Girls Like Us - Seeing God in Everyone
What images are conjured up in your mind when you think of someone who may be a prostitute? What if we talk about “teen or child prostitution?” In our over-sexed society, it’s incredible about how some people try to soften the images and perceptions we may have of prostitution by talking about “sex workers” or “erotic escorts and dancers.”
I read a fascinating and truly inspiring book entitled Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd, a former “teen prostitute.” Lloyd powerfully exposes the horrible sexual exploitation and abuse of so many teens and children – not only the 1.2 million girls in Thailand and India and poor regions in Eastern Europe and other far away places - but even girls in the United States, including an estimated 200,000 girls who are presently at risk! Lloyd persuasively describes in detail how what society so easily dismisses as “prostitutes and sex girls” are in fact “commercially sexually exploited and terribly abused children – children and teens whose families of origin have let them down; who become easy prey for pimps and violent, sex-driven adults; who fall victim to a judicial system and police force that is supposed to protect people but regularly ignore the fact that these girls are children; and a society in general which doesn’t want to look beyond simple stereotypes and discover what is truly happening. Too many people conveniently think these young girls “choose” to enter these destructive and dangerous relationships and that they “choose” to sell their bodies so others can profit.
Imagine, eleven, twelve, and thirteen year old girls, who have been abused growing up, feeling that they have to run away from their indescribable situations at home, only to be lured into a billions of dollars sex industry which use them to profit their pimps and others, while continuing their abusive history. And on top of it all, these children and teens get labeled as “prostitutes,” as criminals by law, instead of understood as what they often are – victims of a terrible history.
The author of this book, Rachel Lloyd, shares in these memoirs her own journey of being sexually abused as a three year old child, being physically beaten and abused throughout her childhood, enduring an alcoholic mother who tries to commit suicide, being raped numerous times in her early teens, trying to commit suicide herself several times to relieve the horror she is living, and then finally at the age of 17 running away. And when she finds no other alternative to survive, she then becomes a dance girl in a strip club. Little does she realize that this is only the beginning of a new horror – the life of a sexually exploited girl, where she experiences escalating levels of physical cruelty, sexual abuse and absolute terror.
She endures this for several years, coming close to death on numerous occasions, before she escapes and begins a very graduate healing process, discovering a loving, accepting community at a small church. She eventually goes on to get her GED, graduates from college cum laude and graduate school summa cum laude, and even before she begins college at the age of 23, starts an outreach service to sexually exploited girls in NY City. This non-profit eventually becomes the nation’s largest organization offering direct services to such children.
Her story is an unbelievable journey of healing, redemption and grace – which she attributes to God. In her book’s acknowledgments section, she even writes “I want to thank God for blessing me and for His amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. I’m so grateful to be found.” She also thanks the loving people who accepted her, showed her unconditional love and helped her in the long process of healing.
Not only does she recover from her own horrible history, but she then uses her painful experiences to help other girls in similar situations, giving other sexually exploited victims a glimmer of hope. Along with helping hundreds of sexually exploited children, she also becomes a leading advocate for the Safe Harbor of Exploited Youth Act, which made NY the first state to protect, not prosecute, sexually exploited children. Through her advocacy, and now this compelling book, she is helping society understand the difference between a criminal and a victim. And she is helping the victims find healing!
I could go on and on about how inspired I was reading her story. Someone whom the world would have rejected as a lost cause – a physically abused, sexually exploited, suicidal child, who enters the sex industry as a means of survival, only to encounter pimps and johns and others who take her to the brink of death – this same person not only survives, but discovers the image of God within herself, and then helps others also find the path of healing and transformation!
St. John of Kronstadt once said, “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with any evil associated with the person, because the evil is but a chance misfortune, an illness. The very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in them despite every disfigurement.”
Rachel Lloyd’s book exposes the darkest, most unimaginable evil of the world, and yet, also reveals the divine image of God that can never be lost – in herself, and in the young girls with whom she works. This is a modern day story of redemption – of what our Christian faith calls the Good News. She “was dead and has come to life; was lost and has been found.” (Lk 15:32
Jesus Christ came specifically to proclaim such Good News, to incarnate divine love and show that such love is greater than the darkest evil, that He can heal any brokenness and even raise those who others would say are dead.
Lloyd’s story really fits perfectly with the Gospel of today, which is the story of another broken woman, St. Fotini, finding redemption. This Samaritan woman was married five times, and living with someone who wasn’t even her husband. During the time of Jesus, Jewish society rejected this woman as a horrible, immoral, hopeless sinner. Few, if any, saw any good in her. It’s was so much easier to simply give her a label – as a broken, pathetic, immoral sinner. Jesus, though, encounters her and sees something totally different – He sees a child of God, someone with a divine image that has been blurred and disfigured, but who still had that image deep within her. He didn’t judge her, nor did he condemn her. Instead, He called out her beauty. He showed her the path of not only healing, but transformation.
I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her, and I’m sure it didn’t happen instantly. From her encounter with Christ, though, she found a path to follow, hope to hold onto, love to heal her brokenness, and ultimately, new life. This woman with five husbands becomes the beloved Saint Fotini.
In like manner, Rachel Lloyd, the abused, exploited, broken woman became a new person – a light and inspiration for others.
God is alive, and Christ is risen, giving life to those in the tombs!
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