At thirteen, Rachel Lloyd found herself caught up in a world of pain and abuse, struggling to survive as a child with no responsible adults to support her. Vulnerable yet tough, she eventually ended up a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. It took time and incredible resilience, but finally, with the help of a local church community, she broke free of her pimp and her past.
Three years later, Lloyd arrived in the United States to work with adult women in the sex industry and soon founded her own nonprofit—GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services—to meet the needs of other girls with her history. She also earned her GED and won full scholarships to college and a graduate program. Today Lloyd is executive director of GEMS in New York City and has turned it into one of the nation's most groundbreaking nonprofit organizations.
It takes a great deal of effort for me to step out of my reading comfort zone and pick up something that I know to be challenging either in content or perspective. Girls LIke Us accomplished both of those goals. This book is many things - memoir, essay, social commentary - all bound in a remarkable, sometimes heartbreaking, yet redemptive package.
Author Rachel Lloyd takes real stories, those we hide from, yet know to be true, and shines her light of honesty and pure compassion on what she sees everyday. She is able to guide the reader gently but firmly through the maze of ugliness; she is a gifted writer, beloved mentor, and relentless advocate. I appreciate her candor and skill in challenging the common assumptions many of us may have with domestic slavery:
"Many parents don't trust their own sixteen-year-old to drive their car, pick their own "good enough" friends or stay home alone for hte weekend without hosting a party. Yet interestingly, I've met lots and lots of adults who feel that a sixteen-year-old is completely mature enough to be considered fully capable of making the choice to be in the sex industry. ...It's an unwise choice to meet a stranger in person whom you've met only on MySpace, not brilliant decision making to get in someone's car when you barely know them, nor is it a great idea to run away from home with six dollars in your pocket and nowhere to go. Yet none of these "choices" are the same thing as "choosing" to be in the commercial sex industry - even if they end up leading down that path." (pg 79-80)
Lloyd's work doesn't stop with mentoring the girls out of their tragic lifestyle, but also to educate - changing attitudes and laws that will help the victims break free and start again without condemnation or criminalization. I urge you to read it, even though it may be painful or unpleasant, it is ultimately hopeful with an ending that remains to be written.
Often when I finish a story with lasting effects, I am left with a glaring "now what"? Wondering if there is a way I can help, but maybe feeling helpless instead. Besides the author's website for GEMS, there is an organization that is dear to me, started by a good friend and busy mom of four whose heart was moved by this issue.
Change Purse encourages hope through raising awareness about human trafficking and by investing into the lives of rescued women and children.
Change Purse will use the proceeds from the sales of the purses to continue raising awareness and investing in the lives of women and children rescued from Human Trafficking. We are very excited to be sponsoring a great organization called the Hope House. Hope House’s Mission is to provide a place of seclusion, restoration, and healing for domestic minor sex trafficking victims (U.S. girls under 18 yrs. old). The Hope House is a faith-based program.
You can read more about their story, ongoing work, and how to help by visiting their website: CHANGE PURSE.
My takeaway? I had begun working on a series of purse collages while reading this book. And all the pieces clicked for me - that I could donate them to Change Purse to use or sell at their discretion. I am pleased and honored by the decision to give a Limited Edition Purse print as a thank you gift with each $100 donation.
The first in the series is here:
And finally, because I think Girls Like Us is a must read, I'm giving away a copy in the hope the winner will pass it along to more readers. Just leave me a note in the comments - if you share this link via twitter, fb, or your blog/website let me know and I'll give you an extra entry for each.