A little feminist rant to start the day off right

I write this from my parents’ couch with unwashed hair and no pants. Post-grad ecstasy. Or severe, helpless ennui. However you wanna slice it. I just used a Neti pot and watched some incredible and incredibly colorful things come out of my face, which will probably be the most productive part of my day.

I just read a beautiful blog post on bravery by a thoughtful and talented acquaintance (are we friends? I hope we’re friends) who has managed to turn her post-graduate-student-loan-homecoming slump into a productive and inspiring foray into public introspection. So now seems as good a time as any to talk about what’s on my mind. At bat, as per usual: a close-up encounter with some not-so-casual sexism.

Two nights ago I went with some friends to participate in Trivia Night at BeauJo’s pizza in Boulder (big night out in the big city!) It was a nice night–the questions were easy, the beer pitchers were two dollars off. Sure, one of the guys on our team renamed our group, changing it from my (hilarious) Georgia O’Keefe pun to “Man Team” in a crisis of masculinity, but he was a stranger and I like to go with the flow, so like, whatever, man.

But this turned out to be a pathetically sexist omen for misogyny to come. When going over the answers to a question about Jessica Simpson and daisy dukes, the emcee started cracking “jokes” about what’s “sluttier,” a girl in daisy dukes or yoga pants. ‘Cause let him tell you, he works on a college campus and there are a lot of girls out there whose parents don’t love them enough.

My friend and I stared at each other, kind of disbelieving that these words were actually pouring out of this idiot’s mouth through a godforsaken speaker system. And then. He directly followed up this sexist, objectifying, slut-shaming bullshit with a question about what century they discovered the properties of chloroform, coining the “PICKUP LINE,” “does this cloth smell like chloroform to you?” I’m not too into poking fun at date rape, so my friend and I decided to cut out early.

But I was a little tipsy and a lot upset, so I figured, hey, why not talk to the creep with the mic. I have nothing to lose. I slowly approached the stand and waited until he reached a breaking point in his scoring. He looked up at me (it’s important to note here that I have a very short, masculine haircut) and before I opened my mouth he said, “Oh, did I offend you?”

I’m frustrated by so many things that happened that night. That he tried to placate me with a free beer, that my male teammates thought I was “overreacting,” that I’m naive enough to think this shit doesn’t happen regularly, even in “liberal” towns, and that my relatively calm and thorough explanation of why what he had said was sexist and harmful were probably shrugged off as abrasive and “bitchy” and likely didn’t change anything for this guy. But I am glad I said something. And I’m glad I got mad.

I think that too often we’re taught that anger isn’t a productive or healthy response. And people are told not to worry, you can embrace feminism, because real feminism is about happiness and rainbows and equality, and certainly not about angry women. But I am angry. I have every right to be angry. And I want to use that fire in my belly, not lose it.

I want to keep confronting and ranting and venting and all those things that are “negatively” associated with feminism. Because I need to for my own sanity. And because 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted. And because only white women make 78 cents to the male dollar. For Black and Latina women it’s much, much less. Because women on college campuses wear yoga pants for comfort and are turned into sexual objects and then punchlines and then victims.

These things–rape, domestic abuse, oppression–start with comments and jokes and casual stereotyping. I am working more and more on not being a bystander and overcoming my own self-doubt and unlearning anger and vocal protest as unproductive and overly aggressive. I’m not always successful. Sometimes I let things roll off my back. And then I regret it. But I think I’m getting better every day.

My Thoughts on Porn as a 21st Century Feminist

One of the things I struggle with in my life is my tendency to be sexist towards men. As a feminist and a gender studies student, I see and study a lot of things that make it easy to believe that men are power hungry sex fiends who can’t see the women for the vaginas. The issue of the porn industry only magnifies this.

Today in my Gender and the Media class, we watched an extremely powerful documentary about the porn industry called The Pain of Pleasure. The film interviewed current and former sex workers, enjoyers and condemners of porn, and went inside the nation’s largest adult film convention. This was all mixed with clips from relevant porn films and behind-the-scenes footage from the sets. The result was without a doubt the most disturbing, upsetting, and depressing film I’ve ever seen. Requiem for a Dream ain’t got nothin’ on this.

