“I don’t care what you call it, Rachel, sexual exploitation and all that but to everyone else, we still hos.”
Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd--
Every US adult should read this book.
We all have stereotypes about commercial sexual exploitation. Even our name for the women involved in the trade, “prostitutes,” is part of the stereotype.
Prostitutes are what they are by choice, at least as many law enforcement officials, legislators, and ordinary people see it. Their families and their living situations might have forced these young women out on the streets at ten-, eleven-, or twelve years old. They might have sought the only ones who seemed to love them, care for them, or give them a chance at survival and family, abusive pimps. And even recovering adult women might suffer PTSD. But still we blame them.
Rachel understands. Her street story starts at thirteen.
That she was able to somehow survive and, finally, to found GEMS, a New York City non-profit which attempts to provide a safe place for exploited women, is a miracle. And she admits it.
GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Service) gives these women voice. By the end of the book, they are speaking for themselves, not just through the book, but to the New York Legislature and in other public places.
This is a starkly honest book. It describes families, pimps, johns, exploited women and all the rest with a level of honesty that made it hard for me to read.
The book breaks stereotypes and teaches us about another world.
To give one example of the writing, Rachel describes the power of a pimp over the women he has subjugated. Even after Rachel broke away, she felt the compulsion to go back. She describes it this way--
“Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. Even though it takes me years to actually be able to say omniscient properly--I’ll call it omniscience--I know exactly what it means, both the dictionary definition, ‘having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding,’ and how it plays out in my real life. I know that he knows everything about me, past, present, and future. I now that he is all of the ‘omnis,’ he’s all-powerful, all-knowing, and no matter where I go he’s there. Even when I run away he finds me, and either punishes me or cajoles me into ‘forgiving’ him. He feels like a part of my skin, he’s in my bloodstream. When he tells me that even if I get married, have children, and am gone for ten years, he’ll find me, I believe him. When he says that I’ll have no choice but to go with him, that I’ll always belong to him, that I was born to be his, I believe him.”
I learned about this book from a commentary in The New York Times.
This book is realistic but positive in its conclusion. It tells the stories of women who returned to the streets, who ended up enslaved or dead, but it also tells the stories of women who survived to become strong leaders, people who saved others.
You don’t give up on anyone, Rachel says. You keep trying to help them find their voices.
I recommend this book.