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Sex trafficking of young girls is a global problem. In the U. S. alone, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 adolescents are at risk of exploitation each year. A mix of circumstances — substance abuse, family problems, and poverty — lures vulnerable girls into the world of teenage prostitution. There, they fall prey to the seduction of pimps and frequently face discrimination from police and the courts. A former teen sex worker from Britain tells the story of her escape from what many girls call “the life.” She describes how she founded a program in New York to help children as young as age 11 survive sexual exploitation.
- Rachel Lloyd Founder, GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services)
- Sheila White GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) in Harlem, New York
Author Extra: Rachel Lloyd Answers Audience Questions
Q: What about the psychology of men who become pimps, and men who “buy” sex from young girls? – From Penelope via Facebook
A: Most of the men who are street level pimps also have histories of abuse and trauma that parallel the girls’ stories. Some of them have grown up in “the life” too, as their fathers were pimps too. In addition, our society glorifies pimp culture so boys grow up thinking that women are disposable, that pimping is glamorous and also knowing that pimps are rarely prosecuted. Its only in the last few years that we’ve seen an increased focus on prosecution of pimps.
Q: Rachel, do you know of any social or legal movements to recognize women and girls as victims and focus more on the Johns? – From Brittany in Cincinnati
A: There are several ‘demand’ efforts developing around the country. Hunt Alternatives is launching a major national initiative to address this, but I think that all of us in the field are working to correct the perception that this is an issue of choice and working to humanize victims.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The phrase sex trafficking brings images of exotic girls in faraway places but every year hundreds of thousands of girls, some as young as 11 are at risk for sexual exploitation here in the United States. One former teen sex worker from Britain is working to help young women in the grittiest neighborhoods of New York escape a life of prostitution. She's written a book about her fight for a world where girls are not for sale.
MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled, "Girls Like Us" and author Rachel Lloyd joins me in the studio. I hope you'll join us as well. There may be those of you who believe that the subject is too sensitive for young ears and therefore might wish to turn the radio off. For those of you who are staying with us, please join us 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning Rachel, it's good to have you here.
MS. RACHEL LLOYDGood morning, Diane, thank you for having me.
REHMI think most people do think about sexual exploitation of girls as somewhere else and not here in the United States. Tell us the -- give us a picture of what's happening here.
LLOYDI mean, I think you're right, Diane, and I think that's one of the biggest issues in kind of overcoming perceptions is that people just don't really think about it happening here. And if they do think about it happening here, they think about it as, well, it's teen prostitutes who just kind of -- maybe they don’t want to get a job or they like having sex or they're just bad kids. And they don't think about it as exploitation and they don't think about the same risk factors that impact young people in other countries.
LLOYDSo there was a study done in 2001 by the University of Pennsylvania that said an estimated 300,000 young people, so that includes boys as well, boys and transgendered youth, who were at risk for commercial sexual exploitation every year in the U.S. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates about 100,000 young people are involved in the commercial sex industry each year. So those numbers are pretty high. And while nobody has kind of a really accurate count on it, we know that it's happening and I know from the 13-14 years that I've been working with young people that there's kind of a never-ending stream of girls who are being exploited.
REHMTell me how it begins. Tell me how it happens.
LLOYDWell, what we know about this issue, both for children and adults, is that 70 -- anywhere from 70 to 90 percent, and there's been multiple studies on this, of individuals who end up in the sex industry, were sexually abused as children. So that's a really high correlation. And so the impact of sexual abuse on a child and how that kind of distorts your sense of self and sexuality and kind of ownership of your own body, obviously is a big risk factor.
LLOYDWe know that the vast majority of young people that end up in the commercial sex industry are runaway and homeless youth or the horribly-termed throwaway-youth, right, kids who have just been kind of discarded by their families. So they are young people who are already really vulnerable. They are young people who are often growing up in low-income communities. They're young people who often don't factor very high on anybody's priority list and they're easy pickings for predators, for sexual predators.
REHMSo what has happened, as you say, is that these children have been sexually abused at an early age. They may be running away from home for precisely that reason and, what, then find themselves with no means of support?
