What is the difference between a teenage prostitute and a commercial sexually exploited teenage girl? You will learn this when you read this book by an author who has been there, done that, suffered through it and yet managed to turn her life around. Thereafter she established an organization in New York called GEMS, acronym for Girls Educational and Mentoring Service, a safe house for commercially sexually exploited teenage girls.
The author, Rachel, was the daughter of an unstable, poor mother and Robert, a man who may or may not have been her father, but who physically abused both her mother and her, finally abandoning them. Unable to face his desertion, Rachel's mother, already a drunk became immobilized in liquor and depression, totally ignoring Rachel as there was no room in her life from then on for her daughter. Rachel was glad the man was gone for he beat on her often. Rachel spent little or no time at home, meeting her needs through shoplifting and running with her peers. However, in Rachel's earlier years, her mother had been loving and took care of her. This gave Rachel a foundation when she was out of her teens to straighten out her own life and become what she now is.
However, when thirteen, needing and seeking love and protection, she fell into the same trap that other teenage girls, ages generally from twelve to eighteen do. She met a suave man who took her to dinner, spoke softly and gently to her, made her believe he cared about her and then took her to his room and introduced her to sex. This man became her family, her Daddy, the only one who loved her and cared about her, but as time passed, he beat her up often for not enticing more johns more quickly, earning more money, explicitly following orders or just because he was in the mood to make her suffer.
1997 was the end of the crack era. The idea is out there that most of these girls are drug addicted, but they are not. They are "love" addicted. Their desire for love is so great that they, in their youth and innocence, believe a kindness extended to them by their boyfriend (their pimp) is love, which keeps them under control and causes them to tolerate beatings, torture and murder, in some instances. More Black and Latino girls than White girls suffer from poverty, physical and sexual abuse within their families in their young lives, which make more of them susceptible to being out on the streets under the control of pimps.
From the author's own words, "The gang culture replicated the family unit for children who found their support systems in the street. 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....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." Girls who had non-existent fathers or abusive relationships with fathers are easily drawn to a pimp who calls himself Daddy.
Throughout the book, Rachel gives many case histories of girls whom she has either rescued or attempted to rescue through the organization of GEMS. She describes almost every type of situation that exists. She also alerts the reader that most, but not all policeman, consider these teenagers to be prostitutes rather than victims forced into sex and thus are not sympathetic to their needs when they are either arrested on the street or are found beat up or try to complain about violence against them. She explains the differences between pedophiles, pimps and johns.
Rachel's experiences and case histories are generally in the New York City area, but acknowledges that the same conditions are prevalent in other large metropolitan areas. Social and governmental policies have been particularly destructive to children in the sense that children in poor neighborhoods frequently receive a substandard education, are subjected to lead paint in poorly constructed buildings, have higher rates of asthma, and fewer recreational or green spaces where entire neighborhoods have been abandoned. Children born into these conditions are more susceptible to the dangers of commercially sexually exploited teenagers.
Children are vulnerable because they are children; their hormones are raging; they desire to belong; they are subjected to confusing messages about sex and love; and with the usual desire of teenagers to be independent, thus are ripe for plucking by pimps who understand the needs of these female children for love and can skillfully manipulate them into being forced or coerced into being sold for sex.
Throughout the book, Rachel gives flashbacks of her life on the streets, her experiences with her boyfriend pimps and it was after she almost died from a beating by a pimp boyfriend, that she had an epiphany and joined a church, which became her salvation. Thereafter she finished her GED, attended college and set up GEMS with the help of others. But she also makes it clear that through the years in dealing with government officials, that often something is said that is disrespectful to her as a woman because she has never denied her background, which, has been to her advantage when trying to help these unfortunate girls who know she understands their plight and condition.
