Home > Books, Nonprofits, Trafficking > Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd: a review

Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd: a review

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I just finished reading this book, Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd. At first, I didn’t feel inspired to write anything about it. I think because it touches a raw nerve, and also because there seems to be so much in the media these days, or in the recent past, about trafficking. But then, I read the following words:

When attention is paid to commercial sexual exploitation, law enforcement and public rhetoric focus their outrage on the pimps, rarely mentioning the johns, the buyers who fuel the industry…To ignore the demand side of the issue makes no sense and trivializes the harm done by the buyers…If asked who’s worse, pimps or johns, most [girls] would not be able to choose.

This really shocked me.

Before I read this part of the book, I’d been a bit fuzzy on what my preconceptions were because I haven’t spent any real time thinking about the sex industry. I don’t know about any of this first-hand. I do know that I would do anything I could to avoid selling my body for any reason. I’m guessing that most people feel the same. I think most people who sell their bodies, don’t have a choice. Certainly, the children out there being sold, don’t have a choice. It’s not like a 13 year-old wakes up one day and decides to make money by selling her body…it’s a series of events that conspire to leave a child with no alternative.

Rachel Lloyd agrees with me: “It is presumed somewhere along the line they [the girls] “chose” this life, and this damns them to be seen as willing participants in their own abuse.”

According to Rachel Lloyd, most don’t intend to sell their bodies, they take up with a guy who becomes a substitute parent “daddy” or boyfriend, and then they are forced (beaten) or coerced into the industry.

The problem with believing that girls “choose” to go into the sexual industry, is that it presumes that these girls actually have a choice.

The sex industry isn’t about choice, it’s about lack of choices.

….the issue of choice must be carefully framed and understood in the context of the individual and cultural factors facing girls at risk. The sex industry may initially appear to provide a life of economic freedom, independence, and a secure future with someone who loves them, in contrast to the bleak futures that they may believe are their only alternatives. Selling sex may seem like a small price to pay, particularly for girls who have been abused and raped. Combine the power of media images of young women as sexual objects with the girls’ familial and environmental situations and the trap is set.

Many girls, even in this country, are growing up in a society that does not provide real and viable opportunities for the future. At the same time, they’re living in a culture that increasingly teaches them that their self worth and value are defined by their sexuality…

If fact, Lloyd goes on to say that girls today might consider that their sexuality or body is their most precious possession and that if they feel as though they have nothing else to offer, they might as well sell it to the highest bidder.

As if being sexually exploited weren’t bad enough, these children are then mistreated by the authorities, often being picked up by police for prostitution and then blamed for not wanting to be helped:

The absurdity of having an explicit sexual conversation with a girl who is being abused by adult men every day, then arresting her and expecting her to talk to or “snitch” on the man she loves to the same male officers who had treated her both as a sexual object and as a criminal, is startling.

I watched sexually exploited girl after girl arrested and charged with an act of prostitution and struggled with getting the cops, the courts, the families, event the girls themselves to believe that they were truly victims…

Ironically, the pimps tend to get out of the system much faster than the children that are being abused by them, setting up a difficult dichotomy where even if the girls want to speak out against their pimps, they can’t because their pimps are threatening to hurt their loved ones. Llyod gives the example of Keisha who was picked up for prostitution (she was 13 at the time of her arrest). Her pimp was released the next morning on $20,000 bail while Keisha remained, four months later, in a juvenile detention center charged with an act of prostitution. She was unwilling to say anything against her pimp as he was now free to have his friends make threatening phone calls to her auntie’s house.

If you think that’s bad, wait, it gets worse:

In 2003, Gary Ridgway, the notorious “Green River Killer,” who for over two decades had preyed upon women in the sex industry, finally pled guilty to 48 counts of first-degree murder, although police suspected him of many more…27 of his known victims were under the age of 18 making him one of the most prolific child serial killers in the United States, yet all of the media accounts of the victims called them women, not children.

Why don’t these girls just leave? It’s not that simple (duh). Ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome?

When someone has the power to take your life but doesn’t, you feel grateful. It may not make logical sense, but it makes psychological sense…bonding with the abuser, makes sense because after all, he’s the one with the power to take your life…

As weird as that sounds, it is likely too that the relationships are not all bad — at least in the eyes of the children who have mostly come from abusive backgrounds. Llyod makes this point by explaining her relationship with her abuser:

Very few bad relationships are all bad. The same man who used to both physically and emotionally abuse me was the same man who would give me a pedicure and carefully paint my toenails, the same man who would make me the most elaborate breakfasts in bed, clean the house, make me laugh harder than anyone else could. If there had been nothing good, I wouldn’t have stayed.

This doesn’t change the fact, however, that Lloyd cannot count the number of times that this man tried to kill her or physically abused her so much that she often lost consciousness.

Also, we get back to the whole question of choice. If a girl doesn’t feel as though she had choices to begin with, what has changed to make that any different? In fact, she is now barred from leaving by her feelings of shame and even further lack of self-worth. She may be physically barred too, either by the control of her pimp, and/or physical damage to her body. If anything, she feels responsible for being in the situation she is in (even though, she still hasn’t reached the age of majority). She feels even more trapped than when she got into this situation. People this is a wake up call here. These are children with nowhere to turn.

…what makes the most different in whether a girl leaves or not when that door opens up is if she believes that she has options, resources, somewhere to go, and the support she’ll need once she’s out. Wihtout that glimmer of hope…it’s unlikely that she’ll leave.

So let’s see, we’ve got a child without choices, definite physical and likely emotional abuse, probably affected by Stockholm Syndrome and last but not least, experiencing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Traumatic responses can look different for different people. Some girls are numb, so accustomed to pushing down feelings and ignoring their own needs that it’s hard for them to feel anything at all. Others are consumed with anger that’s built up over time, a rage that’s directed at no one and everyone. Some girls struggle with trauma reenactment, a compulsion to re-create the same situations over and over, continually putting themselves in danger, trying to have a different outcome this time. Other girls crave some level of danger just to feel “alive”…In dangerous and traumatic situations, our bodies are in a fight-or-flight response, physiologically. Once the immediate danger has passed, we can begin to truly feel all of the pain and trauma that our minds and bodies have suppressed in order to function. For commercially sexually exploited girls who’ve experienced constant trauma, constant danger, their bodies and minds have been in a continual high alert with little respite to process the experiences they’ve had to suppress. It’s not until things calm down that their feelings surface, and it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not expecting them or don’t understand why they’re happening to you.

Trafficked and sexually exploited girls and young women need a place to hide and heal, but it is not enough to solely provide for their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing…they also need a place where they feel like they belong, where they feel strong and empowered, a place where they feel loved and valued, even as the struggles remain right outside the door.

The power of this book, besides the factual data that Lloyd shares with the reader, is in the personal stories that she shares of girls she has connected with and her own story. Kudos to Lloyd for the courage it took to share her story, and for founding the nonprofit organization GEMS: Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which helps girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.

N.B. All quotes are taken from Rachel Lloyd’s book and in some cases I have modified the verb tense.

Categories: Books, Nonprofits, Trafficking Tags:
  1. jyoti
    October 31, 2011 at 07:31

    Loved your take on the book and on the whole subject matter which most of us, I would
    venture to say, know little about and/or have little interest in. I saw a documentary on
    trafficking in Nepal narrated by Demi Moore who is very involved in this area……we
    must care, all of us, so thank you for taking the time to write something about this very
    disturbing and seemingly hidden matter that affects so many young girls and women

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