LLOYDYeah, I mean, there's one kind of study. It's anecdotal, but it estimates that anywhere from one in three young people will be approached within the first 72 hours of leaving home, right. And that's whether by a pimp or by somebody who is offering them sex in exchange for a place to stay, sex in exchange for food, right? And it may not be explicit initially and I think that's the tricky thing for a lot of young people is that most pimps are not coming up to them immediately and saying, hi, I'm a pimp. You know, if you work for me, you're going to have to sell your body 15 times a night and you're going to have to turn over the money to me and then I'm going to beat you if you don't make enough money and then I'll beat you anyway just when I feel like it.
LLOYDThat's not really how they approach it. They approach it in a seductive manner, with a, I'm your boyfriend...
LLOYDYeah, oh, people have treated you so badly, I'll treat you differently. I'll love you and I think one of the saddest things for me in this work is seeing young people who genuinely -- their connection to their pimp feels like the strongest connection they've ever had in their life. And that's not right indicative of how great this guy is. It's indicative of how badly they've been failed by the adults in their life.
REHMTell me about the agency that deals with these young women, these girls, you call them, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services.
LLOYDSo GEMS is the only non-profit in New York State that works specifically, was specifically designed to work with victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, so American girls and young women. We serve girls 12 and young women 12 to 24 or 11 to 24. Hopefully, we won't have to put the age any younger than that at this point. And we serve girls kind of pretty comprehensively so housing, counseling, shelter, job training, and education. I mean, everything that you could possibly need, healthcare and getting girls ID.
LLOYDI mean, young people are coming to us often literally kind of from the clutches of their pimp.
REHMWalking in off the street?
LLOYDSometimes. A lot of times, we're meeting young people through the criminal law or juvenile justice system.
LLOYDAnd they may be mandated to us initially. We're meeting people in group homes and high schools and junior high schools, right? I mean we have to be proactive in it because it isn't the type of issue where young people are self-identifying and kind of, oftentimes they don't really have the freedom to walk into an agency. But we know that with comprehensive services and support that young people can not only survive but they can flourish.
REHMRachel Lloyd is an advocate for sexually-exploited girls. She's the founder of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in Harlem. She's also the author of a new book. It's titled, "Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale". And feel free to join us 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Tell us your own story, Rachel.
LLOYDI mean, my story is reasonably similar to a lot of the girls that we serve. I grew up in a home where, and I guess I was fortunate, and I talk about this a little bit in the book, but I was fortunate in that for a lot of the early years of my life, my mother was, you know, a great parent. Unfortunately, alcohol and some bad choices in relationships and marriages kind of took that away...
LLOYDFrom her and she became an alcoholic and she was being abused by my first step-father and then my second step-father and then, you know, a succession of men and boyfriends who kind of came after that. By the time I was 13, I dropped out of school. I had kind of taken on the role as emotional and financial caretaker for my mother so at that point I was working in like factories, restaurants. I was faking my national insurance number, my social security number and thought I was grown and thought I was mature but...
LLOYDAt 13, you know, I mean -- and now, I'm able to look back and think goodness what was happening? And there were no adults around who kind of intervened at that point. So I ended up kind of, I was modeling and going up to London by myself and that kind of led into like nude modeling and like calendars and that kind of stuff.
LLOYDAnd then, when I turned about 17, I ended up getting on a bus one day and going to Germany kind of in search of, you know, a fresh start and get away from my family and that kind of stuff and ended up in Germany not speaking the language, ran out of money within the first kind of week. I didn't really think the plan through clearly and had a one-way ticket and so was stuck. And felt like alright I'll just go, you know, I've taken my clothes off before for modeling and I've danced before so I guess I can do stripping.
LLOYDAnd I went to a strip club, told them I was like 19, 20, told them I'd danced before and I knew what I was doing and I hadn't got a clue. And I thought alright I'll do this for a few weeks until I can get back to, you know, I can get enough money, get back to England and never tell anybody what happened. And a few weeks turned into a few months and you know, I ended up being in the sex industry for two years, ended up meeting a guy who was my boyfriend initially and who I had a, you know, relationship with, but who was incredibly abusive and, you know, soon became my pimp.