We live in a world that is thoroughly steeped in pornography. Its influence in advertising, films, and television shows–especially those targeted to teens and watched by much younger children–is obvious and unapologetic. I’m not saying that we should return to Puritanical schools of thought and teach our sons that masturbation causes blindness and if a girl enjoys sex she’s a prostitute. I’m just saying that a culture which allows Toddlers and Tiaras to be successful and in which half of the the sex portrayed on television is between characters who are meeting for the first time may need to re-evaluate our codes of gender and sexuality. What they are teaching us about ourselves and how we should look and act?

The Pain of Pleasure is a deeply frightening and important expose of these effects. In it, we see that almost 98% of the 100 most popular porn videos feature sexual violence against women. In addition to being choked, slapped, and tied up, these women are also endearing verbal abuse, being called “dirty sluts” and worse. And this turns people (mostly straight men) on. We see the rise of shocking, distinctly un-sexy abuse to hold the gaze of an audience who’s already seen it all. We hear from male viewers that though they realize that porn is unrealistic, they can’t help thinking about it when having sex, even when the thoughts are unwanted. Others attested to not being able to orgasm without visualizing porn scenarios.

While objectifying women is not the same as actually treating them as objects, it’s not very distanced. When boys are growing up watching programming and seeing in everyday life that women’s bodies are created to please men and that women who enjoy sex are unintelligent and of lesser value, is it any surprise that sexual violence is a pervasive social issue? Is it any wonder that young girls turn this pressure to be perfect into rage against the body, manifesting itself in cutting and eating disorders?

I don’t mean to suggest that men aren’t objectified in modern American culture. One episode of True Blood or one Abercrombie and Fitch ad will prove otherwise. The difference is that when men are objectified, it’s either funny (like in this year’s Magic Mike) or it’s a flattering testament to one’s manhood. When men are objectified by women, they don’t typically experience any of the fear or the threat of sexual violence that women have learned through real-world experience to fear.

In a post-feminist world, many of us take the dominant vs submissive nature of men and women for granted, and therefore seek to make the best of a tough situation by embracing and capitalizing off of their own sexuality and objectification. But when did we decide to give up on gender equality? When did we decide that feminists were so prude and uptight? In a nation where the average boy begins watching porn at age ten, we clearly need another approach.

Men and women, but mostly men, I urge you to think about the greater implications of what you’re watching and the ways in which you’ll never be able to shed the weight and influence of what you’ve seen. How can we ever expect to find gender equality when the playing field is so uneven? When in order to be taken seriously, a woman has to ignore the messages of beauty and sexuality that have been thrown at her her whole life, but also has to maintain a degree of standard femininity? At this rate, porn is not going away. But can we please open up some discourse about what progressive porn with gender equality would look like?

Day Seven: Under the Bridge

This morning we got up early to go on a walking tour of some tourist sites in Lima. Two former street kids, Ruben and Lucera, walked us around the famous sites and described the city from their own experiences. In beautiful plazas, they showed us where hundreds of children used to sleep at the end of the war, the fountains they used as their bathrooms, and the places that their friends were shot and beaten by Fujimori’s soldiers.

Cleya, the social worker for Generacion, was involved with another non-profit at the time. She was already working with and protecting the street children. They were throwing a birthday party for one of the kids in the center of the plaza when a van with tinted windows pulled up and men with guns poured out. Cleya and the children carried one young boy who was shot to the hospital. When the doctor saw the scars on the boy’s arms, which were indicative of living on the street at the time, they refused to treat him. He died that night. When Cleya spoke out about the boy’s death, the non-profit she represented denied working with her.

It was about this time that Generacion was started by Lucy Borjas, who let about 400 homeless children sleep in her office before establishing their first safehouse. Lucera, who was one of our guides, has Lucy B. tattooed on her bicep.

