Girls Like Us: Reflection #1
So far, I have finished the Prologue and chapters 1-3 of Girls Like Us, “fighting for a world where girls are not for sale, an activist finds her calling and heals herself.”
As you can probably imagine, this book is very heavy. I find that I can only read a chapter at a time and have to take a break from it just because of the emotional weight that is present. While I have heard many stories from survivors of sex-trafficking, while I’ve read lots of research, attended many seminars, committed to educating myself on this issue, Rachel Lloyd’s book brings more depth and connection to all of the pieces I’ve previously encountered. It’s also vividly reminding me of experiences I had as a child and teenager–watching my friends’ worlds fall apart and their struggle with family and church groups.
The biggest hitter was in the most recent chapter. Lloyd focused on family in chapter 3, both her own and the families of the girls she works with through GEMS. Her underlying point is that the “family unit” created by a pimp is often accepted and attractive to girls because their biological or foster families are so broken. I am going to share quite a few quotes from the book because 1) I think people don’t get this and 2) because she nails it so strongly that my paraphrasing won’t do justice.
Statistics, presented without the faces, the stories, the tears, couldn’t even begin to measure the severity or frequency of the trauma these girls were experiencing. Girls who’d been sexually abused by every male in their family, girls who were orphaned by their parent’s murder/suicide/death by AIDS who would then be abused in the system, girls who had only known the touch of an adult to be sexual or violent, girls for whom the concept of love, family, care, bore little resemblance to most people’s definitions. (page 52)
The desire for a family is so strong and so overpowering for most children that it doesn’t take much to create that illusion. Pimps play upon this desire by creating a pseudo-family structure of girls who are your “wives-in-law” headed up by a man you call “Daddy”….Growing up with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent sets the stage for caretaking and codependency patterns that are helpful in making girls feel responsible for taking care of their pimp. Violence in the home trains children to believe that abuse and aggression are normal expressions of love. Abandonment and neglect can create all types of attachment disorders that can be used to keep girls from ever leaving their exploiters.” (page 56-57).
Like all forms of child abuse, sexual abuse teaches powerful life-changing lessons….For girls who have experienced incest, sexual abuse, or rape, the boundaries between love, sex, and pain become blurred. Secrets are normal, and shame is constant. The lessons learned during sexual abuse are valuable ones for recruitment into the commercial sex industry….Sexual abuse lays the groundwork. The pimp, the trafficker, doesn’t need to do much training. It’s already been done–by her father, her uncle, her mother’s boyfriend, her teacher. She’s well prepared for what’s to come. (page 64-65).
Before I continue, I feel compelled to tell my readers: It’s okay to pause for a bit to let that soak in. For those of you who have a hard time grasping why women stay in abusive relationships, why girls don’t just run away from their pimps, this should be very clear now.
Also, Lloyd’s statements (and all of the narrative story that surrounds them) stirred up memories for me. I imagine that someone reading this may need to cry a bit for herself, for a sister, for a friend who was sexually abused as a child or teenager. And that’s okay too. It is right to feel hurt, and whatever happened was not deserved EVER. Maybe someday, you will come to know Christ and the fact that His death not only covered sins you commit, but He also scorned our shame, which means the sins committed against you can be washed away so that true healing can begin.
Some of you who are reading this blog know that I work for a nonprofit that serves homeless and low-income men, women and children. The family situations that Lloyd discusses are very common among the population that my organization serves–especially the young men and women served through our youth shelter and housing programs. In fact, I was recently in a meeting where we were reading transcripts of youth’s stories, and these family events–parents using substances, parents dying, abuse in the foster care, abuse by family members–were all present in their stories.
What I appreciate about Lloyd’s discussion about family, though, is that she doesn’t lay into the parents all this blame. Yes, most of these parents did not do their job. They were supposed to be loving and nurturing and caring, and they weren’t. But, Lloyd is very honest about the fact that many of these parents are simply acting on what their own view of “family” and “parenting” is–based on how their family was…and their parent’s families…and the cycle goes back…and it will probably continue forward.
Now, this is where Lloyd leaves us at the end of the chapter, but I feel like I can’t leave off here. Instead, I’m going to ask you to reflect a bit, because this information should not just sit on your shoulders like a burden. Instead, it should role behind you, pushing you forward to do something.
Perhaps you need to change your perspective. If you wonder why young people struggle with substances, crime, sexuality….perhaps it’s because they are trying to cope with some very traumatic issues. Remember, it’s not like they can just ignore it. It lives with them every day. What are you–as a survivor, community member, friend, family member–going to do to support that young person so that he or she can start working through the trauma and be healed?
Perhaps you have experienced the family cycles that are described, and you are still trying to heal and re-frame your perspectives so that you can break the cycle. Please know that it can happen. Do not give up. If you are a person of faith, know that the Lord is the Father to the fatherless, that He loves the orphans and widows and will bring new perspectives.
And, if you are a person of faith, I challenge you to not just pray about the family cycles, about the homeless and exploited boys and girls in our nation—-I challenge you to do something about it. Raise awareness. Become active in being the support system for these boys and girls so that they can work through their trauma and heal. Be the hands and feet of Christ and do not sit on your couch feeling sorry for them any longer. Demand change and be the change.