The books flows well, reads well and is highly instructive. I would recommend this book even as a text book for anyone who is a social worker, politician, law enforcement officer or even a foster home provider. It gives an entirely different viewpoint about teenage girls thought of as teen prostitutes and of teen children whose lives have thrown them into this den of lions.
on April 24, 2011
I hesitated to read this book because I am a survivor of sex abuse and the mother of a small child. I feared that the book might send me into depression. Amazingly, Ms. Lloyd's story provokes not only disgust, rage, and sadness, but also hope. Thank you, Ms. Lloyd, for your dedication to these girls.
on April 5, 2011
Girls Like Us is a book that is at times tragic, poignant, even funny - but always incredibly powerful. It should be required reading for everyone. Through the author's willingness to be utterly transparent, we are shown a world in which young girls are denied the opportunity to be children; where grown men participate in and profit from the commercial sexual exploitation of thousands of little girls. It's a world where minors are prosecuted as adults for crimes of which they are the real victim, and the people they should be able to count on to protect them are quite often the very ones who destroy them.
Our culture has an incredibly twisted view of the "sex industry". In Girls Like Us we read about girls like Sienna, who is beaten and left for dead by the side of the road by a man who "purchased" her for sex - and in the hospital she is put in a room with a Little Mermaid curtain, because that's standard in a child's room. And Sienna is a child.
There were times, while reading this book, that I almost felt overwhelmed and completely discouraged. Times when I had to stop reading because I was crying so hard. But Rachel Lloyd never gives up, and through her writing we eventually feel the same sense of empowerment - the sense of the incredible potential of these girls. The message is clear: if this tragic exploitation is ever going to stop, we have to stand up and do something. And she gives us tools and ideas for action that anyone can accomplish. Simply knowing it is happening makes us responsible to do whatever we can to help these children who so desperately need love and understanding and safety.
I really can't say enough about the importance of this subject. It is very disturbing and completely heartbreaking, but Ms. Lloyd manages with grace and courage to open our eyes.
on April 17, 2011
Girls Like Us is both the best memoir and the best general introduction about commercial sexual exploitation of children ever written. Despite being a ground-breaking exploration of the darkest corner of our society, Girls Like Us is filled with hope, entertaining insight, and humor. It is really great -- an Erin Brockovitch for the new decade.
I received this book as a sample to read through Amazon Vine Voice. In Girls Like Us, Rachel LLoyd doesn't just write a memoir, she writes an expose about the child sexploitation "industry." Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the sex industry - Family, Pimp, Johns, Recruitment, etc, and tells it from the point of view of her girls and her own experience. This book is an educational tool that would be great for college classes in trauma, child pscyhology, social work, or any other mental health or social injustice field. It gives people a different perspective on the topic. By the end of the book, the reader understands that there are many socio-economic and familial factors that affect the paths that people take. Unfortunately, in Girls Like Us, young girls have serious adult decisions to make and are manipulated into making them. I will be honest: This is a heavy topic. It's like reading an unedited, uncensored episode of Law & Order: SVU. It's a great book and worth reading, but you must take your time.
on April 25, 2011
Human trafficking is a deep concern for me. I've read books and web articles by those who work to help the victims of trafficking. I made it a point to listen to Laura Lederer, the former head of the State Department task force on human trafficking, at a talk at the local university. I'm versed in the issue.
But nothing prepared me for Rachel Lloyd's story.
That's because she lived the life of a victim of trafficking.
The subtitle for the book is: Fighting For A World Where Girls Are Not For Sale, An Activist Finds Her Calling And Heals Herself. This sums up the content of the book well. The book is told from Rachel's point of view, but it is not a straight-forward memoir or autobiography.
The book is organized by different topics that affect girls who end up trafficked for sex: family neglect and abuse, pimps, johns, cops and legal authorities, trying to escape, relapse, and healing. The story is fully engaging by alternating Rachel's experiences of falling into the sex industry in Germany as a teenager to how other girls she's worked with since have had similar problems. All along she is discussing the issue at the heart of the chapter - whether it is the men who provide the demand, the problems with existing laws in dealing with the issue, or the work of people to provide a way out.
Rachel survived drugs, alcohol, abuse, and death threats. Upon leaving the industry and her pimp, she found a church in German military base where she started her healing process. When she came to the States in 1997, she started working with girls who ended up forced into prostitution. She eventually started GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, to work with victims in New York. The book is gripping with the details of Rachel's own trials and those of the women she is serving.
