Abbie Gillgan is a volunteer outreach worker with Beyond the Streets Door of Hope project. Earlier this summer she took a break from outreach in east London to spend some time supporting Oasis India’s outreach teams in Mumbai. In this blog, she reflects on her time caring for women in similar situations on two very different continents.
The bright colours, breath taking smells and sticky heat of India as it neared the end of the dry season were a privilege to experience. But the greatest privilege I had during my short three week trip was the opportunity to spend time with and learn from the women and their children, who are working and living in some of the most desperate environments I have witnessed. Mumbai’s red light district, Kamatipur, is the largest in Asia. This informal settlement is a seemingly never-ending maze, lined with single-roomed shacks, in which the women ‘serve’ their customers as their children sleep under the bed. In this area, every woman sells sex and every man is a pimp or customer, giving the children who grow up here little hope or example of anything else.
Except there is glimmer of hope. Tucked away and unassuming, the humble premises of Oasis India in the heart of Kamatipur provides a safe space, schooling support and food for some of these children while their mothers work. Their outreach to the women in the area had elements of familiarity with what we do at Door of Hope, providing a non-judgemental ear, offering practical support and letting the women know that there can be a life for them beyond the streets.
Spending time in both the slums of Kamatipur and the mega-brothels of Grant Road, was a humbling and welcome reminder of our shared humanity. Despite my undeserved privilege, blindingly pale skin, and my total lack of Hindi, I was struck by the ease at which we could laugh and cry together. It bought to life Jo Cox’s mantra that ‘we have more in common than that which separates us’. While that may feel like a cliché, it’s nonetheless one that our Western society so desperately needs to embrace.
On one level I knew it already, but going to India definitely bought home to me that women experiencing sexual exploitation are not the passive victims that our media and our minds paint them to be. They are fierce, strong and are able to find joy within circumstances so unjust and beyond their control. These are traits I saw in the women in Kamatipur, traits I see in the women in Bethnal Green, and traits I want to see more of in me.
Abbie works for the NSPCC in their Child Safety Online team, which is allowing her to use some of the research she did for her Masters on the harms of online pornography to work to prevent young people from seeing it. She’s been volunteering with Door of Hope in East London for about 8 months, and is passionate about the need to do more to tackle the systemic causes of sexual exploitation.
Speak up for the fierce, strong and able women experiencing sexual exploitation in our communities by standing in solidarity with women this #NOvemberCamapign. Sign up.
‘Amy’ is currently moving away from selling sex and has been talking with the Beyond Support team over the phone for several months. Recently, she had this to say:
I’ve never wallowed but in another sense I was holding onto that problem and that life. When you can realise that you are a victim of someone else’s behaviour, but you don’t have to be a victim to your own choices, that’s when you can cross over from becoming a victim and become a survivor. As harsh as it may sound, when the moment comes that you are able to make a choice, make one that is right for you. We cannot blame ourselves for what happened to us, but we can take control of our future. Don’t do something if you are not happy and if you are happy with your circumstances, then own it!
Amy was groomed by an apparently loving boyfriend when she was still under 16. She was locked away so that those who had the key could use her to sell sex. She eventually managed to escape physically but her important teenage years of growing up and discovering who she is felt like they had been sold by someone else to many men. She worked hard and got a good education but for a long time, she couldn’t see how to stop doing what had been expected of her from a young age. It certainly wasn’t just the money. In fact, she told us she can see the industry changing and the money is not as good as it was. It certainly wasn’t a choice to continue because she liked the lifestyle, it was just what Amy knew and she was good at living her alter ego when she needed to. She couldn’t see that she had a choice.
A visit to the clinic alerted the nurses that she was frightened of examination. They referred her to a psychologist who tried to refer her to us alongside her sessions but Amy wasn’t ready. She stopped seeing the psychologist for a while but something had started to dislodge itself in her and eventually she went back and took our details. This time, she was starting to see the power of her own choice. She decided she wanted her ‘normality’ to change. When our conversations started, Amy was on a mission, she told the brothel management that she was cutting down her hours, then stopping altogether. We talked and she processed her feelings about this growing sense of power to change from victim to survivor.
Everyday Beyond Support offers a listening ear to women like Amy as they transition out of the sex industry, from victims to survivors. It costs us just over £50 for our specialist staff to take a call from a women like Amy. Fund our next call by making a gift towards Beyond Support today, or help secure our service by giving regularly.