On the bus, Ruben told us that he wanted to share he and Lucera’s story. He told us that when he was 17 and she was 14, they left Generacion without asking to go to a party. On the way back home, at eight in the morning, they realized that they had no money for a cab or for food. They decided to steal a woman’s wallet. It only had two soles in it, and they were soon apprehended by the police. They told the officers that they were from Generacion, and they were arrested. The policemen have a grudge against Generacion for supporting what they see as a worthless and criminal community. Ruben and Lucera were kept in prison for a year. Lucera was kept in a small hole in the ground. Ruben was made to eat alone facing the wall because of his sexual orientation.

One of the boys in the jail began flirting with Ruben, and eventually he responded. When the police found a hickey on the other boy, they brought them outside and beat them both severely as they did pushups and forced them to eat dirt. Then they instructed the other boy to dig a hole and bury Ruben. Ruben was buried alive for five minutes. When he was dug up, they forced him to do the same to the other boy. Ruben told his mother about the incident, but they didn’t press charges because they didn’t want him to be kept in prison any longer.

When Ruben had finished his story, we had arrived at the bridge. The incredibly polluted Lima River is an opaque brown, dotted with trash. On top of the bridge, we were introduced to all the people who live underneath. We were introduced to two families who play music on the street to survive. We were told that one of the men before us had tried to commit suicide earlier that week by jumping off the bridge, but his friends pulled him out of the water. He smiled politely at us with his son on his lap as this information was relayed.

After the introductions, we walked over the piles of trash to the river below, hurrying under the bridge since pedestrians throw their trash off the sides without checking who is standing beneath them. We saw a soggy mattress tucked up right underneath the road. They told us that they used to have couches, but the police burned them. One man pointed to the brown water and said that this was their shower and where they wash their clothes. Up the river we could see other families living at the water’s edge. As we climbed back out, glue bags were underfoot with every step.

Back at the street level, the men played two songs for us and then we said goodbye, leaving them with juice boxes and crackers. I felt dirty as we drove away to go to a lunch buffet.

In the evening we met up with Lucy and a large mixture of Generacion kids for a sort of final send-off. Three members of the surfing tribe and many people whose house we visited met us at the Parque de la Reserva. The park is incredible, filled with enormous fountains of different shapes and colors. Many of them are interactive, and we spent the night running in and out of jets of water with the children. When we left each other, drenched and euphoric, I was sad to see them go.

I have come to know so many of the kids by name. I know intimate details of their lives that I don’t know about many of my friends back home. As we hugged goodbye, I felt that I was walking away from something very important and invaluable. These people were no longer the nameless poor–they have been our companions for a week. Some are my friends.

As we left, the pimp Teresa grabbed my arm and said to me in Spanish, “Tell all of your friends about Peru. Tell them how beautiful it is.”

Day Six: Poverty

Peru is not a giving country. It is not part of the culture to donate time, money, or even empathy to those who have not. The average income for a Peruvian is $10,000 soles, but it’s not exactly distributed that way. On our walk yesterday we went through Santa Maria, a wealthy town with landscaped lawns to overlook the yachts tethered in the harbor. The rest of the towns we’ve seen are as brown as the desert hills they are densely built into, with walls of brick and plywood and roofs of corrugated metal. At the top of the hills are the poorest of the poor, living without electricity or plumbing in cave-like conditions with entire families living in a single room. It is these kinds of towns that the street children in Lima have run away from due to poverty, drugs, and the violent home lives that are common here.

For the first 3/4 of today, we visited some of the few philanthropic organizations in Peru. We began at a tiny Jesuit university that has about 300 students. One of the girls from the Surfing Tribe will be studying law there starting on Monday. She came with us on the visit.

The next stop was to see one of the schools created by Fe y Alegria, which translates to Faith and Joy. This organization builds public schools in the poorest communities and trains their own teachers to work there. Normal Peruvian schools are notorious for their harsh conditions and bad educations. Teaching is not considered a respectable job in Peru, and those who choose the profession are considered failures in other trades. Teachers in these schools still use physical punishment and view the classroom setting as something for themselves instead of the children. Fe y Alegria trains their own teachers to run the schools. Here the kids are treated with love and taught by experts who often also teach in expensive private schools.

