Lena Dunham wasn’t aware of the horrors of sex trafficking until recently. But from the moment she heard about Gems from her friend Audrey Gelman, Dunham knew she wanted to shine a spotlight on the non-profit that helps victims of commercial sexual exploitation in New York.
“What attracted me so much to the cause is that I’m a feminist and I’m a sexual assault survivor,” says Dunham, the star of HBO’s “Girls.” “I felt that it was important to me to not just call attention to the circumstances (around) which I was assaulted on a college campus, but also to call attention to sexual-abuse survivors who have far less of a public voice.”
Girls Educational & Mentoring Services was started in 1998 by British activist and author Rachel Lloyd. “There hasn’t been enough awareness and education,” says Lloyd. She notes that society often considers these women lazy outcasts instead of helpless victims. Once a low-income teenager falls into the world of sex trafficking, it’s almost impossible to start a new life, but that’s where Gems comes to the rescue. Last year, 371 women and girls sought the organization’s services, which includes counseling, housing, legal help and job coaching.
“There are so many girls, particularly in urban areas, who are born to parents who may be drug addicted and violent,” Dunham says. “These pimps are waiting at the bus to tell these girls, ‘You seem amazing. I love you and want to be your boyfriend.’ What feels like a loving relationship turns into them being forced to go out and make a living. What’s happening is rape. It’s statutory rape by the most basic definition.”
Dunham has been working with Lloyd to build a library for Gems.
“This is an important organization,” Dunham says.
Lloyd is grateful for Dunham’s voice. “It’s helpful because she has a platform,” Lloyd says. “Our young women, while traumatized and abused, have incredible potential.”