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Escaping the Sex Trafficking Industry

A Q+A with a former sex worker, who weaves her own painful story of being lured into "the life," with the stories of the girls and women that she now helps.

The trafficking of girls and women has become a hot topic in the last year. In December, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, co-authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide , teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to launch the topic into public consciousness. Actress Demi Moore testified on the topic in front of Congress last year, after being shocked into action while watching an MSNBC special on the sex trade in Cambodia. The Clinton Global Initiative has marked the trafficking of girls and women as a special focus. 

It’s critical that so many privileged Americans and power brokers are becoming aware of this issue, but it’s unfortunate that the public conversation about this issue is still largely missing the voices of the girls and women who have experienced sex trafficking and exploiting, themselves, speaking on their own terms, about their own experiences. 

Until now.

A new memoir, Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not For Sale, an Activist Finds her Calling and Heals Herself , will be published this week by Harper Collins. In it, survivor   Rachel Lloyd tells her own painful story of being lured into “the life,” as she calls it, from an early start modeling to prostitution and surviving violence and pain at the hands of those who bought and sold her. Lloyd interweaves this story with the stories of the girls and women that she now helps through her acclaimed New York-based nonprofit Girls Education and Mentoring Service (GEMS). It is a groundbreaking memoir, not only because it paints a vivid picture of domestic trafficking, but because it is beautifully-written—sure to be shelved alongside the other great social issue autobiographies of our time, like First They Killed My Father and A Long Way Gone. 

Here’s Rachel on Girls Like Us , “the life,” and liberation, in her own words:

Why did you write Girls Like Us

I wrote this book to try to change public perception of this issue, and of girls and women in the commercial sex industry. I've also wanted to write a book since I was about three years old!

In Girls Like Us, you write, “Girls weren’t drug addicted, they were love addicted, and that, I’ll learn, is far harder to treat.” Why do you think so many girls and women are so, as you put it, “love addicted?” Are boys and men “love-addicted” too? 

I think I'll get fried for saying this, but I think that we're biologically wired to be nurturers and that can get distorted. Girls and women are so relationally-oriented. I also think a huge part is how we're socialized growing up to see our value and worth as being tied into a relationship and how our culture teaches us a distorted sense of romantic love— can't live without you, can't breathe without you, I'll die without you . As teenage girls we believe that level of emotional intensity and dramatics equates with real love. We're also taught that if we date lots of people, then we're sluts, so at an early age we put all our eggs into one basket, so to speak, and concentrate on 'the one'.  

I think boys and men are socialized very differently and are trained not to show their emotions in the same way, to date lots of people, not just one exclusively, and are rewarded for many other things in our culture outside of maintaining a relationship.  

You write about the huge correlation between girls who have been in the foster care system and sexual exploitation and trafficking. With the wisdom of all of your experience, do you see some kind of alternative to or possibility for redemption of the foster care system? Why is it so hazardous for girls?

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