REHMYour pimp. So that he would feed you as it were to other men?
LLOYDI mean, he was -- I mean, he took my money. I mean, I was already working in a club when I met him and so for, you know, that's probably where my story differs a little bit in that, you know, I'd already started working before I even, before I met him. But, yeah, I mean, every night I had to turn my money over to him or kind of face the consequences of not doing that.
REHMWhat were the consequences?
LLOYDUm, pretty brutal, beatings and violence and, I mean, pretty extreme violence.
REHMRachel Lloyd and her new book is titled, "Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale". We'll take a short break here and when we come back, we'll talk further and take your calls 800-433-8850.
REHMWelcome back. Rachel Lloyd is an advocate for sexually exploited girls. She's the founder of an organization called GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services. It's in Harlem. She's also written a book not only about the girls she has encountered, but about her own experiences in the sexual trade. Her book is titled "Girls Like Us." And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. You start the book with Danielle. Tell us about her.
LLOYDDanielle was a child that I met one night. I was called down to the child welfare services -- and that's pretty standard, they'll call us in when they have a case -- and they said that they had a teenage girl who was 14 who they suspected had been involved in commercial sexual exploitation. And I went down there and began to talk to her and she turned out to be 11 and had been trafficked up and down the east coast. She knew D.C. better than I know D.C. She'd stayed in kind of every Holiday Inn and Ramada Inn and, you know, hotel/motel up and down the east coast. She'd been trafficked by a 29-year-old pimp who she thought was the man who loved her.
LLOYDBoth her older sisters -- and by older are like 14 and 15 -- were also being trafficked by pimps. And it was just this heartbreaking -- and right, this is -- I mean, I do this every single day and so, you know, you kind of build up some level of a kind of protective wall, 'cause you can't go home and be devastated every single day, right. You just -- that's just not how you can function. But that night particularly just go to me. I mean, I think walked, like, 70 something blocks 'cause I was just so angry that we live in a world that this is happening.
LLOYDAnd, I mean, in Danielle's case she was very fortunate that the law enforcement who -- the Port Authority Police who found her at the bus station coming back from D.C. didn't arrest her because generally that's been kind of standard practice. She was fortunate that child welfare where she went kind of knew to call GEMS and knew that she was a victim and wanted -- even though they weren't quite sure what to do they knew they wanted to treat her, you know, fairly and as a victim. But that's not the reality for a lot of girls in this country
REHMWhy had she run away from home?
LLOYDShe had not been at home since she was two, three years old. Her mother had had substance abuse, mental health issues and so her and her sisters had been removed from the home. And so she had been in multiple foster homes up until the age -- I mean, this kid -- I mean, the trauma that this kid had been through at 11 already, and the amount of abandonment from foster parents, from -- you know, there'd been a foster parent who said she was going on vacation and never came back. Right.
LLOYDSo when she met this guy introduced to her by her sister and her sister's boyfriend pimp, when she met this guy who said he loved her and he bought her -- you know, I can -- she had this necklace that -- I don't know -- 20, 30 bucks, right, cubic zirconium kind of (word?) . And she just played with it the whole evening and she was like, I'm bonded to him, you know. That's -- he loves me and he's my family. I mean, it was just devastating. I mean -- and I will say, right, she is -- you know, the postscript for that is that she's needed a lot of support and services and still does but is doing much, much better and was able to kind of separate from that and recognize that it was exploitation.
REHMHow -- just before the break you were talking about the fact that you had gone to Germany on a one-way ticket, begun working in clubs, met up with a guy who turned out to be a pimp who demanded your money each time. How did you get away from him?
LLOYDThe short version is that actually I was just, I mean, in a lot of circumstances kind of convened and so he was -- the police were looking for him for other stuff. And so he had to -- he was American and he had to leave the country and come back to the states for a little while. And it was supposed to be kind of a temporary thing. And so with him out of the picture, you know, it gave me some breathing room. I don't know that without that kind of -- I mean, it really was kind of a bazaar set of circumstances. And for me, right, I believe that God allowed certain things to happen to kind of give me that little bit of space.