After stopping here, we stopped at several children’s community centers in the hills outside Lima. We were instructed to leave all of our watches and cameras in the bus because of the neighborhood’s tough reputation. We walked through stinking alleyways squeezed between the stacked houses to get to these tiny centers, where children work on art projects and homework to keep them off the streets. Many small children in these areas who do not take advantage of or have access to these programs stay locked in their one-room houses all day while their parents work. After visiting two children’s centers and the church that sponsors them, we were taken to downtown Lima.

Throughout this trip we have met many children. We have played with them, laughed with them, surfed with them, and gotten to know them by name. We have been told by the people who know them that these girls are pimps and prostitutes, and all are drug addicts, but this information, while shocking, is easy to forget when you’re all hanging out on the beach.

Today, as the sun went down, we entered downtown Lima, where we went to one of the houses that the street children live in. It used to be two stories with 160 people living there, three or four to a room, before there was a fire two years ago. Now the space has been filled by plywood cubicles just big enough to hold a bed. The entire space, about the size of a small basketball court, houses 40 people. We brought the people who live there snacks and sweets and they welcomed us into their home. I was shocked to see faces I knew in this place.

The house smelled like feces, and the people, when they drew near to kiss us hello, smelled sharply of the glue they had been sniffing. One child, no older than six, stood in bare feet on top of one of the small plastic bags filled with dried glue that lie discarded around the house and streets outside. The house was grossly overpopulated, and many of the women are pregnant. Of the forty that live there, two are male, and they are transgendered prostitutes, not fathers of any of the ten children.

As I stood in their roofless living room, I was struck by how hopeless this cycle is. For the first time, I really comprehended  that these are prostitutes raising prostitutes. These girls will begin sniffing glue before their breasts begin to develop. They will begin selling their bodies before they are twelve. They will exploit, be exploited, steal, sniff, fight. And by the time they are sixteen or seventeen, they will have their own children. The process repeats.

As we left the house, Miriam, the woman in charge, thanked us profusely for coming, and begged us to come back as soon as possible. My house is your house, she said. And they all smiled as they saw us off. As we walked out, Paul pointed out to me, through the open roof, that overlooking the shanty is the Superior Court of Justice.

We walked through the streets, watching Taxi drivers pick up the young girls and drive them away. One of the women walking with us tells us that for each client, a girl gets 20 soles–about $13. They work all night. We went to the area where the street musicians board the buses to busque for money, and we watched the cops harass and search a few of them. We asked Cleya, the Generacion’s social worker, who works with the kids in these streets every day if she is ever frightened of the pimps and drug dealers that she is interrupting. She says the only people she is afraid of are the police.

We waited for our van to pick us up on a corner packed with young prostitutes half my height. They all know Cleya and they rush to see her when we walk up to the curb. One young man greets each of us three times. He has glue all over the front of his shirt and is still holding the bag in his hand. As we drive away, the girls wave goodbye, and we see our friend La China walking down to the corner to join the girls. She is seventeen, pregnant with twins, and has a fresh bruise on the side of her face.

Very rarely have I been aware of a pivotal moment in my life. But I know with certainty that I will never be the same after today. I saw, smelled, and heard things that I have no context for in my own life. I was scared and I resented myself for being scared. I felt grateful that these people are willing to share their homes and their stories with a group of privileged Americans. I felt lost and angry.

I also feel extreme appreciation for the work that these organizations do in Lima. Everyone we’ve visited targets children raised in unfair and brutal situations, trying to break the cycle. Generacion has been working for 25 years. Some of the Jesuits we met have been working here for 40 years. For several decades they have been working with this community, witnessing tragedy after tragedy, all in the same pattern, and they haven’t given up. These people have given everything they have to the betterment of a small and seemingly unimportant population. They are an unbelievable inspiration.

When I return to the states, I hope this feeling of change stays with me. I never want to forget the bruise on La China’s face of the way the smell of glue makes my skin crawl. I want to appreciate every little thing that is given to me without repercussion or exploitation. I want to stop judging. People are not born homeless. They are not born violent. They are molded by elements out of their control. I want to go home and face people who are different, or even those who scare me, not with disdain and apprehension, but with tenderness.

