Danna's Reviews > Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself

Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd
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Jun 18, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: about-the-world, favorites, feminism, recommended
Read from June 12 to 18, 2011

This is a book that everyone should read. Rachel Lloyd tells her story of sexual exploitation as a young girl, how she finally escaped the grips of her pimp, and made the decision to start working with other young girls and women. Lloyd grew up in England in a rough and tumultuous home. As a teen, she ran away to Germany, where penniless and frightened, she started working as a stripper. Her stories are heartbreaking and real. She is graphic in her depictions of physical abuse; the story is frequently painful to read.

The woman she has become is marvelous and beautiful. At age 23, Lloyd came to NYC to start working for a nonprofit organization. Through her work with other girls, she was able to heal her wounds, and become a serious activist. The main point of "Girls Like Us" is to drive home that there are no teen prostitutes. Lloyd explains that there are sexually exploited and trafficked girls - these girls are victims, with no choices, who are forced into "the life." She is emphasizing and re-emphasizing that commercial sexual trafficking occurs everyday, here in the US, with American girls.

Lloyd founds GEMS, a nonprofit organization, where she pushes to change legislation that penalizes adolescent girls for being bought by older men. Lloyd wants these girls to stay out of jail, and get into treatment. GEMS provides a safe harbor in NYC where the trafficked girls can go for love, support, and leadership skills.

The door at GEMS is constantly revolving: almost all of the girls go back to their pimps over and over again. Escaping "the life" is an uphill battle for these teenagers. The "love" of their pimps is often the only care they've ever received, and their lives on the "track" is the only normal one. Lloyd has seemingly infinite patience and zero judgment. Each time a girl returns, she welcomes them with the same love and support. Eventually, many of the girls leave "the life," and with the help of GEMS, go on to finish high school, get jobs, and create something with their lives. The beauty and camaraderie that forms between the girls is healing, and for the reader - breathtaking.

Throughout the book, I felt like I was repeatedly getting punched in the gut. I would fill up with tears after reading a single sentence. For example: "Incest is bootcamp for prostitution." Or when Rachel is sitting with her first real girlfriend, who has forgotten to get her husband a cup of tea, and Rachel naively asks, "Why didn't he hit you?" For me, that sentence succinctly sums up how perfectly normal physical abuse was for Lloyd.

"Girls Like Us" spans a period of over 15 years. The reader gets to experience everything from Lloyd's childhood, her terrifying adolescence, emerging adulthood, and evolution into an educated and successful young woman. Alongside Lloyd's development is the growth of GEMS, and many of the GEMS girls.

As I said in the beginning, I feel this is a book that everyone should read. It reframes issues of social justice and child exploitation. Lloyd makes clear that the US has a long way to go in terms of how it treats its young girls and women. So many of the books we read today are stories of survivors from around the world: I've read dozens of stories by women from Cambodia or Nigeria or some other faraway place who have escaped lives of sexual exploitation and abuse. It is so easy for a woman like me to forget or ignore what is happening right in our own communities. "Girls Like Us" is a painful and poignant reminder that change needs to happen here in the US - now.
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02/16 marked as: read

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