From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011
Entrant: Meghan Ward
Nominee: Rachel Lloyd, Founder and Executive Director of GEMS
It is with profound admiration and respect that I nominate Rachel Lloyd as a women’s health hero for the 2010 Our Bodies Ourselves Women’s Health Hero awards. Rachel Lloyd is the founder and executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in New York City, also known as GEMS. GEMS helps girls and young women escape lives of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.
GEMS provides counseling, shelter, educational services and many other services needed for victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. In addition to helping young girls and women escape lives of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, one of GEMS primary goals is to educate the public about the current attitudes and beliefs which treat victims of sexual exploitation as criminals.
Treating victims of child sexual exploitation as criminals is one of the worst possible things one can do. It does not help eradicate commercial sex trafficking. In fact, it does far more harm than good to those victimized by men who buy and sell young girls. Rachel Lloyd works tirelessly to change such absurd views, speaking out against these laws and sentences in the United States.
Ms. Lloyd is a tireless advocate on behalf of girls and young women victimized by commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. One way in which she works to end sexual exploitation in the United States is through education and advocacy. For example, because young girls are forced to sell their bodies, they are often arrested, charged with prostitution, and sentenced to time in prison.
The most common age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 13 years old, and the average age of consent in the United States is 16 years old. Girls are being charged with a crime that they cannot even legally consent to. This is infuriating, confusing and not conducive to change or the elimination of sexual exploitation. The men and boys who buy, sell, and use young girls bodies often go free, or receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The time for change is now, and Rachel Lloyd is changing lives, one girl at a time.
Ms. Lloyd is a woman of incredible strength, courage, and kindness. As a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, Ms. Lloyd understands better than anyone what young girls victimized by sexual exploitation have endured. She knows what challenges lie ahead, and she knows the struggles and courage it takes to leave behind their traffickers. Ms. Lloyd treats every girl with kindness, compassion, and respect, allowing for the development of strong relationships, and more importantly, the development of strong young women who know that they deserve better. GEMS allows girls to finally feel safe, respected and loved.
Ms. Lloyd became determined to help girls victimized by commercial sexual exploitation, as she was once in their position. As a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, Ms. Lloyd immigrated to the United States, completely changing her life and the lives of others by establishing GEMS. With no financial support, she single-handedly established GEMS in an effort to help other victims of sex trafficking in the U.S.
Sex trafficking is almost always discussed and understood as something that happens in developing countries, but the truth is the commercial sex trafficking of young girls happens in the United States every single day. It is an epidemic that many turn a blind eye to, and it is an epidemic where its victims are treated as criminals. It is an epidemic that must be eradicated.
GEMS offers an alternative to the unjust and cruel prison sentences given to the child victims of commercial sex trafficking in the United States. GEMS has grown into a nationally-recognized and praised organization, far from its roots as a single person enterprise. First established in 1998, GEMS has helped hundreds of girls who have been commercially sexually trafficked in the United States. GEMS believes that all girls are precious and worthy of respect and love. This is something that Rachel Lloyd takes to heart, as the organizations name “GEMS” is a strong reminder of how precious each and every girl truly is. In Rachel’s eyes, each girl is a GEM.
Ms. Lloyd also works towards educating the public about the glorification of “pimp culture”, which is clearly seen within many different facets of today’s society, including music, movies, social networking sites such as Twitter, and even the Academy Awards. She spoke out against the nomination of Three Six Mafia’s “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” as Best Song at the 2006 Academy Awards. “In my eyes I done seen some crazy thangs in the streets/ Gotta couple hoes workin on the changes for me,” the lyrics read. The song won.
Furthermore, a recent Twitter exchange between actresses Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian brings the issues surrounding the glorification of pimp culture to light, as the phrase “big pimpin’” accompanied a photo of Ms. Kardashian. Demi Moore spoke out against this phrase, explaining its dangers and true meanings. Moore received a barrage of negative comments against her, as many justified the use of the phrase.
Ms. Lloyd wrote to the Huffington Post, saying, “We glamorize and glorify pimp culture, use terminology that seems to legitimize the practice, and in doing so ignore the fact that pimps are modern day slave owners.”
In addition to establishing GEMS and receiving two college degrees in the process, Ms. Lloyd has been named “One of 50 Women Who Change the World” by Ms. Magazine and is the recipient of Reebok’s 2006 Human Rights Award. I first heard of GEMS and Rachel Lloyd at a screening of the documentary “Very Young Girls” held at Simmons College.
I was completely blown away by Ms. Lloyd’s selflessness and extraordinary dedication to girls victimized by commercial sex trafficking. She is for many girls the nurturing figure that they have for so long lacked in their lives. She understands and respects the girls better than almost anyone I have ever seen. With selfless dedication, empowerment, love, and respect, Ms. Lloyd is making a profound difference. I nominate her on behalf of all victims of sexual exploitation everywhere.
Rachel Lloyd, you are truly a hero.