A 12-year-old girl stands in a New York courtroom waiting to be judged. She has been abandoned by her family, shuttled among foster homes and sexually abused for years, forced to survive by selling the only thing she had…herself. Looking down on the girl, the judge sentences her to a year in juvenile detention because, he says, she needs to learn “proper moral principles.”
That case stirred outrage and action in Rachel Lloyd who had also survived a childhood of poverty, domestic violence and sexual exploitation. She knew what that girl and so many others like her needed: not punishment but protection. They are not criminals, she says, they are victims.
“70-90% of girls and women who end up in the sex industry were victims of childhood sexual abuse prior to recruitment.”
In 1998, Rachel founded Girls Educational and Mentoring Services or GEMS with a mission is to end the sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of American girls and young women ages 12-24.
“You don’t have to be from another country to feel like you don’t have options in this country. The sex exploitation in this country looks the same as it does for girls and women globally.”
GEMS goal is to make positive changes in laws, policies and public perceptions of the problem and its victims. And there have been victories. In 2008, helped by Rachel’s advocacy, New York became the first state to protect, not prosecute, children who have been sexually exploited and trafficked. 9 other states have since followed that lead.
Since its small beginning, GEMS has grown to become the largest service provider of its kind in the nation, offering intensive services and support to over 350 girls and young women, preventive outreach and education to 1,500 youth, and training for over 1,300 professionals each year.
Through her commitment and tireless efforts, Rachel has impacted and empowered thousands of girls and women who might have been lost in the system. It goes without saying that Rachel Lloyd is a ‘gem.’