LLOYDI began to go to a church that was off of a military base, an American military base and ended up making a decision to give my life to God, and was taken in kind of by some of the women in the church who gave me a job and somewhere to live. And, I mean, it was really hard, right. Like, that makes it seem like it was this one, two step process. And it wasn't at all. But, you know, I was really blessed by people who just loved on me and tried to show me that there was something else. And so there was that glimmer for me of hope and that kind of sustained me.
REHMThere would seem to be rather a tremendous difference from being helped out by people engaged in church work and coming here to the United States and establishing an organization like GEMS. Tell us about that journey.
LLOYDI was working as a nanny actually for three years in Germany for a family in the church. And that gave me kind of -- right, I mean, being around little kids all day every day was just really healing. And they just hugged on me and they didn't care about my past. And I didn't really tell -- people didn't really know. They knew that I had an abusive boyfriend but -- and maybe they kinda knew I danced in a club, but it was very vague. And I just didn't -- I didn't have the language or the distance at that point to be able to really talk about my experiences. I didn't really understand my experiences.
LLOYDI ended up looking for -- I thought I wanted to do kind of youth ministry in the states and I came here -- I had spoken to a woman over the phone. She said, we work with women in the sex industry. I was like, yeah, I think that was my experience, and they hired me immediately. And I came out to the states about six weeks later as a missionary working for an organization that was working with adult women in the sex industry. And I think within those first few weeks, first few months as I began to go to Riker's Island and go to Hunts Point and talk to women and girls about their experiences, these light bulbs started going off in my head like, oh, my boyfriend was a pimp. Oh, when I had to give him my money I wasn't really giving him my money, right. He was forcing me to give him -- oh, that was the sex industry. It wasn't just dancing.
LLOYDAnd so, I mean, I think there was a level of healing for me in that beginning of being around people who'd been through the same experiences. And so a year later when I decided to create GEMS because there was nothing out there for adolescent girls and the younger women -- that was me. And I wanted to take some of the experiences that I had had through the church, which was, you know, having shelter and clothing and food and love and support from these women. But also the things that I didn't get, which was, you know, being around people who'd been through the same experiences and understanding of trauma, the psychological help that I needed.
REHMBut where did the money come from?
LLOYDTo start GEMS? Nowhere in the beginning. I mean, the first two years I was dependent upon -- my mother would send me $20 a month, my grandmother sent me $20 a month. My church in New York paid my rent, which was $350 in New York at the time, which was kind of a miracle. I mean, there wasn't an organization at that point, right. Girls stayed at my house. If I had -- you know, if we made $56 that week they got 50 and I got 6. I mean, it was just -- it was very, very grassroots -- it was about as grassroots as you could get. And after the first couple of years, you know, doing the work and meeting with people and talking about what I was doing, a couple of foundations kind of stepped up and took a chance.
REHMSo how much does it cost to keep GEMS operating year by year?
LLOYDAt this point -- I mean, we started with $30 -- at this point we're a $3 million budget. We serve -- last year we served 330 girls and young women. And then we serve about another 1500 through our outreach in preventive education of girls who are kinda high risk or at risk in detention centers, group homes. We're providing housing to 13 girls and young women at any given time and sometimes their children as well. So, you know, I mean, it costs a fair amount to be able to --
REHMReally quite an endeavor. Rachel Lloyd. She has written a new book. It's titled, "Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale." She is an advocate for sexually exploited girls and the founder of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in Harlem. We have a great many calls waiting. We'll open the phones but first I want to take a call from Sheila White. She is a survivor of the teenager sex industry who now works at GEMS. And, Sheila, thanks for joining us.
MS. SHEILA WHITEThank you for having me.
REHMPlease tell me how you found yourself in the sex industry to begin with?
