take advantage of this vulnerability.

Need for Attention - Even children who receive lots of attention from their families can crave it from others, especially those who they perceive as more mature.  Predators offer children affection and flattery in order to coerce them.

Rebellion - Often children become rebellious when they become adolescents, and predators can use this to an advantage.  Children who may be victimized when disobeying family or parent rules will be afraid to admit it.

Respect for Adults - Because children are taught to respect and obey adults, they may be less likely to disobey a direction given by an adult - even if it is a stranger, or even if it makes them uncomfortable.

In response to these issues, The Center launched the CyberTipline in 1998 in partnership with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, US Postal Service, Secret Service, Department of Justice, and international, state, and local law enforcement.  The line provides a means of reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation of any kind, and is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  If you would like more information, check the website: cybertipline.com, or call 1-800-843-5678.

As part of our mandatory training for Chrysalis After-School program leaders, we'll share more comprehensive education related to internet safety, cyberbulling, and appropriate use of the web.  In this way, we hope over 600 girls in this year's program will be aware and safe from this danger.