Miriam Hargreaves tells Amy’s story. Miriam is a Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
At our Beyond the Streets Gathering in March, Elaine Storkey* navigated us through the concept of vulnerability drawing from biblical principles to show how love is only possible, only real when we, like God are willing to embrace our own vulnerability. Those who are vulnerable are those who are able to be wounded.
Having conducted hundreds of interviews and spent 6 years collecting data on people and vulnerability, Brené Brown*1 found that her interviewees divided themselves into 2 categories: those who have a sense of worthiness, love and belonging and those who struggle with it. What does this mean? She found it to mean that the first group were those who were able to embrace vulnerability, to believe that ‘what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.’ She calls them the ‘whole-hearted people.’ What does this whole-heartedness enable us to do then? She says it gives: first a sense of courage to be imperfect; secondly, true compassion which means we can be kind to ourselves first and then to others; thirdly, connection as a result of authenticity.
All just to end up looking ‘unprofessional?’ Doesn’t it mean that boundaries become blurred and we are left exposed and ineffective? Brown says that those who are most compassionate are the people who have the best boundaries. She suggests that compassion comes out of the ‘deeply held belief that we are inextricably linked together in love.’ It is being beside someone in their suffering, not looking at them and feeling sorry. We can only do that when we are clear what we can give and what we cannot. So, we can be really vulnerable when we know what is ok for us and what is not ok.
We get this by our own sense of love and belonging.
We are not defined by what we do for people but by who we are.
So, we offer people real respect, not fake walls; genuine feeling-with-someone empathy, not self-defining sympathy. We can feel and communicate deep love for a person without being crushed when they are not in a position to see beyond their own pain and circumstances. This is vulnerable love. It is also sustainable love.
Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
*Dr Elaine Storkey – Author of Scars Across Humanity, Academic, Speaker, Broadcaster. Buy her book ‘Scars Across Humanity’ here.
*1 Brené Brown – Research Professor, Author, Public Speaker, Licensed Master Social Worker. Listen to her advice on Boundaries & Compassion here.
One woman we provided support for, wanted to tell her story. This is the reflection of a woman who survived one of the recent high profile Child Sexual Exploitation cases. Originally published in May 2016, with the BBC’s three part series, ‘Three Girls’, putting Child Sexual Exploitation in the media spotlight again last week, we felt it appropriate to share this again. It’s hard to hear at times but we need to hear from her and others, so we can never think of them as ‘Those Girls’.
‘Let me give you a summary, of things both said and implied by some Police officers, about girls caught up in sexual exploitation cases:
‘Nothing but trouble. Inconsistent. Not worth police time. Asking for it. Foolish. Drunkards. Misleading. Prostitutes with too much make-up. Pests.’
How about vulnerable? Scared. Confused. Abused. Injured. Raped.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have been one of those girls, and I want to set the record straight. It is vitally important that you, the police – protectors of society – take time to look at this serious issue from the point of view of the victims. Please believe sexual exploitation is something massive and understanding is an essential in tackling it. Girls like me understand it, because we have lived it. Some of us may never escape the far-reaching consequences of having suffered from this type of crime, and to discount our knowledge is to throw away a valuable asset. So please, I implore you, sit up and pay attention.
I’ll paint you a scene: You’ve been at work all day. You’re tired. You didn’t have time to take your lunch break. And sitting in front of you is a girl you’ve seen four times in the past week, as she’s phoned the station in trouble needing to be rescued from various situations. For the fourth time you’ve all but begged her to make a statement and she hasn’t cooperated. You’re frustrated. You’re stressed. You just want to go home and you cannot for the life of you understand why this girl is refusing to answer your most basic questions. At first you were eager to try and help but you’re now convinced she doesn’t want help, and you’re wondering if she’s doing this for attention, you know getting in the cars, knowing full well what those men are like. Why does she agree? Why does she have contact with the men who want to hurt her and then blow every opportunity to grass them up?
At first the girl was eager to get help too. You were the twenty fourth officer who has promised her all the protection in the world in return for a video interview. After meeting with her sixth officer, and the threats continuing and continuing she’s thinking ‘What’s the point?’ Interviews and statements aside the problem is just not going away and she’s still abducted off the streets by these guys trying to hurt her, and she’s followed home. Her home is attacked and there are incessant calls and texts and so, of course, she’s going to call the station, because although she’s lost all faith in you and your colleagues fixing the problem long term, she knows that getting in contact will get her a couple of hours of safety as she’s locked in an interrogation room. It saves her being locked in the bedroom any way.