WHITEWell, I entered the life, and when I say the life I'm referring to the commercial sex industry at the age of 15. Growing up there was a lot of domestic violence in my home and it wasn't until I was sexually abused that I was removed and placed in foster care. Then from foster care I was in a group home. And, you know, at that point, being sexually abused, I didn't have, you know, the support. I didn't have anyone to tell me, ultimately explain to me that it wasn't my fault. And I kind of like went on, you know, just feeling really low about myself. And, you know, didn't really care and I was running away.
WHITEAnd I eventually was introduced to -- you know, at the time I thought it was a regular guy by my friend. And ultimately he was a pimp and he basically took the opportunity to play on my needs and wants. And that's how I entered.
REHMTell me about your experience with both the criminal justice and the court system.
WHITEMy experience with the criminal court systems and just the system in general hasn't been really much of an experience. Every time I came in contact with law enforcement, service providers, anyone, it was really no one -- I really felt that no one could help me, especially when if the same people who you think that's going to help you, that they're the ones that are actually abusing you. For instance, some of my first contacts were law enforcement. I have been propositioned by law enforcement, I mean, beat up, taken, they have taken my money. I mean, I have officially dated a service provider.
LLOYDSo -- I don't know -- all my (unintelligible) service providers or -- you know, not even service providers, but, like, just the court system hasn't been really helpful for me. Especially because at the end of the day I was treated as a criminal instead of the victim that I was. You know, I was being sent to jail. I was incarcerated at Rikers, you know. And it just further made me feel like there was really no hope.
REHMSheila White. She's a survivor of the teenage sex industry. She now works at GEMS. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Sheila, how did you find GEMS?
WHITEWell, I came to GEMS because I was mandated to GEMS through the court as alternative instead of going back to jail because they came and picked me up on a warrant. And I was going to be sent to jail but they offered me a program and I was mandated for, I believe -- I don't remember -- like 60 days or something like that. And when I first came to GEMS, at first I was kind of skeptical because I never even heard of a program that, you know, addresses this issue. And I really felt like, you know, I just wanted to do my time and just, you know, go on about my life.
WHITEAnd when I first came to GEMS I guess that was the first time that I actually realized that, you know, this is something that's not only happening to me. 'Cause, you know, even though I was out there every night surrounded by girls, every night you kind of feel isolated. You feel alone, you feel like, you know, this is something that's only happening to me and that no one is gonna understand, no one is not gonna hear me. And walk into GEMS for the first time I actually felt that, wow, there is hope. You know, the fact that I could walk in and see a survivor as a case manager and, you know, just to meet Rachel and see that she started this program, you know, really has -- has really filled me with hope that things can get better.
REHMTell me why you were arrested in the first place.
WHITEExcuse me, can you repeat that?
REHMYeah. Tell me why you were arrested in the first place?
WHITEI was arrested because of prostitution. Even though, I was, you know, only 15, 16 years old, they still processed me as an adult. You know, of course, because I was lying about my age, you know, but these are things that I was well instructed to do by my pimp. He would literally sit me down and tell me like, oh, you're name is Kimberly Johnson, you're 28, you know, every night. And basically instruct me on what to do when I find myself in situations. And, you know, that's basically the process when I was picked up.
WHITEI'm getting charged and arrested instead of him.
REHMWhat about the guys you were with? Was any of them ever arrested?
WHITENo, not at all. I mean, I have been with several -- I had been in several situations where, you know, I would get pulled up -- pulled over by, you know, police and, you know, I would be the one that's getting arrested. And clearly the guy, which is -- you know, they'll just let him go on about his business and found to leave. You know, if -- basically just brushed off and I would be the one going to jail.
REHMSo how did you come to work at GEMS and what do you do?
WHITEWell, when I first came to GEMS I was 16 and I kind of -- I basically grew up in the program. I -- by, you know, receiving services, having a case manager I was able to work through most of the trauma that I've been through. And then, you know, we have a youth leadership program at GEMS where it's basically a 20-week program that, you know, basically breaks down the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and what that is. And, you know, you begin to see commercial sex exploitation on a bigger scale. You don't see it as, you know, this is something that just happened to me and it's my choice.
