VERY YOUNG GIRLS – Documentary Retroview

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Documentaries like Born Into Brothels and Highway Courtesans have made us keenly aware of the evils of child prostitution. Very Young Girls, directed by David Schisgall, Nina Alvarez and Priya Swaminathan, brings the story home by following several New York City tween and teenage girls who’ve become prostitutes, and who are trying to cope with the consequences and redirect their lives.

Girls Gone Astray Find Guidance

The girls represent a sympathetic cast of characters. We learn that they’ve come from impoverished homes in high crime neighborhoods, from broken families which provide them with little or no support. Desperately in need of attention, love and a sense of direction, they’re seduced by older men into unhealthy and exploitative love relationships. Once they’re emotionally involved and invested, the predatory and exploitative men convince, cajole, drug or threaten them until they agree to turn tricks and become ‘hos.’

These girls, who are maturing physically but remain emotional infants, are desperately in need of guidance–and, if they’re lucky, it comes to them in the form of Rachel Lloyd, who is also this film’s central character.

Lloyd‘s own background was as troubled as that of the girls. She was born in the UK, dropped out of school and fled to Munich, where she worked as a teenage stripper and hooker before transferring her trade to New York, where she eventually changed her act. Finding her current calling, she began helping young girls who find themselves in situations like the one from which she escaped.

Lloyd established a outreach organization called Girl Education and Mentoring Services or, for short, GEMS, to give guidance and help to teenage girl prostitutes. Lloyd began the program in her apartment and eventually got funding to open a recovery center where girls can seek shelter while they’re trying to redirect their lives. All of the girls who’re profiled in the film are participants in the GEMS program.

Exposing Bad Men

The film also follows the alarming story of two twenty-something brothers, Anthony and Chris Griffith, who set out to establish themselves as reality TV stars by filming themselves as they seduce and pimp teenage girls. Their home video fills in the girls‘ stories by showing us something about what the men in their lives are like–completely selfish and without morals, and alarmingly street smart about what they can get away with. We also find out that this footage became the evidence that sent the two brutes to jail. There is some justice!

It’s surprising, though, that the film’s directors don’t venture further into investigating the underlying social, political and economic conditions that make the film’s cast and other young girls so vulnerable to the men who exploit them. Yes, the filmmakers let the girls tell us how they fell in love, were fooled into turning tricks and then couldn’t find any way out of their shame, fear, loneliness, imprisoning relationships. But there’s little exposure of how and why our social welfare system fails to protect these girls from becoming victims of these predatory men–who are, after all, guilty of statutory rape and should be prosecuted for it, but most often are not.

Is It Enough?

It’s good that the film brings the plight of these very young girls to light, and that it refrains from inflicting any degree of blame or shame on them. But it could and should take on a stronger advocacy role by pointing out just where and why the our social system breaks down in failing to provide these children with any sort of safety net and fails to punish those who abuse and exploit them in such a way that other predators will be discouraged from doing so. Very Young Girls would be a stronger, more effective film if it delved deeper into this very profound and pressing problem that, despite the efforts of Rachel Lloyd, won’t be resolved any time soon.

Film Details:

Year: 2008
Parental Rating: Cautionary; some scenes objectionable
Country Of Origin: U.S.
Running Time: 83
Format: Color
Production Co(s).: Showtime; Swinging T Productions
Released By: Showtime

Nina Alvarez: Director
David Schisgall: Director
Priya Swaminathan: Director
Nina Alvarez: Producer
David Schisgall: Producer
Priya Swaminathan: Producer
John Moser: Exec. Producer
Jack Lechner: Exec. Producer
Diana Barret: Exec. Producer
Josh Freed: Assoc. Producer
Priya Swaminathan: Cinematographer
Nina Alvarez: Cinematographer
Jane Jo: Editor
Nathan Larson: Musical Composer
Nina Alvarez: Sound

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