If local police find a cache of girls from Thailand being forced to work as sex slaves in a Cleveland warehouse, they see sexually exploited victims of human trafficking in need of rescuing. If a cop drives through downtown Cleveland and sees an American girl in a short skirt approach a car, he sees a teen prostitute and hauls her to jail. Why are foreign girls called victims and American girls called criminals? Because, according to the conventional American perspective, domestic girls—eleven, twelve and thirteen-year-olds—have made a choice.
This is just one of the issues raised in Rachel Lloyd’s memoir Girls Like Us, a book that pulls the reader through the maze of fear, intimidation, abuse, loneliness and neglect suffered by commercially sexually exploited girls who are born in the U.S.A.
Girls and young women born in Los Angeles and Chicago who are sold by pimps and bought by johns are as much victims, Lloyd says, as girls and young women born in Cambodia or Ukraine who are shipped around the world and sold as sex slaves. Why? Because they don’t have a choice either.
Comparing her own experiences to those of young girls she encounters through her work at GEMS, the foundation she started at age 23 in New York City, Lloyd details how girls are recruited by pimps who, posing as the father figure many of them lack, give their lives structure and provide the basic necessities of food and shelter, while controlling their minds and hearts with no small amount of violence.
Calling Lloyd’s book “extraordinarily inspiring,” Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times that Girls Like Us is “a reminder that homegrown American girls are also trafficked, and they deserve sympathy and social services—not handcuffs.”