REHMWell, Sheila, I want to congratulate you and thank you for telling your story here this morning. Good luck to you. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We have an e-mail from a police officer who identifies himself as a sergeant in the Miami Dade Police Department. He says, "Rachel and her outreach have been inspirational and pivotal in the law enforcement." And he now handles these kinds of cases there. "Her passion and understanding of this issue transcends its practical applications. What was once viewed as bad behavior on the part of the girls, we now see as an opportunity to affect change and go after the real criminals. Thank you. It's an honor to know and work with you."
LLOYDOh, that's lovely. That's really lovely.
REHMAll right, let's go now to Phillip in Baltimore, Md., good morning to you.
PHILLIPI wanted to just bring up a couple of quick points, especially for people who live in Maryland. I'm calling from Baltimore. One is an organization in Baltimore that has similar goals to the one that your guest has. It's called The Samaritan Women and thesamaritanwomen.org is their website for anyone who wants to check it out. They have various ministries and one of them is combating sex trafficking on a local level. And they're doing great work. I heard about them through my church, Dickey Memorial Presbyterian in Baltimore.
PHILLIPAnd the other point has to do with the Maryland legislature. There are bills that are being considered that would help our state combat sex trafficking. However, the house delegates are being held up by the chairman of the -- which committee is it -- judiciary committee delegate, Joseph Vallario, Jr. He seems to have a problem with a clause in the bill having to do with forfeiture by people who are convicted. He just doesn't like forfeiture, in general, so he, apparently, is willing to just throw sex abuse and trafficking victims under the bus because he doesn't like forfeiture. And I would encourage our citizens in Maryland to plead with him before the session is over to...
REHMAll right, Phillip, thank you for your call. Rachel, I would imagine that with the kinds of efforts that you've been involved in that other people around the country are realizing the need for this kind of program.
LLOYDYeah, I mean, I think, there's a definite -- see change in the last couple of years. I mean, I've been doing this for -- since '97, so 14 years. And in the beginning you couldn't get a single person to pay attention to this. And now, right traffic -- I mean the TVPA, the Traffic and Victims Protection Act came out in 2000. And, initially, that was really seen as something for international victims. And, I think, over the last few years we've begun to help people kind of recognize that domestic victims are impacted by this, too. And that you don't have to be from another country to be a trafficking victim. So, I mean, we're seeing a real shift and there are some great programs around the country who are doing great work.
LLOYDAnd so, you know, I think -- I'm optimistic that we can begin to get there. I mean the fact that the caller from Maryland just talked about legislation. I mean I hear his frustration right now but, you know, most states, at this point, in the country have trafficking legislation. Whether they're being implemented or not is a whole other issue.
REHMHere's a Tweet from Jen, who says, "Can we change the male side of sexual predation? What's in their heads that makes them think it's OK to use young girls?"
LLOYDI think what's in their heads is what we tell them as a society. That men have needs, men can buy sex, that women and girls in the sex industry aren't real people, they're prostitutes who don't have feelings, right. And that they're there to be kind of used and they're different. So, I mean, I think, as we -- if we can begin to shift our social attitudes around and have penalties, frankly, for johns. I mean, Sheila talked about the fact that none of the johns -- the buyers -- were ever arrested. And that's pretty common. So, I mean, we have to increase the penalties. And, I think, if men knew that there were consequences, they would be less likely to do it.
REHMAnd here's an e-mail from Claire who says, "What is happening to adult males that would bring on this interest? I cannot help but wonder if there is a cultural problem...
REHM...something amiss between adult men and women that would increase men's interest in children."
LLOYDNo, I think -- and, I think, the reality is is that most -- what we know is that the reality is that the most men who end up buying children in the sex industry aren't necessarily looking for children. They're looking for a quote, unquote prostitute. They want to buy sex. They don't really care who she is, where she came from. Ideally, she looks younger, right. And we live in a culture that has definitely sexualized youth and all that. But they're not pedophiles in that they're kind of -- there's a small percentage that are, but they're, you know, everyday, normal men who want to buy sex and feel like they have a right to buy sex. The fact that she's 14, 15, 16 -- I mean, most of the time they don't ask.
