Podcast Transcript: Rachel Lloyd


Rachel Lloyd, founder and CEO of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, or GEMS, in New York, explains why runaway and homeless youth providers are so well-suited to combating sexual trafficking.
Time: 4:53 | Size: 4.5 MB


NCFY: Welcome to Voices from the Field, a podcast series from the Family and Youth Services Bureau.  Today, we’re at the 2011 Runaway and Homeless Youth Conference in Portland, Oregon, where Rachel Lloyd is talking with attendees after giving a keynote address.  Lloyd is the founder and Executive Director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services or GEMS, an agency in New York City that helps the victims of sexual trafficking.  We spoke with her about why Runaway and Homeless Youth programs are so well suited to helping sexually exploited young people, and the challenges they face in doing so. 

LLOYD:  The vast majority of young people who end up in the commercial sex industry are runaway and homeless prior to their recruitment.  This is such a natural kind of fit in terms of the runaway and homeless youth community taking leadership on this issue.  Just because of kind of the philosophy, the services, and who they’re coming into contact with. 

I think a lot of the needs of sexually exploited youth have kind of cut across the board with runaway and homeless youth.  But, I mean, I think specifically the safety issues are relatively different.  Exploiters and pimps know where to find girls particularly in kind of large runaway and homeless youth shelters.  And I think that creates real safety challenges that staff have to be really conscious of.  

There are multiple kinds of complexities around the psychological impact of commercial sexual exploitation and how you view relationships, how you view your sexuality, how you view money.  And so, there are a whole layer of kind of specialized needs that young people have, particularly in needing to be around other survivors and to be able to talk openly and honestly about judgment about this issue and to feel like “I’m not the only one.  I wasn’t a bad girl.  I’m not dirty.  This is something that people have gone through and it’s okay to talk about.”

NCFY: Lloyd says that RHY workers need to be on the lookout for telltale signs of exploitation.

LLOYD:  Girls aren’t necessarily identifying their exploiter as a pimp.  People will say do you have a pimp?  And the girls say “No.  I have a boyfriend.”

Having like maybe clothes or hair done or money or whatever or nails done or whatever, but not actually having access to any cash ever.  Girls who exhibit a familiarity with kind of language and terminology that’s associated with the subculture of the life. Not having control of their own ID, not having ID.  And again, none of these factors in and of themselves necessarily indicates commercial sexual exploitation.  But I think when you begin to look at like a combination of factors...

Young people who are using, I mean, at one point it was Craig’s List.  Now it’s Back Page, right?  If you’re a teenager and you’re on Back Page, there are only so many reasons why you would be on there.  You’re probably not selling a car or looking for a job.

NCFY: Proper training can help youth workers learn the best way to engage these youth and set appropriate expectations.

LLOYD: Staff have to be conscious of what certain terminology means and check their own biases quite frankly.  You know, we hear folks talk about, well, she was “prostituting herself.”  And so this kind of concept of choice and young people making decisions and young people maybe being lazy or just wanting money or just liking sex, I think is really challenging.  And I think it makes young people shut down very, very quickly and not disclose because they don’t feel safe to disclose.

A lot of folks don’t ask.  They don’t ask “Have you ever had to trade sex?  Are you trading sex?  What’s the circumstances?  Is there anybody else who’s making money off of you?”

Change is this really complex, long-term, often going backwards kind of process.  Be patient with that process and acknowledge and respect young people’s achievements, even if it’s as small as just showing up.  Because, for a young person, particularly a young person who’s under the control of a pimp or is still in the commercial sex industry, that in itself is huge. 

NCFY: Learn more about GEMS at their website, www.gems-girls.org. And for more information on sexual trafficking and runaway and homeless youth, visit the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, online at ncfy.acf.hhs.gov.



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