Day Five: The Surfing Tribe

To preface this entry, I’d like to express how exhausted I am. Though today’s activity’s were not emotionally draining like the other events this week, today felt impossibly long.

We had an early breakfast before we walked down to the house of the Surfing Tribe in San Bartolo. The house is one of Generacion’s illegal shelters. It’s registered as a community center, but it serves as a home for 18 kids, many of whom have grown up there.

When the kids were moved to the house, they were given a few surfboards since they would now be living just a couple of blocks from the ocean. With nothing but time on their hands, they took to the sport quickly. They are now some of the best surfers in Peru, and several of them are sponsored. Almost more amazingly, they are almost all in school and a few are heading to college.

At the house, we all introduced ourselves and then the Tribe played a few songs for us. After a small meal, the Tribe explained their fight for children’s rights to work. They explained that if kids are not allowed to sell pens and play music on the streets, they will turn back to stealing or prostitution, easy and lucrative businesses. The establishment of this right is one of the main focuses for this group of kids. After our talk, we headed down to the beach for some surfing lessons. The boys were very patient with us, considering that I don’t have enough upper body strength to do a single push up, and our Spanish vocabularies don’t extend to water sports. I didn’t manage to get up on the board, to my dismay.

We went back to the house for lunch, and then the boys in charge of the tribe said that they wanted to take us for a hike. In a group of about twenty people ranging in age from 6 to 21 years old, we walked and played for several hours, visiting three different coastal towns.

The dynamic of the group is fascinating. I found myself thinking of them as the real-life Lost Boys. There are only a few girls in the group. The Surfing Tribe is both male-dominated and kid-dominated. Incredibly, they are a well-functioning clan of self-governing orphans. Most seem to be immature for their age, but they clearly care about each other, and the mere fact that the Tribe functions at all is a testament to these children’s resilience and drive.

We will all be sad to leave the Surfing Tribe. As we walked away after a nighttime soccer game, the smallest children ran after us, asking when they will see us again. I wanted to say soon. The children here are an incredible success story. It is such a relief to finish a day here in good spirits. I can’t be sure that the children understand how fortunate they are, despite the circumstances that brought them to Generacion, but I think that they are grateful. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be so caring towards each other and so dedicated to the fight for children’s rights. Today, though exhausting, was a very inspiring day.

Day Four: El Ojo Que Llora

Today was a big day. First we hopped on the bus to go to Pachacamac, a pre-Incan ruin site. In the ancient city there are visible ruins from four different civilizations from 300 AD to the Inca in 1400 AD. Due to underfunding, only a small number of the temples and houses have been excavated, and most of the temples have been looted. A large portion of the tour consisted of our guide pointing to large mounds of sand and describing what lies underneath, waiting to be dug up.

After we left Pachacamac, we went to the national museum to see the exhibit focused on Peru’s two-decade civil war. After the war, the Committee for Truth and Reconciliation announced that 69,000 Peruvians had been killed in the struggle. Since this number was published, several more mass graves have been found. The number is probably closer to 75,000. Thousands more were arrested by the government never to be seen again. These are the desaparecidos–the disappeared.

I was strongly impacted by the exhibit. The hundreds of photos that adorned the walls were both incredible and horrendous. Rarely does an image capture the depth of emotion in the actual situation. These pictures displayed such dismay and desperation that I was left speechless, uneasy, and restless by the sheer force of the captured moment.

Many photos inhabit my field of vision when I look back on the day. One of the most prominent is a photo of Abimael Guzman, the leader of Shining Path, the terrorist group that began the war. In the image he is raising his fist triumphantly and defiantly beside the corpse of a comrade.

This is the image of a madman, excited by blood and invigorated by the contagious effects of his black charisma. Looking at it, I was shaken. Shaken and ashamed that I had never even heard of the atrocities that had been committed in Peru within my lifetime. This devastating effect of the Cold War is not even broached in our schools.

We left the museum in silence. When we boarded the bus, the driver was listening to “American Idiot”.

