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America’s Sex Trade Problem

Playground documentary helps Irma Rangel School educate students

by Karyn Brodsky

Sammie Casas and her classmates learned about child sexual exploitation and trafficking via the Nest Foundation Prevention Curriculum facilitated by New Friends New Life and taught by their teachers at the Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas. The Nest Foundation, begun in 2004 by filmmaker Libby Spears while she was directing Playground: The Child Sex Trade in America, a documentary film produced by actor George Clooney, is devoted to raising awareness and garnering community engagement to combat the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. Playground, a poignant exposé on the problem, was the basis of the curriculum taught at the Irma Rangel School.

Spears’ first exposure to the issue occurred when she traveled to the Philippines in 2001. Many disturbing revelations emerged as she researched, including that most of the victims were young children, that this is a globally burgeoning industry and that the trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation is equally as prevalent in the U.S.

“I had no concept of the depth of the problem in America, and it’s exactly this kind of public ignorance that perpetrators count on,” says Spears.

“Statistics, such as the fact that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime and that one in four girls and one in six boys have been sexually abused, demand our attention.” She also notes that the average age of a trafficked child is 12-13 years old. The stories included in Playground were meant to give a face to these staggering statistics.

The film, according to Spears, identifies the elements, which promote the sex trafficking industry and propagate it, emphasizing that the media and technology serve to hypersexualize girls and send distorted messages to boys. It gives students the language and framework to comprehend how the implicit messages of music videos, songs and advertising create an environment in which sexual exploitation prospers. When students recognize the detrimental impact of media and advertising and understand the false sense of anonymity of technology, they can then formulate a better self-image and set healthy boundaries.

Spears says the Nest Foundation’s Education Program seeks to empower a new generation of young people to be advocates and activists on an issue that affects them the most. This aligns with the goals of the Rangel School. As the first all girls’ public school in Texas, the Rangel School’s motto is “Girls Today, Women Tomorrow, Leaders Forever.” The Nest curriculum embodies this concept, as it is part of preparing young girls to be confident leaders in a global society.

The Irma Rangel School is a member of the Young Women’s Preparatory Network (YWPN), a non-profit organization that manages the largest network of public, all-girls’ college-preparatory schools in the U.S. In cooperation with public school districts, all YWPN schools concentrate on a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum. The majority of students are economically disadvantaged, and the core values revolve around college readiness, leadership and wellness life skills.

For information about the Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, visit dallasisd.org/rangel.

For information about YWPN, visit ywpn.org.

For information about Nest Foundation and the Playground documentary, go to nestfoundation.org.

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