Thursday, April 7, 2011
G is for Gratitude, Girls, and GEMS
Gratitude, the act of being thankful. Noun. As in, she expressed her gratitude with a hand-written note.
No, "gratitude" wasn't one of the vocabulary words I gave to my adult students, though the first couple quarters we read an article about the benefits of writing "gratitude letters," letters thanking people in our lives who have helped us. The article was hokey but well-meaning. Kind of like me.
Most days I feel nothing but gratitude for my life and the people in it. That thankfulness only increases when I hear difficult stories. Yesterday morning, I listened to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. Her guest was a young woman, Rachel Lloyd, who had previously been exploited in the commercial sex industry and now runs a foundation in New York City that supports teenage girls (some as young as eleven!) who have been similarly exploited. 75-90% of girls who enter the commercial sex industry (i.e. prostitution) have been abused in their life. The typical story (as described on the show): the girl runs away or is kicked out or discarded, and within the first 72 hours is approached by someone. In exchange for sex, she can receive shelter. Protection for the night. At first, the guy is kind, suave, boyfriend-like. Before she knows it, she's prostituting herself for money. And if she doesn't give this guy the money, he beats her up. Or maybe he beats her up anyway. He's her pimp, but because she doesn't know better, she loves him and trusts him. Lloyd has a book, "Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World in Which Girls are not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself."
Lloyd made clear that boys and transgender teens are victims of sex trafficking as well, though she focuses on girls. I felt sick listening to the show. I think about this subsection of society. Voiceless. Lloyd started out ministering to adult women in jail or half-way houses who had been involved in the sex industry, but by talking to them, she noticed a common thread: they entered this industry as children. She started her foundation, GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), to address that. It helps victims and also performs outreach to girls who may be at risk (low-income, group homes).
Imagine, from the time you come out of the womb, being told you're worthless. Being victimized by someone who's supposed to love and protect you. Being sexualized before your first period. How jaded would your perspective be? What would you think about yourself? About men? About society? Nearly 300,000 American girls, according to Lloyd, are trapped in this industry, though it's hard to come up with an exact number. How difficult will it be for them to "reenter" society?
Without a lot of money, Lloyd is saving girls' lives. Contrast that with these CEOs, giving themselves millions of dollars in bonuses, even as their companies lose money, even as their companies lay of thousands of workers. I'm not sure how to wrap my mind around this. I don't even know if it's fair to link those ideas. But I know that I'm grateful for people like Lloyd who see a need and work hard to meet it. I have gratitude for my parents, my grandparents, who, from the time I came out of the womb, told me I'm worth something.