The next stop of our trip was the monument El Ojo Que Llora–The Eye that Cries. The memorial is a labyrinth, representing the confusion and misrepresentation of our paths in life. Each stone in the labyrinth bears the name of a victim of the war and the year that they died. At the center is a stone fountain with the abstract of a face. Water courses from the eye.

In 2007, fifteen supporters of the ex-president and mass-murderer Fujimori came to the memorial with guns, sledge hammers and buckets of orange paint. Upset that the monument memorializes terrorists along with civilian victims, the fifteen destroyed the monument. Orange paint, the color of Fujimori, is still visible in the rock.

A friend of Generacion explained the significance of the monument. It is a tool of remembrance, of learning, and it is a sacred ground for families to pay respect to their loved ones whose bodies were never found. After she explained to us the importance of continuing the foundation of human rights and remembering that no group in Peru was innocent of human rights violations during this period, she handed out white flowers and told us to go find a name that we connected with. I placed my flower on two adjacent stones bearing the names of two siblings, ages 3 and 7.

After we left El Ojo, we visited the headquarters of Generacion. The beautiful old house used to be a home for just under 100 street kids. It was located in a poor area, and the organization employed most of the neighbors. But the neighborhood eventually turned their economic situation around and began to complain of the presence of street children. The church down the block sided with the new neighbors, since these children, famous for their drug addiction and prostitution, are incredibly stigmatized in Lima.

In 2006, police declared the house illegal and raided Generacion, smashing the lights, the toilets, and nearly everything else that made it possible for the kids to live there. Generacion kept offices in the building, but had to close their doors to the children. Most were put back onto the streets. The smallest, who would have died, were moved to Lucy’s house, where they lived for the rest of their childhood. One of these children, Marisol, has just been accepted to a Jesuit university in Lima, where she will begin classes in the fall.

The kids in my group left Generacion energized and full of ideas for fundraising and donating to the cause. I was not feeling as hopeful as most of my friends. The problems of the street children seem impossibly daunting. The church refuses to help–they won’t even allow the kids to be baptized. The government will not help because Generacion criticizes their work. Peruvian culture is not one of giving or helping, despite their strong religious sector. Most devastating is perhaps the fact that almost all of the men who pay these young girls for sex are either taxi drivers or policemen.

It seems as if the entire society is poisoned. What was once a culturally rich and forward thinking country for a thousand years AD, as proven by the amazing architectural and engineering feats we saw this morning at Pachacamac, is now stagnant, resentful, and prejudiced. After twenty years of civil war and utter devastation that left no citizen unaffected, there is still rampant hatred amongst social groups and an unwillingness to help each other.

I am willing to help. I want to help. I am desperate to help.

I think what Generacion does is an inspiration. They stay positive in a world of negative. They push through periods without funding, periods when the government is breathing down their necks and newspapers accuse them of helping criminals. I have a lot to learn from them. I just hope I also have something to give.

Day Three: Veronika’s House

A bit of background: In the 1980s Peru was in the midst of an extremely bloody civil war. The majority of the violence was centered in the countryside, where the resistance army was gathering child soldiers. Many children fled rural Peru and came to find salvation in the streets of Lima.

At the end of the war, when Fujimori came to power, he pledged to clean up the streets, which were heavily populated by the new wave of homeless youth. Fujimori accomplished this cleansing by sending out death squads during the night to shoot the street children.

Generacion, the organization we are observing in Peru, was created in response to this crisis. Lucy Borjas, who had been working to spread HIV awareness in Peruvian schools, switched her focus when street children came to her begging for somewhere to sleep where they would be safe from Fujimori’s soldiers.

25 years later, the homelessness and sex trafficking in the streets of Lima are still a prevalent issue. The system of sex trafficking and the establishment of pimps and prostitutes is almost entirely established within the juvenile detention facilities in Peru. The government’s response to Lima’s troubled youth does not simply aggravate the problem, it makes it possible, and the government-sponsored safe houses are merely breeding grounds for further abuse. Lucy and a few other psychologists work in the streets of Lima every day, spreading information and support to the women and children still living in the streets. Few of the people involved in Generacion ever make it out of their cycle of drug addiction and prostitution, but a handful make it out of the streets and into a shelter. Today we visited Casa Veronika, one of Generacion’s private safehouses.

