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Trafficking survivor brings new insight

This past Thursday, I had the honor of listening to human trafficking survivor, Rachel Lloyd, speak at Northern Kentucky University. I didn’t know much about her before I went, but I was instantly impressed and inspired with all she has been able to do. Rachel Lloyd founded the organization G.E.M.S (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) with just $30 and a borrowed computer. She has since gone on to write a book, Girls Like Us. And a film has been done about her work, entitled Very Young Girls.

For 15 years, Rachel has been empowering and mentoring young women with the hope of preventing them from falling prey to human traffickers. She feels very passionate about her work, since she herself knows what it’s like to not have control over your own body. At age 13, Rachel dropped out of school for a life on the streets. She quickly found herself being dominated by pimps. When I showed up Thursday night, I expected to hear more about Rachel’s life story.  However, as soon as the event started, she made it clear that she would not be giving a detailed outline of her experiences. I was a little disappointed at first. However, I quickly felt differently. As Rachel spoke from her experiences as a survivor-leader in her organization, she pushed us to think differently. I would like to share with you some of the words of wisdom that resulted from her unique angle on the issue.

1.  Sex trafficking victims in the United State should be viewed the same way as sex trafficking victims in other countries—all are victims. However, this is not the case. Most people view prostitution as a choice a person makes and can never change. Someone trafficked is a victim who can change and eventually be free. A sex trafficking victim in the U.S. is not equivalent to a prostitute.

2.  In America, we promote the idea of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. But as Rachel said, “if you don’t have boots, there’s no straps to pull”. We cannot always hold victims accountable to help themselves because it’s not always possible.

3.  “You don’t have to be chained to a wall to feel like you can’t leave.” The door could be wide open, but if a threat is present then you won’t try to leave. Rachel explained that what initially happens in the victim’s experience with a trafficker can be enough to chain someone figuratively.

4.  Seventy to ninety percent of sex trafficking victims had sexual abuse in their background. The sex industry and particularly traffickers target those who have been trained early on that their body is not their own. By the time the trafficker has come along, the work has already been done.

5.  Are we thinking about how our actions will have a long term effect on fighting human trafficking? Rachel explained how rescuing is not a long term plan, but empowerment is. She pushed us to use the anti-human trafficking momentum to influence other areas related to human trafficking- education, poverty, child abuse. She suggested we mentor a child through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, because this helps build resiliency in kids. As Rachel said, “we know the presence of a consistent, healthy adult in the child’s life has a huge impact.” Another way is to promote a culture where girls and women are celebrated.

6. “You need to have survivors engaged at all levels of leadership.” Rachel elaborated by saying that it must be done in an authentic way so that you don’t exploit the victims again by taking advantage of them.

7. Rachel argued against the notion of reintegrating victims back into ‘regular society.’ She points out that ‘regular society’ did the violence, was the customer, didn’t build the shelters, etc. She explained that we need to change ‘regular society,’ not try to change/integrated survivors into it.  


For more information on G.E.M. visit 

Photo courtesy of Social Media Week.