The girl explained to you, early on, that she has no faith in the system. You told her it would be different this time and are annoyed that she won’t believe you. She’s annoyed that you won’t believe her, and trust in her experience of how things have been handled. To you she is a case that you can do nothing with. To her you are another person who just doesn’t understand. Just when she starts to think, ‘Maybe this time it will be different’, and she’s contemplating how to go through the trauma of explaining the whole horror story again from scratch you’ve given up and sent her on her way. She loved that one officer, the lady officer, who listened and made her feel safe; you then took the one lady officer off the case. I missed her, because I thought she cared. Next week there will be someone else working the case. Next week she’ll have faced three more life or death situations and those walls will have increased two fold AGAIN. Next week I will have to repeat myself over and over again, next week you will tell me again, I am confused, inconsistent and I don’t make sense. No maybe I don’t, but neither does why those men chose me.
I am not being dramatic for the sake of trying to keep your attention. Interviews are standard procedure for you, for us they really are trauma. You are asking us to relive moment by moment abuse that is still raw, and then repeat it over again as you pick it apart.
You want to get a picture of the crimes; we want nothing more than to get those pictures out of our heads. You want us to speak up, but we’ve spent the last couple of years months being conditioned to believe that we have no voice.
You told us to trust you, well so did our abusers. You said you were on our side, and that you’d take care of us – so did they. I know you are a police officer, but you are also a man and in the sick world I live in men equal people who put you down and use you up.
You said you would believe me, but you ask me so many questions I’m now struggling to believe myself. You said “Look at me, I’m an officer,” and I said “All I can see is your handcuffs, sir.”
They looked at me, stared at me; you pay close attention too, trying to figure out my body language. They took photographs of my body; you snap pictures of my wounds. They promised me the world, you promised me justice. Neither of you said promises can be broken.
They hurt me with their words as well as their fists. I expect it of them. But words from someone in authority cut deeper. They told me I was worthless, but I never truly felt it until you asked my friends and family if they thought I was a prostitute.
I found it hard to keep track of their names; I find it harder to keep track of your badge numbers.
You said that my story didn’t add up. Do you really believe it makes sense in my head either? This is not how I envisioned living my life. I don’t get a kick out of you asking me if I enjoy being victimised. You said I put myself at risk, I know that no matter what I’ve done the past few months has resulted in risk and I did not ask for it. I enjoyed the car ride, I enjoyed feeling special. I enjoyed the few vodkas, but no I didn’t ask to be raped or passed around like a rag doll, I didn’t ask for my clothes to be ripped off.
You criticise me for not being clear. I can barely think straight. If I tell you the truth, maybe you would think I am a slag or slut…maybe I would get into trouble, because they said it’s my fault.
You are annoyed with me for not giving you descriptions. I’m terrified because they said they’d kill me if I identified them. You say you can’t take my call, because you’re getting off at five. They tell me they’ll be round at mine for six. Their cars have loud music, to disorientate, your cars have sirens. They drove me around to different addresses and parks, anywhere they could have sex, I sat in the back of their car. I tried to forget.
You drive me around, asking me where it happened, telling me to point the places out, I sat in the back of your car, you wont let me forget.
They hurt me, they touched me in private parts, I tried to say no, you said the nurse needs swabs and its my choice, she touched me in those parts too, I tried to tell you I’m scared.
Ask me again why I didn’t give that statement.’
Through Beyond Support– the UK’s only call-back support service for women in the sex industry – we are delighted to have been able to stand alongside women taking brave steps forward. We believe your story and we believe that you can make the change you want to see in your life. For support from our team contact 0800 133 7870 or e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that we are a call back service, please l eave a message and we will contact you to arrange times that works for you.
Over the last week, our team have been gripped the by BBC three part series ‘Three Girls’, the dramatized story of the Rochdale grooming scandal. The series followed the lives of three girls, ‘Amber, Ruby and Holly’- each groomed into child sexual exploitation as teenagers by local predators and follows their courageous journey to prosecute their abusers, despite the failings of support services along the way.
We know that the experiences of those three girls – and the many others who survived child sexual exploitation in Rochdale – isn’t an isolated incident, but rather reflective of many women and children across the UK who have been preyed upon and now find themselves involved in prostitution.
Three Girls highlighted the support available for victims of Child Sexual Exploitation. But what happens when those children become women? As they enter into adulthood, child sexual exploitation often becomes legitimised as sex work or prostitution. Overnight, exploitation becomes a ‘choice’. We know that many women didn’t make a choice to enter prostitution, rather those that groomed them made that choice.