The book does a lot of education, using the themes above to discuss issues and misconceptions related to prostitution. She challenges the mindset that teen girls choose this lifestyle, the influence of pop culture on glorifying pimps and the control involved, and the way advocates are working to address the problems of the legal system in working with these kids. However, it is not preachy or lecturing. Instead, the heart is impacted by the stories of the Jasmines, Tiffanys, Aishas, and Rachel herself.
Reading this book deeply affected me. The prologue made me want to read all day, so I moved on. After reading the first chapter, I had to stop because I was shocked. I wasn't turned off, but I needed a break.
The book convicted me as a man in the ways, however small, I contribute to the sexual glorification of women, because this snowballs into lust that puts these vulnerable girls at risk. It made me want to do what I can to help combat the problem, whether on the side of demand or helping the victims. My passion is increased because my compassion is engaged.
The problem of human trafficking is real. There are more slaves in the world today than during the height of the African slave trade. It isn't just an international problem. Rachel shows the readers how it is a problem right here in the United States. I believe anyone with a heart for the victim of poverty, injustice, and abuse should read this book to understand it a little better.
Book received through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.
A few months ago, I was browsing Netflix and came across a documentary called Very Young Girls, which was about sexually exploited teenagers trying to survive in the streets of New York. It was hard to watch, but I couldn't stop thinking about it; about how brave those girls were to show their faces and share their stories, and how amazing Rachel Lloyd was to create a place for them to call home and help them re-learn (or learn!) their worth so they could go out there and shine instead of be beaten down by circumstances.
When I saw that Rachel's book was available on Vine, I JUMPED at the chance to get my hands on a copy; I was stalking my mailbox for it! The moment I started it, I wasn't able to put it down. Just like the documentary, it is unflinching and brave and has the bonus of being masterfully written. What I love most about the book is the way she deftly weaves her honest story and history of her mission, the story of the girls she loves and saves, the story of society's treatment of them and possible solutions together, outside of GEMS. She is highly educated, yet street savvy and hip, and her voice in the book exemplifies that, making it even more of a delight to read, despite its disturbing content. You root for her and the girls as you turn the pages and most importantly, you begin to ask yourself what YOU can do. So that is why this book is CRUCIAL for anyone who cares about teenage girls, has one, loves one, or used to be one. The problem is right before us and is bigger and closer than we think. Because of Rachel and GEMS, these girls now have hope and there are organizations like GEMS popping up to help the girls all over the country in the same predicaments.
While there are sad stories involving girls who are unable to leave the life or have gone through hell to finally come to that decision, there are happy endings - many of the girls who were sentenced to (more like luckily adopted by) GEMS become outreach workers, advocates/staff in some capacity and want to reach out to the women whose struggles they know all too well in order to help them create LIVES. The book also has an excellent structure - chapters describing the siren song of the life to a physically overdeveloped, emotionally starved adolescent, the pimps, the johns, the hazards, the police, the entire WORLD one descends into with her story as a backdrop, and then the way out. Or not. Thankfully because of increased awareness, girls are being treated as such instead of being introduced into hopeless institutionalization before they are even of age to consent to such awful acts.
Look at the most recent case of Lawrence Taylor who was with an underage commercially sexually exploited victim. He didn't know, and most of these men don't. They don't care. But someone has to. These girls often come from homes where love and caring are nonexistent and unwittingly jump from bad situations into living nightmares. And because they are so young, they are easy to manipulate and almost destroy.
People like Rachel do care and once you read this book you will, too, even more than you had ever imagined. Do SOCIETY a favor and read this book and then do what you can to make sure that these girls know that they are GEMS, no matter where they came from, and that they can shine just like Rachel is right now. Do yourself a favor and watch Very Young Girls on Netflix RIGHT NOW so when your book arrives you already know just how powerful Rachel and these very young and lovely girls are.
on June 19, 2013
I've only recently become much of a reader.
My ADHD usually gets the best of me--five books at a time without finishing one.
This book will keep you on target and glued to your seat--so ADHD people take note :-)
As a male, hopefully it will help you understand that prostitutes are not commodities that you can buy, sell, and then go home.
