Rachel Lloyd is the founder of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) a nonprofit that serves victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, and the author of Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale (Harper).
In 1998, at just 23 years old, Lloyd founded Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) at her kitchen table with $30 and a borrowed computer. She was driven by the lack of services for commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked girls and young women and the incredible stigma and punishment they faced from service providers, law enforcement, the courts, their families and society.
Nineteen years later, her indelible impact on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking has helped shift the perception of trafficked girls from criminals to victims and now to survivors and leaders. GEMS is now the largest service provider of its kind in the nation providing intensive services and support to over 450 girls and young women, preventive outreach and education to 1,500 youth, and training over 1,300 professionals each year.
Lloyd is well-known for her tireless dedication to ‘her girls’ and has impacted thousands of individual lives through her love and commitment, but she is also passionate about changing public perception and policy. Her courageous advocacy ensured the passage of New York State’s Safe Harbour for Sexually Exploited Children Act, which in 2008 became the first law in the nation to protect and not punish trafficked and exploited youth. Since then 13 other states have followed suit.
She co-produced the ground-breaking Showtime documentary Very Young Girls, which has been seen by over 4 million people and created a national dialogue on the issue. Lloyd has used her unique voice to advocate for survivors at the White House, the United Nations, and before Congress.
Nationally recognized for her innovative work in transforming the movement’s understanding of survivor leadership, she continues to pave the way for survivor leaders across the country. She was honored as one of the “50 Women Who Change the World” by Ms. Magazine and recognized with a Reebok Human Rights Award. She was also a recipient of a 2009 Ashoka Fellowship, the Frederick Douglass Award from the North Star Fund, and the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women, among many other accolades.
Lloyd received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Marymount Manhattan College and her Master’s in Applied Urban Anthropology from the City College of New York
Praise for Girls Like Us:
"Girls Like Us is powerfully raw, deeply moving, and utterly authentic. Rachel Lloyd has turned a personal atrocity into triumph and is nothing less than a true hero. Exposing the complexities of 'the life,' she takes you inside a world most prefer to pretend doesn't exist, and puts you front and center with the realities of the commercial sex industry and the modern day slave trade right here in America. Never again will you look at young girls on the street as one of 'those' women -- you will only see little girls that are girls just like us."
-- Demi Moore, actress and activist
"Powerful, superbly reasoned, and articulate . . . Tackles a sensitive subject with clarity, compassion and a biting sense of humor . . . Make no mistake, once you have read Rachel's memoir you will never be able to look at the sexual exploitation of children, and the women they become, as a victimless crime . . . Girls Like Us tells the whole story with visceral power . . . It is a page-turner, an eye-opener, a call to action, and a moving and inspiring story. It is told throughout with wit and candor. Lucky for us there are girls and women like Rachel Lloyd."
-- Jane Wells, Huffington Post
"Extraordinarily inspiring . . . [Girls Like Us] illuminates the complexities of the sex industry . . . From johns to judges, Americans often suffer from a profound misunderstanding of how teenage prostitution actually works - and fail to appreciate that it's one of our country's biggest human rights problems . . . I hope that Lloyd's important and compelling book will be a reminder that homegrown American girls are also trafficked, and they deserve sympathy and social services - not handcuffs and juvenile detention."
-- Nicholas Kristof, New York Times
"Lloyd's stripper-to-savior journey is riveting . . . [She] describes with introspection and honesty the unfortunate circumstances and decisions that led her into 'the life'. . . Lloyd's passionate, persuasive arguments for recognition and protection give a voice to the thousands of girls all around us who work and suffer in near invisibility."
-- Corrie Pikul, Elle
"Fascinating and moving."
-- Marie Claire
"A brutally honest and disturbing look at sex trafficking, challenging society's indifference and offering portraits of the occasional victory of girls who, like [Lloyd], heal and recover from their abuse."
-- Booklist (starred review)
"Heartbreaking . . . But the book is also at times funny, bawdy, and optimistic, as is Lloyd herself."
-- Jennie Yabroff, The Daily Beast
"Rachel Lloyd's astonishing stories of life on the street have an accumulative power that left me reeling. What makes Girls Like Us such an extraordinary achievement is that her storytelling is unflinchingly honest, and yet filled with a sense of promise, filled with a profound sense of hope."
-- Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River
"This book will burn a hole in your heart. The beauty of Rachel Lloyd's searing memoir is how she exorcises the pain of her own troubled girlhood by connecting with hundreds of young women on a brutal path. The truth and power of her writing takes us to a place where common humanity becomes the ultimate healer."
-- Mira Nair, director of Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, and The Namesake
"Powerful . . . [Lloyd] details her life, seamlessly interweaving her current work and a more socio-political analysis of the domestic trafficking of girls and women . . . But what really "makes" the book is what a truly gifted writer she is. The memoir moves quickly, propelled by skillfully drawn scenes and important insights about risk and recovery."
-- Courtney Martin, Feministing.com
"Harrowing . . . A painful yet powerful book that asks readers to examine personal prejudices, find compassion for those most view as throwaways and recognize child abuse however it manifests."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"With empathy and intellect, Rachel Lloyd brings to light the heart-breaking stories of these lost, forgotten and abused girls. Her own life story is a source of inspiration and hope. She is an important new voice of conscience to which America needs to pay attention."
-- Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO, Harlem Children's Zone
"While attention is finally being paid to victims of international trafficking, their sexually exploited American counterparts as young as eleven are criminalized for their heinous victimization. Rachel Lloyd's memoir should be mandatory reading for every cop, prosecutor, judge, and 'john', but also every mainstream American who thinks racism, classism and misogyny don't exist."
-- Sarah Jones, Tony Award-winning playwright/performer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
"Girls Like Us is a life-changing book, in every sense of the word. Rachel Lloyd changed her life in order to help change the lives of thousands of others - read her incredibly powerful story, and your life will be changed too."
-- Janice Erlbaum, author of Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir and Have You Found Her: A Memoir
"Girls Like Us is a powerful and eloquent recounting of the lives of children and young women caught up in the ravages of sexual exploitation by someone who has 'walked the walk.' This introspective and reflective book offers valuable insights into understanding the complex emotional and economic factors that contribute to the exploitation of children and youth. Lloyd is to be congratulated."
-- Richard J. Estes, Professor of Social Work, University of Pennsylvania
Photo by Tracy Toler