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Rachel Lloyd will read from her book, "Girls Like Us," on Monday at the Painted Door at 1505 W. Chicago Ave.

'Very Young Girls' star speaks out about sex trafficking

by LiLi Tan
April 26, 2012


Photo courtesy of Rachel Lloyd

Rachel Lloyd, author of "Girls Like Us," said poverty and desperation led her to working in Germany's sex industry at the age of 17.

Leaving England was the best and worst move for Rachel Lloyd, 37, author of “Girls Like Us.” She escaped an alcoholic mother and abusive boyfriend, but poverty and desperation led her to working in Germany’s sex industry.

Q: What can we expect at Monday’s event?
A: I’m going to be reading from my book. Some of it will be about me, but more important I will be focusing on the girls and young women we work with at the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, as well as the larger issue of the sex trade in America.

Q: How did you enter the sex trade?

A: I grew up in a home with domestic violence and a mother who was an alcoholic, and there was a fair amount of instability there. I was nude modeling in England at 13. I was doing some really legitimate modeling for teen girls magazines, and I was going up to London from Portsmouth. Everybody else my age had a parent with her. I went by myself. I was with male photographers who were like, “Do this, do that, show a little bit more.” But I didn’t get into the sex industry until I went to Munich when I was 17.

Q: What was the tipping point?
A: I was trying to get away, having just gotten beaten up by my boyfriend. The recession had really kicked in and it was hard to find a job. My mother was drinking and crazy. I just felt like there was nothing there and I wanted to start afresh, and that didn’t really happen. I was broke and in a foreign country, and I was desperate. There was that moment where the desperation and the poverty became too much.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Secret Service prostitution scandal?
A: It’s really problematic, aside from the fact that they’re Secret Service for the president. They’re not boys who got into trouble. They’re adult men who chose to buy women. And the fact that it involved multiple men, . . . I think there are very few men who are comfortable standing up and saying: “I’m really uncomfortable with this. These are real people and we don’t necessarily know their situation.”

Q: You worked in Germany’s sex industry from 1992 to 1994. Did you encounter men who worked for the government or were from the American military?
A: Oh, absolutely. I think it’s very normal, a kind of military R & R: Go into the local town, use the local women, and relieve some stress. The johns represented every single facet of society. I remember men in the military, men who were judges, City Council types, and then there were blue collar and unemployed people.

Q: As the founder of GEMS, what are the differences between the young women in New York and those here in Chicago?
A: The stories are kind of the same, and that’s not to diminish anyone’s individual experiences. Those patterns, those systemic factors — racism, classism, poverty, gender inequality, domestic violence, child abuse, not serving the needs of young people, making them more vulnerable, the list goes on — it sounds very similar from girl to girl. We could say the sex industry doesn’t discriminate and it could be your kid, but really it does discriminate and pick on young people and adults who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society.

Q: What’s the typical story of how young people enter the sex trade that you hear?
A: My mom left me at a sitters and he sexually abused me. And then I met a man who took care of me, said he would love me, gave me somewhere to stay, and then introduced me to the sex industry. And I didn’t know what it was going to be like.

Q: Are children from middle or upper classes at risk of entering the sex trade?
A: Frankly, very rarely. Just because you have money doesn’t make your home life particularly warm and loving, but poverty really makes a difference.

Q: Why didn’t you return to your home country to do outreach?

A: I had a rough time in England, and sometimes you can’t go home again.

This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.

Rachel Lloyd will be speaking at “Youth in the Sex Trade: From Exploitation to Empowerment,” sponsored by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and Traffick Free, on Monday at 1505 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets are $10 and are available at