FBomb Review: "Girls Like Us"
New book from Rachel Lloyd, “Girls Like Us”, is more than a memoir—it’s a life-changing experience. Lloyd, Founder/Executive Director of Girls Education and Mentoring Network (GEMS), tells the story of the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the United States. She does this by weaving her story in with the stories of people whose lives she has touched, and the genesis of GEMS itself. But the stories alone are not what made this book the best one I have read in a long while—it’s how effortlessly they get to the heart of what choice really means. In short, “Girls Like Us” is where theory and practice, activism and ideology, all sing in perfect harmony.
As a feminist, I feel that the concept of “choice” is an ideological cornerstone. That’s what we all strive for, isn’t it? —A world where everyone, regardless of who they are, can make the same free and informed choices about their bodies and their lives as the next person. As a young feminist, I understand that gender alone is not what shapes one’s freedom of choice. It’s more complex than that. A matrix of socially constructed groups (race, class, gender, ability, age, etc.) intersect in ways that shape our experiences and the reality of free and informed choice.
It is this fact, articulated through brilliant writing and engrossing stories, that is the real gem inside “Girls Like Us”. But don’t take it from me. As Lloyd says in her interview with The FBomb, “Read the book. Watch our film, Very Young Girls. Then, encourage someone else to do the same”.
To learn more about the commercial sexual exploitation of children, “Girls Like Us”, and Rachel Lloyd, please read her interview with The FBomb!
It seems that there are two different and essential pieces to ending commercial sexual exploitation, changing our judicial and legislative systems (de jure), and changing public opinion and practice (de facto). In "Girls Like Us", you highlight some of the recent legislative changes in New York and the important hand survivors have played in making those changes. What do you feel are the next steps in making both de jure and de facto changes?
On a national level, we want to see every state pass Safe Harbor laws that stop girls from being prosecuted for an act of prostitution that they can't even consent to. Since New York passed its groundbreaking law in 2008, six states have followed suit with pending legislation in many other states, so seeing that become a reality in every state is a critical step. There are other legislative battles, passing the Trafficking Victims Support and Deterrence Act, increasing penalties for buyers etc but more importantly we have to change public perception. Laws only go so far.
Your story and the story of so many other survivors are woven into the heart of "Girls Like Us". It seems like the power of sharing one’s story plays a central role in building safe and healthy relationships amongst kindred spirits. What advice do you have for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation in regard to telling their story? What kind of advice do you have for those listening?
For survivors I do think it’s critical to have other survivors, and allies, to share your experiences with. When we share our stories it begins to take away some of the power those experiences have to continue to harm us. It’s just as important though to ensure that the people you are talking to really do understand and are non-judgmental and compassionate. There's a significant difference between telling your story for your peers and telling your story for public consumption. The former is a necessary part of the healing process, the latter is up to the individual and their comfort level. As this issue begins to garner more attention, more people are interested in hearing survivor's stories and for survivors who do decide to be public it’s important to remember that you are more than just your 'story'. You're a complex individual who has ideas, recommendations and more to contribute that just a story of your trauma. If it feels gratuitous or exploitive, it probably is and you have the right to only share parts of your experiences or not to share at all publicly. Allies need to be able to be supportive in truly listening to who we are and what we bring to the table and in creating safe and supportive ways for survivors to share and have an impact when they choose to - whether through story-telling, creative expression, art, music etc. Survivors also need to be brought to the table as experts who have a wealth of experience to share and not simply given token roles to 'share', as there's a fine line between what's truly needed and helpful and what's actually voyeuristic and re-exploitive.
In the beginning of "Girls Like Us" you give us a lot of statistics about commercially sexually exploited children in the United States. I assume that GEMS serves only girls because of the unique and specific needs of girls paired with your own experiences. Do you feel there a gap in the resources for girl and boy survivors in the United States? Are there any "major players" that come to mind who work with boys and the unique and specific needs they have?
There is a real dearth of services for boys and trans youth, although there are a lot of homeless and runaway youth organizations and LGBT organizations that are doing good work with them, albeit not necessarily with specialized services.
Overall, when I was finished with the book I just wanted to get up and do something about what is going on in (literally) my back yard! How can The FBomb’s readers (teenage feminists from across the globe) do something that is really going to make an impact?
Read the book, watch our film, Very Young Girls, then encourage someone else to do the same. Talk to friends about the issue. Have conversations about deglamorize pimping and the commercial sex industry. Talk to boys and young men about buying sex and going to strip-clubs. Stop calling girls - 'prostitutes', 'hookers' and 'hos' and change the language to reflect the reality of their experiences- that they're trafficked and commercially sexually exploited. Get involved in a local organization. Do a clothing/toiletries drive. Raise money. Go to Polaris Project's website and see where your state stands on relevant legislation and then get behind any push for new laws that address this issue. Fight gender-based violence in all its form. Volunteer for a local runaway and homeless youth organization. Don't think trafficking isn't connected to poverty and the intersections of race, class and gender - fight oppression in all its form. Go to MTV-U's new website, againstourwill.org, which GEMS has partnered on and find ways to get involved. There are a million things people can do and everyone can make an impact on this issue.
More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, Gender-based violence, Media, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexuality, Reproductive rights, Trafficking, Books, Rape, Sexualized violence