Casa Veronika is in a secret location south of Lima. It is a house for women who escape sex trafficking and their children. On the property, they are taught to cook and sew, and each girl is responsible for taking care of one plant in the backyard.

When the women arrive at Casa Veronika, they are broken. The location of the house is kept secret not only because the operation is illegal, but because the women who live there have done the unthinkable and the unforgivable. They have run away from their pimps. Despite this act of bravery, the women at the house have no sense of self worth. They have been told for their entire lives that they are trash and that they are prostitutes because they are not capable of anything else.

The vast majority of the pimps in Lima are women. The sexual exploitation is a vicious cycle, in which former prostitutes become the ringleaders. Women who have spent their entire lives believing that they are garbage believe that the young women who grew up in the same streets under the same circumstances are no different. It takes years to reverse this way of thinking.

Veronika, who the house was named after, was sold into sex slavery when she was eleven years old. She was well-known at Generacion and a beloved friend to many of the street children. Soon after Veronika shared her story with Generacion, they were informed that Veronika’s body had been found in a garbage dump. She had been killed by one of her clients.

Veronika’s story is an embodiment of why Generacion is so important and why the women in the streets need a safe space like Casa Veronika. Today we met Veronika’s best friend and many other women at the house, where we spent a day telling stories, eating together, and talking about solutions.

Many of the women who were so stand-offish at the beach were at the house. Away from the men and in their own space, the women were much more talkative and active in the day’s activities. To begin, we each introduced ourselves, talked about where we are from, what we like to do, and what our favorite food is. There was a lot of laughter during this session and I felt much more comfortable than I had the entire previous day.

After the women had told their stories, we made posters to answer questions like “Why do boys, girls, and adolescents leave their homes?” and “Why is it so hard to leave the streets?” This activity was less comfortable for those of us who had absolutely no personal experience to contribute, and my sub-par Spanish certainly didn’t help.

It was inspiring to watch the women who had lived through these tragedies talk openly about their experiences and fully throw themselves into the exercise. The pimp who had been at the beach was in my small group for this activity. She stayed almost as quiet as I did, but she was shockingly supportive of the women who were making the poster. They appeared to be friends.

After we shared what we had made, we gathered in the shade for lunch, where the groups were wonderfully diverse. Laura, Preshi and I sat with two women, 16 and 20, who split their time between talking to us and laughing to each other about the grammatically disastrous things we said. The 20-year-old has two daughters, one of whom is one month old and incredibly tiny. The father is currently in prison. The 16-year-old does not have any children. At first, we had nothing to talk about and I was concerned about making conversation. By the end of the conversation, we had talked about Cuban politics, dialects of language in India, and Laura had attempted to explain what “transgender” is in broken Spanish. We laughed about the absurdity of the conversation topics for the rest of the day.

I walked away from Casa Veronika feeling better than I had they day before. The work that Generacion is doing there is inspiring. They live, laugh, and work with women who are still living on the streets, selling themselves and huffing glue on a daily basis. They provide love and support for girls who treat them with spite and resentment. They invite anyone who wants to change their lifestyle to stay with them, regardless of their history or even their current occupation. We talked to many girls who had lived at Casa Veronika in their teens and were able to get real jobs when they moved out, something that they never would have allowed themselves to dream of when they were living in the streets.

Along with the inspiration, there was a definite feeling of hopelessness. Though the Peruvian women were consistently positive about the situation, to me it seemed a daunting and futile effort. These practices of sex trafficking are so powerful and engrained in the culture. The policemen beat and sleep with the children just like other adult figures in their lives. Many girls’ families are the ones pushing them into prostitution, and owning their own body means turning their back on their loved ones.

This problem is not going away. Casa Veronika, which accepts any girl brave enough to break away from the sex trade, only has nine girls living there now. The wonderful work they’re doing does not make a dent in the issue at hand.

San Francisco is one of the highest sex trafficking cities in the world. How can we help these girls in Peru, who are so open and positive about their tragedies, when we cannot even face our own issues at home?