For Free?

“We’re all in this together: An expression of solidarity.” The breakout hit from the 2006 Disney Film High School Musical. The song was part of a musical score for a clip released in April of this year. The clip featured a news report about multiple boys attending South Fort Myers High School in Florida taking turns having sex with a 15 year-old girl. No longer was this an expression of encouragement, but the soundtrack to a nightmare.

Later confirmed to have been the victim of human trafficking since the age of 13, the subject of the recording was also the target of online scrutiny following the release of the clip. “25 boys” became a trending topic, being the reference point of the video. While twenty-five boys were not exactly proven to have taken part in the recorded sexual act, many of them served as spectators of incident. As a majority of my Twitter timeline found humor in the girl’s plight, one tweet caught my eye, and struck a nerve.

“How do you feel about child pornography being edited with music and being distributed on social media?”

While thousands served as an audience of the viral distribution of this child’s misery, at that moment, I wanted to be one less person that was part of the crowd. I no longer wanted to be 20-years-old, attending the solace of my local university; I longed to be five years younger, attending South Fort Myers High School alongside the 15-year-old, having the ability to pull her aside between class periods and ask, “what have you been through?”

“How do you feel about child pornography being edited with music and being distributed on social media?”

I thought about what I had been through around her age. Mistaking attention for adoration in all the wrong places. Waiting with bated breath to be claimed by young men whom I had truly liked, when I had been reduced solely to their physical needs. I wanted to talk to the girl, reminding her that she amounted to so much more than merely being an object of humiliation. Despite her past, she had another chance.

“I’d like to think that they don’t think highly of themselves,” my male friend told me while we spoke about the Florida incident. This friend has also known of other young men who have taken part in similar acts, having their way with one willing young lady. These sexual acts are reckless in nature, but heard about through the grapevine, further reducing the reputation of the voluntary female. At what point do these young men learn from their actions? While they may not understand right away, the lesson may meet them later; sometimes in stares them down in the form of a newborn daughter.

I, too, have attended high school on a large campus in the central part of town, with students going to secluded areas during class periods for quickies. Our campus had five separate structures, with a common meeting location among students being the basement of the library building. The building contained a vacant basement with two private one-person bathrooms that had room for three more, the perfect spot. During my freshman year of high school, one of my fellow freshmen was known throughout the class for meeting with boys in the same location. Following rumors about her encounters, she did not return the following year.

How much does it cost to embed self-worth within our girls?

While the clip featuring the 15-year-old girl has been widely removed from many social sites, the trauma of the girl’s experience still lingers in my mind. Though her mother decided not to press charges against the school or the boys featured in the video, I couldn’t help but consider her to be a perpetrator as well. How long how she had known about her daughter’s experiences? Within the two years since being lured into the life of sexual labor, her daughter surely did not receive the adequate care and maternal guidance that she so desperately needed.

Continuing to witness social media commentary of the video, I thought of how many other girls were undergoing the same treatment, with their pain being overlooked, instead being mocked. No longer are they considered respectable young women, but the objects of sexual desire. They need to know of their value, for it far surpasses what they have gone through.

The question remains.

How much does it cost to embed self-worth within our girls?

By Jaelani Turner-Wlliams

Jaelani attends majors in Communications at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. When she is not writing, you can find her crate-digging in your local record store.