LLOYDI mean, Lawrence Taylor -- the Lawrence Taylor case is a really good example of somebody -- right, he thought she was 19. He felt okay with that. She turns out to be 16 and she was a runaway and was abused and turned up in his room with a black eye from her pimp, who brought her to his room. Afterwards, he said, well, everybody does it. This is normal. So, I mean, that attitude -- the -- right, he wasn't necessarily looking to buy a child, but he just wanted to buy sex.
REHMTo Mada in Lakewood, Ohio, good morning, you're on the air.
MADAGood morning, Rachel, I really -- I'm glad I have this opportunity to express myself. I can relate to you and your mothers there. Your mother -- in this world that we live in here in this country is we have choices in our lives. And our lives are about choices. I also married a man and my marriage did not work out. And it was kind of a bad choice who I married. And I had quite a bit of problems and I can relate to you, with your mother. And my child grew up and she is bipolar and she's had experiences, as I did, you know, but, at the same time, relating to the sexual attribute of the discussion that we're talking about, I really can't understand.
MADAI see how they use these girls, you know, in sexual, different, you know, in marketing or whatever they do, you know, with their pimps and all this. But many of these girls are not mentally together here and people take advantage of them. And that's another subject in itself. My daughter had been raped by her boyfriend while she was having psychotic breakdowns at two different times. Now, I called up about it to someone and to me, rape is rape and abuse is abuse. Actually, people have disputed this and said, well, they were going together, you know. But I just don't understand that somebody would even say that.
MADAAnd I see that some of these girls -- the other people I've seen in these hospitals, they're abused sexually. And many of these girls that are in the trafficking with the pimps and that, they have mental problems.
REHMDo you agree with that, Rachel?
LLOYDI mean, I think, the vast majority of the young people that we serve have serious histories of trauma. I think the young women that I work with are some of the smartest, strongest, most resilient girls and young women...
REHMThey have to be.
MADA...I've ever met. And I -- but, I think, right when you are 13, 14, 15, 16, whatever, and you have no options. I mean, you know, the caller just talked about choice and as an adult, right, we do have choices. But as a young person, right, I mean, what kind of choice is it really, right. If your choice is between running away from home, from your sexually abusive stepfather, and being with a pimp, or being with a pimp or sleeping on a train. I mean, and the reality is in the sex industry, not just for children, but for adult women, too. For most women, globally, in the sex industry, this is not about choice. It's about lack of choices.
REHMTo Louisville, Ky., and Sarah, good morning to you.
REHMYes, Sarah, go right ahead.
SARAHYeah, I just wanted to say I was, like, trapped in another situation. I was coming from a very religious family so religion betrayed me. So it was my abuse with my brother for so many years and, finally, having him arrested to stop it. My mother abandoned me and took him with them. So I was out on the street but I didn't go towards a sex trade. I did use my way with sex with other men to get what I needed. Then when I found other little girls on the street I took them to the places where they needed to be, either at home or at an institution for families and abused children. So I tried to help out the young ones when I was homeless. But I had to find the strength on the inside because religion had betrayed me.
LLOYDYeah, I mean, I think the reality is, right, I mean, you know, we only have a limited time on the show, but the amount of women in this country -- and men and boys, right, who have been sexually abused, assaulted, I mean, gender-based violence is an epidemic. And we have to address the root causes of that and we have to be able to acknowledge domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual abuse as still being incredibly prevalent and so damaging to so many people.
REHMTo Dallas, Texas, Reese, you're on the air.
REESEYes, I work for the Letot Center in Dallas County. We see a lot of runaways and girls who have been the victims of exploitation. And, currently, we're trying to develop a lot of more intense interventions. Like, we're building -- or working on building a residential treatment center that can work with a couple dozen or more of these girls at a time. For long-term placement we're developing a program called HOPE, Helping to Overcome and Prevent Exploitation. One of the biggest frustrations that we have is that, you know, we're a very short-term site right now so we work with these girls who have been prostituted for a while and we see them for, maybe a month or two.
REESEAnd then as soon as they leave the shelter, they're, you know, back on the street within a week, a lot of the time. And so I was just kind of wondering what kind of success rate you've seen when working with this population.
