Before I started working on a review for Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd, I went to the website for her organization GEMs (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services). I looked at Lloyd's bio, and thought, "this woman was once in the sex industry?" How is that possible? She looks so accomplished and smart, how could she get mixed up in it? I don't think I'm alone in that judgment. I guess I had a different picture of her in my mind. Some people you can just tell they had a hard life. I thought I would be able to sense some hint of her past by looking at her. But after reading her book, I realize how wrong it is to make judgments like that. Getting caught up in the sex industry or as it is referred to in the book "commercial sexual exploitation" can happen to anyone.
The stories in the book, including Lloyd's, have a familiar theme. Absentee, neglectful parents. Pimps/boyfriends who say they love the girls, but do everything to break their spirit to the point of submission. It's hard to get out when you think there is no alternative.
Running GEMs in the city that never sleeps is an adventure for the British-born Lloyd. Some girls call at all hours of the night seeking help. Some girls don't want to talk at all. After all, how can she relate to them. But having been where they are, Lloyd has a unique insight. Lloyd's mother was an alcoholic with a series of boyfriends. When Lloyd ran away to Germany, life got even worse. Working at a strip joint was just the first step in the grooming process for Rachel.
Her pimps/boyfriends are interchangeable. One claims her as property. Another beats her and forces her to say, "I will not be unloyal" for hours. Even after getting out of the life it was hard for her to move on. How do you move on? How can you be "normal" again? How can you develop healthy relationships with other people? While staying with another couple, Lloyd wondered why the wife wasn't hit for not getting her husband a cup of tea? You can be out of the life, but the mentality can take years to wash away.
The book is engrossing, but there are some points where I thought the book became a little repetitive. One moment Lloyd is telling us a personal story from her past or an anecdote about a girl she helped, and a statistic about the widespread problem of commercial sexual exploitation pops up. In those moments, I felt the flow of the book was disrupted. As a reader, I was more connected to the personal stories like her colorful experience meeting former President George W. Bush in the Oval office, the arduous journey trying to get a bill passed in Albany and how GEMs was founded while eating ice cream on her front stoop.
Overall, you will come away with an education and a better understanding of sexually exploited youth.
Rating: Give it a try
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review. For more on author Rachel Lloyd and GEMs visit: http://www.gems-girls.org/