Rachel Lloyd is like Mother Teresa with street cred. Her life is dedicated to service, and because of her commitment to young women, she is changing lives, changing laws, and changing the world.
I recently had the chance to interview Rachel when she spoke at UNCW.
Read about a new center in Wilmington to help sex trafficking survivors or
Read about a group trying to get schools to teach about the sex trade
She's actually received major props, like being named one of "50 Women Who Change the World" or a "Notable New Yorker." She's met countless celebrities (hello, Beyonce!) and she's even spoken to the United Nations. This woman is my hero, but even she'll tell you there were times she thought she didn't deserve a single thing.
You see, Rachel Lloyd was trafficked as a young woman throughout Europe. She didn't wake up and decide to be in the sex industry. She fell in love with a man who she thought was her boyfriend. Turns out, he was a pimp. He sold her, beat her, and finally nearly killed her before she sought refuge at a US military base. It eventually helped bring her to New York.
She founded a group called Gems. It helps young women escape "the life". And, believe it or not, these are American girls like your daughter, your sister, or your friend. These girls have a lot in common... most were vulnerable in their early years (what teen girl isn't vulnerable?) Some man showed them love, and then after a certain time, he forced them to start working.
Rachel tells her stories and many like hers in a book called Girls Like Us. I am reading it now.
Things I am learning: Sex trafficking often intersects with prostitution. How? Because it all comes down to pimp control. Most prostitutes do not work for themselves, and instead, are beaten, raped and forced to sell their bodies. They usually are given little to no money and are under the constant threat of their pimps. Their pimps have taught them to distrust law enforcement, and they've seen how the system has failed to protect women like them.
Who are these women? They typically start out as girls, around 12 or 13, who have had some sort of childhood trauma. They are vulnerable. They meet a man who offers them love. They then grow into this lifestyle thinking they are not worthy of much more. Some of them may also be confused and in love with their pimp. Afterall, he has controlled them since they were girls. And, then when they become of age, no one cares for them because now they're considered adults.
Read about a Wilmington high schooler involved in a sex ring
The problem: Our perception, among many other things. We understand that if a 40 year old has sex with a 13 year old, there's a law broken. But in many states, 13-year-old prostitutes are locked up and treated as criminals. No one ever thinks these girls have been manipulated, beaten, raped, etc... In many cases, these women are domestic abuse victims, but because they are sold in the sex trade, we as a general public, have no sympathy for them. Watch the Showtime documentary "Very Young Girls".
The solution: One step is to change laws. Rachel has been instrumental in bringing Safe Habor Laws to states concerning underage girls who have been forced to work in the sex industry. I can nearly guarantee that we will see legislation like this in North Carolina soon. It's just one step, but it should be on your radar.