Through Beyond Support– the UK’s only call-back support service for women in the sex industry- we hear stories like those brought to life in Three Girls on a daily basis. Research has identified that between 50% – 76% of women involved in prostitution started before the age of 18- for the majority of women involved in prostitution, their involvement began as child sexual exploitation*. This is something many women who have contacted Beyond Support have confirmed, tracing their journey into prostitution back to their teenage years, often due to the
coercive control of another person. Since we launched our service two years ago, we have had the privilege of supporting many women involved in the sex industry who are looking to make changes to their life. Last week we celebrated supporting the 100th situation since our service began! We exist to support women, standing alongside them as they make changes to their life and enabling them to find a lasting route out of prostitution. Alongside this, Beyond Support connects with people who are struggling to comprehend what happened to them in their formative years. If you have been affected by grooming and child sexual exploitation as a young person, our team can unpack that with you and if you’d like, connect you with local support services for face to face support.
No need to take our word for it, here is what one Beyond Support caller told us about our service: “I want to thank you guys for everything you have done. Showing me lots of patience and believing me when I didn’t believe in myself”.
We are delighted to have been able to stand alongside 100 women taking brave steps forward. We believe your story and we believe that you can make the change you want to see in your life. For support from our team contact 0800 133 7870 or e mail: email@example.com. Please note that we are not a helpline, please l eave a message and we will contact you to arrange times that work for you.
*References: Hester and Westmarland, op cit.; Bindel, J. (2006) No Escape? An Investigation into London’s Service Provision for Women Involved in the Commercial Sex Industry, London: Poppy Project, EAVES; Dickson, in: http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/Community-safety-and-emergencies/Domestic-violence/VAWG-REPORT.pdf
Earlier this week, Beyond the Streets hosted Safeguarding Training for staff and volunteers working with women involved in Prostitution across the UK. These days aren’t necessarily just about Beyond the Streets giving out guidelines, but rather the facilitation of a conversation on best practice between skilled specialist projects.
We work in a specialist area, with a complex client group. It is niche and isolated work, where resources are hard to come by. For me, the highlight and help of these events comes from contribution of those in the room. Training brings together scattered specialists to share their hard earned experience and lessons learned along the way. Here are the top five tips on Safeguarding that I took back to east London:
1. A multi-agency approach is key. It gathers different pieces of the puzzle.
It’s likely that the woman you’re working with is in contact with multiple professionals in your area. Her disclosures to you, could be one piece of the puzzle. When shared safely (with consent*) in a confidential multi-agency setting, the pieces that other professionals can lay can you give you all a clearer picture of her situation, resulting in the development of a co-ordinated multi-agency response.
*We should note, where safeguarding ‘red flags’ are disclosed (she is under the age of 18, pregnancy etc) it is good practice to report her disclosure, regardless of consent.
2. Listen for her voice.
Where possible, involve her in the reporting and referrals that need to be made to keep her safe. Let her shape her own safety plan.
3. Be prepared to fight her corner.
We celebrated how far safeguarding has come, whilst remaining aware of the systematic flaws that so often fail the women we work with. Everybody should be safeguarded, but we know that not everybody is. It’s likely that in some cases her safety is something that you will need to fight for, advocating on her behalf and holding other professionals to account.
4. Invest in good relationships.
You don’t need to know everything, if you know others that know something. Developing good relationships with other professionals in this specialist’s area, opens up a pool of skills and experience for you to dip into. Don’t hesitate to ask others for their input. Try to cultivate a culture of exchange in your network by demonstrating an openness in sharing learning. Other projects are collaborators, not competition. Becoming a Beyond the Streets Affiliate is a great way to connect with other specialist projects and you’ll also receive a discount on training and our Good Practice Guide. Email us for information on becoming an affiliate project.
5. Safeguard yourself.
It goes without saying that in safeguarding women involved in prostitution, our empathetic engagement with her situation can impact our own. Debrief with your team, engage with clinical supervision where available and carve out time for self care to safeguard yourself as you safeguard others. Equally, sometimes supporting survivors of sexual exploitation interrupts organised crime. In these situations, safeguarding her, could endanger you. In these situations, be sure to develop your own safety plan alongside hers.
Words by Rebecca Branch, co-ordinator of Beyond the Streets Door of Hope project working with women involved in street prostitution in East London. Special thanks to Elaine Davidson of HRSG Services for delivering this bespoke training in collaboration with Beyond the Streets.
