Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself
by Rachel Lloyd
Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10
Summary: A thorough look at the child sex industry told by Rachel Lloyd, a young woman who was also a victim of commercial sex exploitation in her teens. Now dedicated to helping other young girls escape “the life,” Rachel started the groundbreaking nonprofit organization: GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services. A memoir that highlights Rachel’s story as well as pieces of the stories from young trafficked girls and women Rachel has worked with.
10 Grand Things about Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us
(May Contain Spoilers)
Through my job, being a state certified peer sexual assault counselor, and multiple trainings, I’m familiar with commercial sex trafficing but as with all important issues, there is always more to learn. Girls Like Us was full of important information as far as how many children are considered at risk of being a potential victim, what factors make a child more at risk, and really looks at what societal factors come into play as the commercial sex industry does not operate in a vacuum. All points are backed up by research, which are listed in “Notes”, as well as Lloyd’s own experience working in the field.
Numbers and statistics are all well and good but nothing drives a point home than a story. Rachel Lloyd’s story alone was so powerful but Girls Like Us is also filled with tiny pieces of individual girl’s true stories and it is so amazing. What many of these girls go through is unimaginable to us but a regular occurrence in “the life.” Their will to survive is astounding and for those that escape, absolutely inspiring.
3. The Life
Each chapter in Girls Like Us is focused on different elements of “the life”. Lloyd takes the readers through what risks in the family and community make it more likely for a girl to become sexually exploited. She then gives us a glimpse on how recruitment happens as well as the roles of the pimps, johns, and even cops have in the girls’ lives. Lloyd also focuses on the positives of how girls can get out of the life and turn things around for themselves.
Another factor that Lloyd tackles in Girls Like Us is the erroneous belief that the girls “choose” the life. And while many girls are not kidnapped into the sex industry, to think that these girls consciously made a fully educated decision and had other options is utterly wrong.
“In order for a choice to be a legitimate construct, you’ve got to believe that (a) you actually have possible alternatives, and (b) you have the capacity to weigh these alternatives against one another and decide on the best avenue. Commercially sexually exploited and trafficked girls have neither — their choices are limited by their age, their family, their circumstances, and their inability to weigh one bad situation against another, given their developmental and emotional immaturity. Therefore the issue of choice has to be framed in three ways: age-appropriate responsibility, the type of choice, and the context of the choice.”p. 78
With thinking that these girls made a choice and choose to be a prostitute, prostitution is inaccurately viewed as a victimless crime.
“Prostitution is viewed as a victimless crime, a statement that denies the humanity or victimhood of the women and girls involved. Women in the sex industry, and therefore trafficked and sexually exploited girls, are not believed to be capable of being hurt or raped. In fact, rather than being seen as victims, they’re seen as willing participants in their own abuse and are often perceived as having ‘asked for it’.”p. 126
This thinking prevents many sexually exploited girls and women from going to authorities to report being raped and/or abused and deters them from getting help to get out of the life.
Pimps are able to hold so much power of the girls and women they control through several tactics. One of course is through violence, the girls learn to fear stepping out of line because of the physically painful consequences they will endure for any real or perceived mistake. But more manipulative and powerful than violence, pimps make sure to create a family dynamic, a place where the girls feel that they belong and mistake the abuse they sustain as love.
“The desire for a family is so strong and so overpowering for most children that it doesn’t take much to create that illusion. Pimps play upon this desire by creating a pseudo-family structure of girls who are your ‘wives-in-law’ headed up by a man you call Daddy. The lessons that girls have been taught, implicitly and explicitly, about family and relationship dynamics are all fuel for the exploiters’ fire. The greater their need for attention and love, the easier, it is to recruit them. The more unhealthy the patterns they’ve learned, the less a pimp needs to break down, the less he needs to teach them. Growing up with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent sets the stage for caretaking and codependency patterns that are helpful in making girls feel responsible for taking care of their pimp. Violence in the home trains children to believe that abuse and aggression are normal expressions of love. Abandonment and neglect can create all types of attachment disorders that can be used to keep girls from ever leaving their exploiters.”p. 56-57
Manipulation and fear are the main tactics that keep girls and women in the life as well as the failing of society in believing that prostitution is a victimless crime that these girls and women choose to partake in. However, the other problem that can keep many girls and women in the life is the lack of services available to them, probably stemming from the false beliefs of the sex industry. As Lloyd shared in Girls Like Us, she worked with a girl who needed help and didn’t qualify for any because she wasn’t a drug addict. This girl went out and used drugs for the first time simply to be able to get into a program that would help her get out of the life. No one should be in this position! Services should already exist and be in place for any sexually exploited person to access.
8. Service Provider Costs
As someone who works in the mental health field and who has had the honor of hearing other people’s stories, I have to acknowledge that it takes a toll. While I love my work and am always willing to listen to another, I know that I trust people less than I used to, and that I understand too well the atrocities people are capable of doing to each other. Rachel Lloyd describes this so well:
“Mostly, though, it is just tough, sad work. I listen and listen to story after story of fatherless girls; motherless daughters; parents lost to the streets; drugs; prison; domestic violence turned murder; sexual abuse by an uncle, a cousin, a neighbor, a teacher; running away; being put in foster care… After a while, everywhere I look I see pain. Every teenage girl on the subway is a victim, or at least a potential victim. Every man, particularly middle-aged white men, the ones I most closely associated with johns, is a predator. I am both numb and oversensitive, overwhelmed by the need, the raw and desperate need of the girls, I am listening to and trying to help. I’m overdosing on the trauma of others”p. 28
9. Service Provider Benefits
On the flip side of the toll that comes with being a service provider is all the benefits that come with it and Lloyd makes sure to mention these as well in Girls Like Us. One being able to find meaning and purpose in life and for the pain we have endured. Another huge benefit of being a service provider that Lloyd mentions is learning and healing through our work in helping others. I can attest to the fact that I have probably learned more from the people I have worked with than they will ever learn from me even though I am the “professional.”
Probably the most important topic in Girls Like Us is the one about healing. Lloyd explains that one of the crucial aspects is to be consistent with support and to be prepared that the person being served may relapse and return to their old habits. Do not abandon them or take it personally. Any human being struggles with change and we tend to want to stay in the familiar, no matter how awful it is. Other important factors in the healing process is having a safe place with basic necessities, a nonjudgmental peer support group to share their story, as well as ways to feel empowered, to foster resiliency and develop new skills.