Just because you pay for the service doesn't make it a legitimate business transaction--for that to happen it would have to be good for both the buyer and the seller. Transactions for the services of a prostitute aren't good for either party. (I'm a male)
I don't think anyone wakes up and suddenly realizes they've accomplished their childhood dreams by becoming a prostitute. This book will not only drive that point out of the park, but more importantly, it will help you to understand that it happens for a variety of reasons--and none of them are good.
The worst part of the whole picture is what happens after the dollars have changed hands--and what happens to make the sale possible.
For the ladies, I'm not one so I'm not sure what to say except maybe have your man read it--he needs to hear the message. Internet pornography is pushing a tsunami whether you realize it or not. That's not what the books about, but that's where it's going without awareness. I think this book provides a great starting place to help make men more aware of how their actions could have a catastrophic impact on another human being and their family. If they look at pornography long enough, they will most likely act out--it's not harmless. If you suspect they watch it or you've caught them there's a pretty good chance it's happening more frequently than you realize. Google some statistics--men are hardwired for visual stimulation,and that's what can get them in trouble. Sorry for the rant, this is a book review--but that's my take on the issue.
Rachel, thanks for helping me to understand. May God bless and keep the girls you've helped save and the ones that haven't been reached yet. If Big Boys don't cry then I'm not a Big Boy--I wept like a baby, so thanks for the commercial interruptions you built into the book that allowed me to stop crying long enough to finish the book. Thanks for standing up in a world that would rather have you sit down.
I have read numerous books on human trafficking/prostitution with kids but it was always about other countries. Not here in the US. Although I knew that it happened here, I did not know how bad it actually was. The book gave many insights on very young girls that have been or are out there being used for sex. The things these girls go through and the backgrounds in which they come from. There were statistics, facts, etc that helped put perspective on everything.
The author even flashes back in places and tells her own story of being in the sex trade as a young girl. She lets you see what she went through and why. Also, how she got herself out of there and started an organization called GEMS that helps girls in these types of situations.
I enjoyed the book. I took off a star because the author came across to me as being a bit grandiose. Also, I understand the need to make people understand where these girls are coming from and that they are not to blame but sometimes it became repetitive and almost felt "preachy". With that, it is still a good read and gives out an important message.
on April 5, 2011
I confess...I struggled for words to update folks while reading Rachel Lloyd's Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself. It is an amazing book (part memoir, part call to action) but my usual "I'm enjoying it" or "I love it" doesn't really work when the subject is the sexual exploitation of girls and teens. I can confidently give five stars to the book (provided to me by the folks at Harper), but still don't know the exact words I want to use.
Lloyd is a survivor herself. She ended up in the sex industry after fleeing an unhealthy home and turning to exotic dancing to make ends meet when traditional jobs turned her away due to her youth. She ultimately suffers at the hands of an abusive man who sells her body and treats her as property but who is able to control her, in part, because of her emotional vulnerability. Lloyd becomes an advocate for girls and young women (as young as eleven!) whose bodies have been co-opted by men and who learn to believe that they are worth only as much as they can bring in for their pimp each night. Lloyd helps an outsider understand what makes these girls vulnerable and how they fall under such harsh control. She also shows how difficult it can be, emotionally and financially, to flee this life once captured by it. The book is deeply upsetting but does express hope that these girls and women can be saved if we open our eyes and admit they are there and that they exist. Lloyd calls upon us to recognize that the sex industry includes young girls and women in our own backyards, not just the more recognized international sex trade (which is, of course, also a horrid industry).
I often struggle with non-fiction "issue" books because I feel that they can struggle in terms of organization and thus can lose the attention of their reader (or, at least, lose MY attention). Lloyd deftly overcomes this, tracing issues and stages of exploitation and interspersing her own story and stories of the victims she has helped along with more factual data. She helps the reader to see past biases and assumptions and to recognize the lost, lonely, and frightened children hiding behind the sexy clothes, makeup, and stilettos.
Highly recommend for anyone interested in women's issues. I'm not in a position to do so these days, but I do hope to support Lloyd's work financially in the future.