Beyond the Streets host specialist training for staff and volunteers working with women in prostitution through the year. Find out about upcoming events here.
We want to see an end to sexual exploitation. We passionately believe that there is a life beyond prostitution for women and are committed to enabling women to find routes out. This isn’t an aspiration or a pipe dream, but a goal that has guided the work of Beyond for the Streets for almost two decades that is making a genuine impact on the lives of the women involved in prostitution. To present the challenges women are facing and the change we’re making we have produced this visual overview of our work.
We supported 260 women in 2015/16, and we estimate to have reached thousands more through the 98 practitioners we trained to deliver specialist support in the same year. Before we rush into our exciting plans for growth for this new financial year, we are pausing to celebrate the impact that we’ve made during this one- join us in the celebration.
Printed copies of our Impact Infographic are available on request, contact us if you’d like some hard copies to share with your friends, colleagues or wider community.
“We need all the ladders we can get” : New toolkit for exploring experiences of leaving prostitution.
It was August and we were sat in a small conference room in Nashville, Tennessee. A giant version of Snakes and Ladders lay in the middle of the room. Five women, all with previous involvement in prostitution and all employees of the social enterprise Thistle Farms,were sat around the board listening to me introduce my PhD study exploring social enterprise approaches adopted by faith-based projects supporting women to leave prostitution. As I explained how we were going to use the game to help us to identify what might act as snakes and as ladders for a woman who wants to leave prostitution, the women began to comment on the board.
“Not a lot of ladders are there”
They were right. For women seeking to leave prostitution, the obstacles can be immense. Research studies show that leaving prostitution is a complex process, not a one-off event, and women face multiple barriers. Debt, housing, addiction, emotional trauma, societal stigma, unhealthy relationships, being able to earn more in prostitution and lack of an economic alternative were just a few of the 40+ barriers identified by these women and women in India who also took part in the research.
But routes out exist. The very lives of the women who participated in the research were evidence that it is possible to transition out of prostitution. It was their willingness to share their knowledge and experiences that led to the identification of a range of enabling factors that support women on their journey out of prostitution.
This new toolkit is a result of their openness and desire to help other women, who like them, want to exit prostitution.
We need all the ladders we can get is designed to facilitate exploration of how individuals leave prostitution and uses the game of snakes and ladders to do this. It draws on my own ethnographic research with women and staff at social enterprises supporting women to leave prostitution, as well as wider research on exiting prostitution, and has been road tested with different teams of outreach volunteers in the UK.
The toolkit provides examples of workshops you can run, along with a range of material to enable you to adapt the workshops to suit your own context. These include headline findings which emerged from the research, general findings drawn from a review of the literature on exiting prostitution, and quotes form the women who took part in the research.
It can be used by and with those seeking to leave prostitution or as a training tool in awareness raising contexts. So whether you’re personally looking to leave prostitution, are an organisation working with individuals involved in prostitution, or are simply seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the process of exiting prostitution then this resource is for you. Free copies of the resource are available for download here. Prefer to have the resource printed out and ready to be used in a workshop? Print copies can be ordered from Beyond the Streets and come at a cost of £25, plus postage.
In 2017, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, #BeBoldForChange calls us to help forge a better working world for all.
We at Beyond the Streets are working for an end to sexual exploitation in the UK, helping to forge a better world for the women who want to move away from selling sex and towards a future where they are treated with respect and dignity in the workplace.
It takes determination to take this path and daily we encounter women who show incredible strength, and resilience. It sometimes seems like the options are few but with someone alongside you to cheer you on and who knows but doesn’t judge, we’ve seen women make courageous decisions and take those determined steps. Here’s what one woman wrote after she had been talking with us at Beyond Support for a few months:
“When I contacted you I had made the decision that I would stop soon. I coped with it – the uncertainty and panic – I now know what it feels like to have a normal life, it is not so scary.
I’ve made progress by going to College and have got something to work towards and to get to know myself.
I have learnt a lot that I was braver than I thought I was and am also excited as have made a lot of bad decisions in the past and now know I can make good decisions.
I knew people judged me and thought that I was not intelligent . I am a human being. 90% of the reason (women become involved in prostitution) is the circumstances women find self in to make them do this work.
I had a lot of anger but the best thing you have done is encourage me to start having counselling which is really helping me longer term.
