(WXYZ) — This Woman's History Month, we are looking at gender-specific challenges that still exist today. One of those is the exploitation of young women and girls.
It's a growing problem in metro Detroit and across the state, but Alternatives For Girls is an organization helping the most vulnerable populations in our community.
Local statistics show that 83% of homeless youth under 18 are female. Unfortunately, women and girls without stable homes are more likely to engage in sex work whether by choice or by force.
Mariyah Farris found herself in that situation starting at the age of 12. Now, she has a home and two steady jobs, but it took a long time to get there, and she said there are still days where stability feels unnatural.
"Even when I had my own place, when I first got it, I was never there. I was in rooms and stuff like that," she said.
At 12 years old, Mariyah was sold into sexual slavery. A few years later, she started living on the streets, and by 17, she was trading sex for money.
"Even when things are not okay, the day must go on. That's one thing I learned, everybody still has those days where they struggle," she said.
Mariyah didn't always think that way. In her darkest times, life felt meaningless – until she got to Alternatives for Girls.
"I looked at myself like I didn't matter, that my body didn't matter, that my future didn't matter," she said. "There was no future. Every day was a constant battle whether I wanted to stay here or not."
Thanks to people like Amy Good and Celia Thomas, Mariyah came to know her own worth. Beyond that, she found people who were going through the same thing.
"You guys have done more for me than you understand," Mariyah said.
"There's something very crucial about sharing power with one another and that power can just be the power of recognition," Good added.
When girls first arrive, they tend to be skittish and skeptical. That's why Alternatives for Girls believes in a tempered approach.
"It is usually just a matter of being patient and continuing to be available to girls and women, and they'll come around at some point and we are going to be here," Thomas added.
All Mariyah ever knew was abandonment, fear and disappointment. Now, when she looks in the mirror, she sees a woman capable of greatness.
"I know I want to travel in life. I want to see different things and then I want to tell people my story and help them, but at the same time, own my own businesses," Mariyah said.
Now, Mariyah is in the process of starting her own business called Custom Creations. She makes candles and house decor.
AFG's mission, according to their website, is "To help homeless and high-risk girls and young women avoid violence, teen pregnancy and exploitation, and help them to explore and access the support, resources and opportunities necessary to be safe, to grow strong and to make positive choices in their lives."