Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd -- Emotional and Vivid Portrait of Sexual Exploitation

I confess...I struggled for words to update folks while reading Rachel Lloyd's Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself.  It is an amazing book (part memoir, part call to action) but my usual "I'm enjoying it" or "I love it" doesn't really work when the subject is the sexual exploitation of girls and teens.  I can confidently give five stars to the book (provided to me by the folks at Harper), but still don't know the exact words I want to use.

Lloyd is a survivor herself.  She ended up in the sex industry after fleeing an unhealthy home and turning to exotic dancing to make ends meet when traditional jobs turned her away due to her youth.  She ultimately suffers at the hands of an abusive man who sells her body and treats her as property but who is able to control her, in part, because of her emotional vulnerability.  Lloyd becomes an advocate for girls and young women (as young as eleven!) whose bodies have been co-opted by men and who learn to believe that they are worth only as much as they can bring in for their pimp each night.  Lloyd helps an outsider understand what makes these girls vulnerable and how they fall under such harsh control.  She also shows how difficult it can be, emotionally and financially, to flee this life once captured by it.  The book is deeply upsetting but does express hope that these girls and women can be saved if we open our eyes and admit they are there and that they exist.  Lloyd calls upon us to recognize that the sex industry includes young girls and women in our own backyards, not just the more recognized international sex trade (which is, of course, also a horrid industry). 

I often struggle with non-fiction "issue" books because I feel that they can struggle in terms of organization and thus can lose the attention of their reader (or, at least, lose MY attention).  Lloyd deftly overcomes this, tracing issues and stages of exploitation and interspersing her own story and stories of the victims she has helped along with more factual data.  She helps the reader to see past biases and assumptions and to recognize the lost, lonely, and frightened children hiding behind the sexy clothes, makeup, and stilettos. 

Highly recommend for anyone interested in women's issues.  I'm not in a position to do so these days, but I do hope to support Lloyd's work financially in the future.

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