I am not fearful of the future as it’s something I did for me which is more important than other things in my past as it has made me a stronger person as I have confidence for the future.
Beyond Support has given me the confidence and taken away the fear so I can just be honest as I felt you understood and I didn’t have to explain or be judged.”
At Beyond the Streets, we find great job satisfaction in encountering some strong and admirable women. Happy International Women’s Day.
Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
When I first began volunteering with the Beyond The Streets team, a member of staff recommended that I read Rachel Lloyd’s memoir ‘Girls Like Us’. I made a note of it but was in no rush. Little did I anticipate the tour-de-force that would have me devouring the pages, only to eke out the last few chapters to stave off reaching the end. I was humbled; not just by Lloyd’s own harrowing story but her ability to incorporate compelling true narratives with hard facts and statistics about the sex trade. ‘Girls Like Us’ is the perfect balance of head and heart.
Interspersed are accounts of Lloyd’s own troubled childhood. From a somewhat idyllic start with a doting mother, life begins to spiral out of control when the man whom Rachel assumes is her father, comes back into their lives. An abusive and violent alcoholic, Lloyd’s mother also develops a drinking problem in order to cope with his tirades. Young Rachel’s relationship with her mum doesn’t improve with his eventual departure and becomes one characterised by neglect. The daughter assumes the role of guardian, dropping out of school to bring in an income and doing her best to intercept her mother’s attempts to kill herself.
By the time Rachel is living in Germany in her mid-late teens, she has already suffered violent sexual assault at the hands of different men. A perfect storm of straitened circumstances, no means of going back home and those all too willing to exploit a one-time-model’s looks, she lives through a terrifying experience at the mercy of drug-addled and paranoid boyfriends-turned-pimps. Tired of their murderous threats (Lloyd goes as far as making arrangements for her funeral and to inform her colleagues in advance of the likely perpetrator), the last of several suicide attempts proves -thank God- unsuccessful.
Surprised and grateful to still be alive, she wanders through the doors of a church on an American army base and begins the long, ongoing road to recovery. This will lead to her moving to the States and starting her own New York-based project, Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS), supporting young women who have been sexually exploited. She also picks up Bachelors and Masters degrees along the way.
Lloyd boldly takes apart the glamorised images of the sex trade encouraged by some. The author challenges the myths and misperceptions around selling sex as well as the contempt for these girls and women by the authorities and the wider public. Along with others engaged in the battle against sexual exploitation, she is determined to change the lexicon around the subject. ‘Prostitution’ denotes an element of choice that does not reflect the limited agency and complex factors that are at play in the majority of cases, especially for minors. Lloyd is at pains to explain the strong emotional, psychological and even financial ties the girls feel towards those who have exploited them and which makes it even harder to leave for good.
Yet amazingly, the author achieves all this without being sanctimonious. The reader feels better informed rather than sermonised.
‘…One well-known advocate for the sex industry…was actually introduced to the life at the age of 14 after running away from an abusive home. She was a commercially sexually exploited child “trained”…from an early age. Yet because she is not black or Hispanic, because she was not sold on the dark corners of Hunts Point; because she appeared to be on the upper rungs of the “hierarchy” of the sex industry, that much-lauded fantasy world of the escort/call girl, her experience has never been framed as child exploitation or even questioned by the media and general public who continue to enjoy and support the idea that there are some forms of the sex industry that aren’t harmful, that women actually like it, that men’s “participation” in the industry is inevitable and may actually support the women’s career goals. It’s ideas like this that rationalise the continued buying and selling of women and girls…Just because an individual experience has not been difficult, painful or disempowering doesn’t make it true for millions of women and children around the world. The sex industry isn’t about choice; it’s about lack of choices. It’s critical for children and youth, and even many adult women within the sex industry, that we use language that frames it accurately…’ (page 219).
Lloyd’s memoir is essential reading, whether or not you feel a particular connection to the subject. This is a worldwide social epidemic and we would do well to understand its complexities; if nothing else to make us more alert to what might be going on under our noses.
Lloyd’s resilience makers her more than a survivor or even the fitting, but now clichéd, inspiration. She’s a walking miracle and whether or not they realise it, so are all those who have been down a similar path and lived to tell the tale, regardless of where they are in the recovery process. Even those yet to begin.
This blog was contributed by Tola Ositelu, a volunteer, supporter and friend of Beyond the Streets.
‘Girls Like Us’ by Rachel Lloyd. Harper Perennial Edition 2012, Harper Collins Publishers: New York. Buy the book here.