REHMWell, help me to understand -- Reese, help me to understand how long your treatment program is.
REESEWell, see that's what the issue is is that right now the treatment plan -- we're only able to work with them as long as they're in the center. And we're only able to keep the girls for up to three months, at most.
REESEAnd that's why we're trying to build this residential treatment center, which can house them for a lot longer.
LLOYDWe have about a 70 percent success rate, 72 percent success rate in working with young people and helping them exit the commercial sex industry. I mean, our services are, you know, Sheila talked about growing up in the program. I mean, she's 16 -- she was 16 when she came. She's 24 now and is full-time staff. But, right, that's the reality for a lot of the -- the girls and women that we work with is the, you know, those family supports and the damage that was done – even prior to the commercial sex industry, right. It takes a lot of unpacking and, even once they're out of the commercial sex industry, right, at 18, 19 you're navigating a relationship or starting college and you need adults around you because that's what young people need.
LLOYDSo, I mean, I think, the long-term services are critical and, I think, there's also -- you have to, when you're working with this population, you know, one of the chapters in the book is called, "Relapse" and it talks about girls going back. And it's part of that process. And we know that any process of -- of change, and, particularly, the level of trauma bonding that the girls have to their abusers and – and to the life. I mean, relapse is part of the process and, I think, what makes GEMS work is that girls -- that door is always open. And that they can come back at any time and we never close that door.
REHMRachel Lloyd, her new book is titled, "Girls Like Us," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Miami, Fla., good morning, Orrin.
ORRINGood morning. I wanted to just make two points. One is I did attend a three-day workshop put on by Ms. Lloyd and several of her associates and I've been a mental health professional for close to 35 years and I thought that she and her associates did an outstanding job.
ORRINAnd I also -- I work in foster care and I wanted to ask this question. If adult sex work were decriminalized and medicalized as it is in some states where there's weekly testing and requiring condoms for commercial sex acts and healthcare workers could ask them if they wanted alternatives, if they wanted treatment and if it were monetized -- in other words, taxed -- would that not, number one, free up a lot of law enforcement to -- to address itself to the underage sex trafficking. And would that not also direct more resources to underage sex trafficking.
LLOYDI mean, I don't think that's the experience that has been found, unfortunately, in places where they have -- Amsterdam, Australia. I worked in Germany where it's essentially legalized and I was underage as were many of the other girls who worked in the clubs and the brothels and the streets. So, I mean, I think -- and, like I said earlier, I mean, the demand is there for sex. It's not necessarily there for children. And so even if you -- even if you legalize it men still want to buy sex from folks who look young, who they think are less likely to have diseases. And the sex industry is inherently violent and oppressive.
LLOYDI mean, I think, when you look at -- you know, and I encourage you read stuff about what's happened in Nevada and some of the studies that they've done out there. I mean, you know, the bunny ranch isn't exactly like a place of empowerment and joy. And folks who end up in the sex industry, you know, by and large, do have histories of trauma and abuse. So, I mean, if we're creating and legalizing an industry that preys upon people who are already vulnerable, who've been abused, right, we're sending a message that it's okay to abuse a certain group of women and girls.
LLOYDI think the best model is kind of the Nordic model that decriminalizes it for the women so that women aren't going through the criminal justice system. It provides alternatives for them -- employment, economic options, but criminalizes the buying of sex and the profiting off of someone else. So pimps and johns are the one who are criminalized but the women aren't kind of going back and forth through jail.
REHMI know you worked very hard in New York to get the law changed to create Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act. What about in other states around the country?
LLOYDI mean, we've seen since New York passed -- we were the first state to create and pass the Safe Harbor legislation. Five other states have since passed it. I mean, my hope is in five years or less, right, we'll see legislation in every single state and that we'll look back and say we sent 13-year-olds to jail for an act of prostitution. That's absolutely ludicrous.
REHMRachel Lloyd, her new book is titled, "Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale." She is the creator and founder of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, in Harlem. Thank you for being here and thank you for your work.
LLOYDThank you for having me, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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