A harrowing look at child prostitution, the documentary Very Young Girls follows Rachel Lloyd and her staff at GEMS in New York, assisting girls who were introduced to 'the life' at an average age of thirteen. The film gives plenty of insight into the obstacles that prevent desperate people from accessing the help they need: a mother receives a tip-off that her missing daughter and other underage girls are being held in a flat by armed men, but this news is met by police with little more than a bored shrug. Meanwhile, Dominique’s mother insists she take responsibility for the “adult decisions” she made while still a juvenile: she did not intervene, finding her daughter’s behaviour “despicable”. Yet the 14-year-old jailed for prostitution would, in any other circumstances, be deemed too young to consent to sex.
Interwoven with stories like these is footage shot by two pimps who actually believed they had scope for a reality TV show – an up-close look at the violence and manipulation that goes into breaking another person’s will, ensuring they’ll come back even if they manage to escape.
The film stops short of promoting any particular solution to these problems – but this is a strength rather than a weakness, ensuring that nobody can write it off for having the ‘wrong’ standpoint. Instead, it draws our attention back to the reality for vulnerable youths caught up in this web. First-hand accounts of their feelings for their pimps, and the brutality they’ve encountered from these same men, draw parallels with the experience of domestic violence, while the legal system’s flaws are all too apparent. The onus is on the individual to reform, but much bigger changes need to happen if the girls in the film are to avoid relapse, and if still more are to avoid being introduced to the streets.