We live in a time when the world is full of ‘ideas’, ‘complicity’ and ‘information’; technology has allowed for these ideologies to be delivered to the world on a mass level – bringing with it ‘perversion’ and ‘corruption’.
Over the past three decades the world has silently experienced sex trafficking. It has brought with it waves of women being exploited from countries all around the world – Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and recently Eastern and Central Europe. Change can happen, but it takes education and unity to help see it through. Just when we think the world is full of horrible things; it is also full of good. Together we can stand for change that can make a better tomorrow.
The Girls Educational & Mentoring Service – GEMS, is an organization in New York State, (the organization has expanded its trainings to Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas and Colorado) they offer support services to girls and young women who have survived, experienced and fled from commercial sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. GEMS gives crisis intervention services, housing and protection to these young girls.
Founder, Rachel Lloyd, was commercially exploited as a teenager – she now has a mission that is changing lives. In 1998, all she had was a computer and $30; now she is living as a survivor and helping hundreds of young women and girls, ages 12-24, overcome and develop to their fullest potential through her organization GEMS.
Lloyd was born in England in 1975. By the age of 13, she was raped. Lloyd became a prostitute, was raped and survived several suicide attempts. She was stabbed by a pimp at the age of 18 during a violent beating. Her body still bears the scars from that horrible night – which required 17 stitches to her right hand. With the help of a military family and a church on the US Air Force base in Germany, she began her recovery.
In 1997, Lloyd came to the United States and began working with women who were incarcerated and coming out of prostitution. After arriving in New York she began going to school. She received her GED, and went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Masters in Applied Urban Anthropology.
In December of 2000, Lloyd started her organization GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services). The vision was birthed out of Lloyd’s own experiences of being sexually exploited as a teen. The organization continues to be the largest provider of services to young women and girls who have experienced sex trafficking and exploitation.
Lloyd has no regrets about the past. She says there were experiences she would rather not have had and pain she hadn’t felt, but she credits her past as equipping her for the work she does now. She feels satisfaction in fulfilling her purpose and in knowing her life is counting for something. Her pain has become her passion and she finds joy in her work, life and seeing other survivors fulfill their purpose.
In 2004, New York Daily News named Lloyd one of the “100 Women Who Shape New York.” In 2006, WCBS-TV recognized her as a “Notable New Yorker.” In 2007, a documentary film titled, “Very Young Girls” displayed the work of the GEMS organization. The film exposes the human trafficking industry and the turmoil that occurs. Showtime Networks broadcast and distributed the film in 2010.
Ms. Magazine named Lloyd as “One of 50 Women Who Changed the World.” Lloyd also received the Reebok Human Rights Award and Ashok Fellows award – recognizing her as a leading social entrepreneur who is making innovative solutions to social problems.
Lloyd uses a survivor-led model as a force that is combating sexual exploitation. Many of the girls GEMS helps, have gone on to contribute an important role in public awareness by speaking to legislative groups, in communities and to each other. Lloyd’s organization eliminates the trap by addressing the trauma, providing a way for strength, engaging them as survivor leaders and showcasing their capabilities.
GEMS provides young women with a consistent support system; while providing opportunities for positive change. The organization works to empower girls and young women to exit the industry, helps to transform public perception and revolutionize the system and policies that impact exploited girls.
The UN estimates that each year, 300,000 children and adolescents become victims of domestic human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in the United States.
Economic, social, cultural, and gender factors make young girls and women vulnerable to being exploited. The endless supply of images on the internet, make it easier for anyone – including minors, to access information at the click of a button.
Sex trafficking runs by the laws of supply and demand. The demand is generated by thousands of men all around the world – including on the internet. The supply comes from the women from third world (underdeveloped) countries – the poor, uneducated and weak. The trade is often organized by men from industrialized and developing countries; who force and lure these women into providing international sexual services – often by harming, drugging or threatening harm to the person or people they love.
Most girls are exploited between the ages of 12 to 15. Regardless of their age, society often views the victims as juvenile delinquents and labels them as prostitutes. These girls are victims, they are traumatized and manipulated by adult pimps; they learn to distrust society and social programs for help. The cyclical trauma can be enough to prevent a girl from speaking out or escaping her perpetrator. The compactness in their abuse comes from the damage.
The law often demonizes women and girls; therefore making them responsible. Rather than blaming victims, advocates are calling on governments to stop arresting young girls; instead, offering them social services they need – while reserving criminal prosecution for perpetrators. Safe-harbor laws are beginning in the United States, but these laws depend largely on funding provided by each state for services for victims. Children are the victims, not the perpetrators. There needs to be a critical mass of people behind the push for helping these girls. Laws are changing as the critical mass are made aware about human trafficking and these problems.
Sex trafficking is a human rights issue and a global one. It’s important that we support legislative efforts to make laws that enforce and protect young women from this obscene abuse. Rachel Lloyd’s story is one of many… what seemed to possibly be a tragic ending has turned into hope and a life mission to change the world.
We too can do the same: It takes one person, one thought, one action – to change the world!
In 2011, Lloyd told FBomb website that if you want to get involved in the advocacy effort and make an impact – it is important to, “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.”
Here is a link to NPR’s interview with Rachel Lloyd about the documentary, Very Young Girls:
Notes & References:
- Lloyd, Rachel (2011). Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself, Harper, 288 pages. ISBN 978-0061582059