Subtitle: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale
Author: Rachel Lloyd
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir; Sociology
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper)
Pub. Date: April 5, 2011 (hardcover); February 28, 2012 (paperback)
I had been interested in reading this book ever since I saw it when perusing the sociology section at my local Barnes & Noble one day. I never got to it so I was ecstatic when I saw that this was going to be touring with TLC Book Tours. It's fairly short which, from the outside, disguises the immense power and impact that this book has. I read it slowly because I found myself stopping between its pages, pondering everything I was reading. Maybe it's my social work background and experience working with sex crime cases, but I feel like I don't have the words to express how important I think this book is for everyone to read. There was so much I wanted to quote from this book, but I limited it to what I included here.
Girls Like Us is part memoir of Rachel Lloyd, founder and executive director of GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services) and part exposition on issues related to the commercial sexual exploitation of young girls in America. People tend to relate the trafficking of young girls for sex to other, third-world countries. But it's also happening right within our borders. (Not to mention, for those of you local, a lot in Central Florida as well). Lloyd started GEMS in her mid-twenties after escaping from a life of being commercially sexually exploited. Girls Like Us is very astutely divided into chapters that focus on the different factors that relate to these crimes including risk factors, family dynamics that place girls at risk of being victimized, recruitment of girls, why girls stay in these situations, pimps, johns, stigma, healing, etc. Each chapter provides information about that specific factor and also Lloydy's past experiences that relate to that factor from beginning through the creation of GEMS. She also provides various stories about the many girls who have received support and other services from GEMS.
There is so, so much I could discuss about this book. It was an emotional read for me but often in an intensely angry way. Especially in the discussions about how our society treats these young girls. There is such a disparity between how our society perceives the girls based on their ethnicity and social class; while some are easily perceived as outright victims and given tons of media coverage, others (even those as young as eleven and twelve years old!!) are considered criminals who choose this life of "prostitution" and whose victimizations, sometimes as far as murders, are not even mentioned in the media. As Lloyd points out, how is it that our country considers teens not mature enough and capable of consenting to sex until the age of sixteen, yet girls younger than that who are beaten, manipulated, and essentially enslaved by men much older and forced into sex acts are considered culpable. Even the programs that understand this and provide treatment are limited to how much they can provide.
"No program would take Tiffany: She didn't have a drug problem, a prerequisite for most programs that cater to her age. One night she disappeared for a few hours and returned proudly announcing that she'd smoked crack and was now eligible for the drug program, but we had to hurry [because] she wasn't sure how long it would be in her system." (p.25)The following quote really spoke to me about the ultimate despair these girls often end up feeling.
"I already feel like my life won't last much longer. I've made arrangements with some of the girls at work that if I don't come in for a few days, they should know that JP definitely did it, the spare keys are under the mat, here's my mum's address, get my stash money from the kebab shop to pay for shipping my body home. I've just turned nineteen, but I doubt I'll make it to twenty. This man will take my life. I'm not even scared anymore, just resigned to the fact." (p.92-93)Another thing that particularly enraged me was the way our pop culture has elevated celebrities who glamorize the act of pimping; this includes rappers who do so being given multi million dollar endorsement deals. She speaks about her horror when watching the 78th Academy Awards when the song "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" won for Best Original Song.
"As I watched the audience and subsequent presenters embrace the moment, perhaps because they thought it was a great song, perhaps because they thought they were embracing 'black culture,' not understanding that these images did not represent or benefit it, or perhaps because to them, pimps were larger-than-life caricatures, driving Cadillacs and sporting diamond pinkie rings, I couldn't help but think of all the girls I've visited in hospitals, girls with lifelong scars, girls traumatized and broken, girls who've been brainwashed, girls who'd been beaten for not meeting their 'quota.' In my world, pimps are not managers, protectors, or 'market facilitators,' as one research study euphemistically called them, but leeches sucking the souls from beautiful, bright young girls, predators who scour the streets, the group homes, and junior high schools stalking their prey." (p.90)Despite the horror described within its pages, there are also stories of resilience and girls who eventually are able to overcome their traumatic histories (including the author herself). The writing was also excellent (the author happens to be a book lover as well!) and the layout and organization of the book was superb. I want EVERYONE to read this!! I want my clients to read this (I have specific people in mind), my colleagues for sure, everyone who is a part of our society. These stories are examples of why I pursued social work in the first place and now that I've chosen to work with individuals on a one-on-one basis, it confirms my thoughts and considerations of pursuing a specialization in trauma therapy. If this topic or human rights, in general, interests you at all please consider reading this. Also check out the GEMS website!
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.
Follow the rest of the tour at the websites below.
Wednesday, February 29th: The House of the Seven Tails
Thursday, March 1st: Jenny Loves to Read
Monday, March 5th: The Feminist Texican
Tuesday, March 6th: Book Hooked Blog
Wednesday, March 7th: Sidewalk Shoes
Thursday, March 8th: Melody & Words
Monday, March 12th: Elle Lit
Tuesday, March 13th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, March 14th: Books Like Breathing
Friday, March 16th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Monday, March 19th: The Englishist
Wednesday, March 21st: Buried in Print
Thursday, March 22nd: Broken Teepee