Date Published: February 28, 2012 I
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir
Rating: 5 out of 5
Book Summary: During her teens, Rachel Lloyd ended up a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. With time, through incredible resilience, and with the help of a local church community, she finally broke free of her pimp and her past and devoted herself to helping other young girls escape “the life.”
In Girls Like Us, Lloyd reveals the dark world of commercial sex trafficking in cinematic detail and tells the story of her groundbreaking nonprofit organization: GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services. With great humanity, she shares the stories of the girls whose lives GEMS has helped—small victories that have healed her wounds and made her whole. Revelatory, authentic, and brave, Girls Like Us is an unforgettable memoir.
My Thoughts: Girls Like Us is an eye-opening, heart-breaking, and shocking book about the exploitation of girls in the commercial sexual industry. It’s author, Rachel Lloyd, is a modern-day heroine, not only for starting the non-profit organization GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which assists girls and young women to leave 'the life', but also for sharing her hair-raising and disturbing story about the years she spent, in England and Germany, being used and abused by men and exploited by a pimp. This is a gripping and difficult book to read but a vitally important one every adult should read. It took me a long time to read Girls Like Us. I needed to put the book down frequently to think about what I read and to recover from the horror and pain of the stories Lloyd shares, including her own. I’ve marked several passages to return to and read again because I was horrified by what I read and want to make sure I understood it correctly or because I was very touched by the words on the page.
Lloyd is exceedingly candid and upfront about her life from an early age. She shares what she’s been through, the things she‘s done and how she feels with such brutal honesty, I can only guess at how painful it was for her to write about this. Tears pooled in my eyes when she talks about how hard she was on herself and the terrible things she believed about herself for many years. Fortunately maturity, recovery and compassion have enabled Lloyd to understand why she behaved as she did, to forgive herself and to be kind to herself. Lloyd credits her connection and success with the girls she helps through GEMS, the nonprofit she started, to her awareness and understanding of their childhood and family life and what they’ve been through more recently and the fact that she doesn’t judge them as so many others do.
Some of the most difficult chapters for me were the ones where Lloyd explains how these girls are recruited into the commercial sexual industry. The girls are often duped into believing they are going to have a fairy-tale life with some charming, kind, often handsome man who rescues them from the street, gives them a place to live, often with him, leads them to believe he loves them, frequently buys them the first new clothes they’ve had and wines and dines them. After a short time he begins ‘pimping them out‘. The recruitment scenarios differ in detail but the framework is basically the same, almost as if there’s a manual on how to be a pimp. And once the pimp relationship is established, the various and violent ways a pimp keeps control of the girls and the things he makes them do for money turned my stomach and really angered me. I cannot imagine how Lloyd must feel listening to the girls stories day in and day out.
I was shocked to read that much of society believes these girls, as young as 11 and 12, are prostitutes and chose to be in 'the life'. Lloyd, very effectively, dispels this and many of the other misconceptions of society. She makes it crystal clear that these girls are victims. Lloyd uses several studies, such as a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study detailing the large number of girls at risk for commercial sexual exploitation in the U.S. each year, and facts and figures to support what she knows to be fact: girls do not make a viable choice to be commercially sexually exploited and trafficked. Lloyd explains to readers how “age and age-appropriate responsibility, the type of choice and the context of choice” must be considered in successfully arguing that a choice doesn’t exist for these girls.
The vulnerability of these girls to the smooth-talking manipulations of charming and evil men who see them as easy and lucrative money makers begins, sadly in childhood with their family at whose hands many girls come to believe they are worthless. After reading Lloyd’s wrenching story about her own childhood and the desperate things she had to do to survive followed by some even worse stories detailing the lives of a few of the girls before they met their pimp, it’s understandable why they hoped and believed these men would love them and give them a good life.
I could write pages and pages about Girls Like Us but my words wouldn’t have the same power and impact of Lloyd’s words. This is a book you need to read to truly understand this horror that is happening on our own doorstep. The commercial sexual industry doesn’t operate only in Europe and isn’t only about women being bought in Europe and transported to the United States. It’s also about hundreds of thousands of girls between the ages of 11 and 18 being lured into a life of depravity, abuse and violence who are also victimized as well as ignored by society. Lloyd deserves enormous gratitude for her courage and hard work which is slowly changing how people think and educating the unaware while also helping girls who want out of the life but don’t know where to turn. Because of much of the work of Lloyd and GEMS, the police, social workers and others who are supposed to help and protect these girls are starting to see them as victims more than prostitutes on a more frequent basis. But there is still a lot of work to be done to help and to save girls in our country from predators as the later chapters in Girls Like Us makes clear. We can all support Rachel Lloyd, GEMS and girls around the world by reading Rachel Lloyd’s powerful memoir and discovering what we can do to help.
See: GEMS Website
Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for a copy of Girls Like Us and the opportunity to read and review this book.