Recovery, Dignity, and Helping Others after Being Trafficked
By Mitzi Perdue
If you were to meet Rachel Lloyd today, you’d see a leader known for improving the lives of young women who have been sex trafficked. The organization she founded, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), has helped thousands of girls and young women be restored to a life of dignity.
We’ll get into how this miracle gets accomplished in a moment. But first let’s take a look at Lloyd’s extraordinary journey from being trafficked herself to leading a movement that has transformed laws, attitudes and most of all, lives.
When Lloyd was 17, she left England and her abusive, alcoholic mother, hoping to start a new life in Germany. She arrived in Munich with enough money to pay for two weeks’ room and board. She assumed she could get a job waitressing.
However, there was a flaw with this plan. “I didn’t speak German,” she recalls, “and that meant I couldn’t get the kind of job I was counting on.”
At the end of two weeks, things were becoming desperate. “I was about to be kicked out of my bed and breakfast, and that meant I’d have no place to go. I walked into a strip club and said I could dance. My plan was to do it to do it for a week, so I’d have enough money to pay for a ticket back to England.”
However, she wasn’t even qualified for a job dancing. The manager did offer to pay her to be a hostess, the kind that encourages customers to have a drink with them.
She soon learned that having a drink with a customer wasn’t just “having a drink with a customer.” There was a back room where the high paying customers expected her to spend intimate time with them.
Her first night, an 80-year old man bought her a bottle of champagne. In return, she had to go the back room with him.
After her “back room” experience was over, she felt so dirty that she spent the rest of that night in the shower, “wanting to scrub my skin off.” The experience was harrowing, but it did mean that she had enough money pay her rent.
Her plans to work at the strip club for only a week, didn’t work out. The money was good, but her self-esteem was low, and it wasn’t much of a step to being sex trafficked.
Her life became full of beatings, hunger, betrayal, violence, and terror. It was a nightmare.
After two years, she was able to get out of “the life,” with the help of a military family and a church on a US Air Force base in Germany. From there, she emigrated to the United States, got her GED, a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in Applied Urban Anthropology.
Her time of being exploited for commercial sex left her with a deep desire to help other young women. She started GEMS in 1998, and in the years since, she’s helped mentor more than 300 girls and young women a year, helping them get out of “the life.” In the last 21 years, she’s:
- Created a place of safety and support for thousands of girls and young women
- Passed legislation that finally protects children
- Reached millions of Americans through awareness and cultural change efforts
- Created the survivor leadership movement
- Permanently changed the conversation and landscape on CSE (Commercial Sexual Exploitation) and domestic trafficking in the U.S.
She sums up her life by saying, “Obviously there have been experiences I would rather not have had and pain I wish I hadn’t felt, but every experience, every tear, every hardship has equipped me for the work I do now. I get such deep satisfaction from knowing I’m fulfilling my purpose, that my life is counting for something; it puts all the past hurts into perspective. My pain has become my passion and I find true joy in my work, in my life, and in seeing ‘my girls’ fulfill their purpose too.”
If you’d like to support girls and young women who are working to rebuild their lives after having been trafficked, visit Lloyd’s website: https://www.gems-girls.org/about-anything And even better, donate. Your donation can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of the many young women whose lives GEMS and Rachel Lloyd touch.
About The Author
Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.
She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.