What is the difference between a teenage prostitute and a commercial sexually exploited teenage girl? You will learn this when you read this book by an author who has been there, done that, suffered through it and yet managed to turn her life around. Thereafter she established an organization in New York called GEMS, acronym for Girls Educational and Mentoring Service, a safe house for commercially sexually exploited teenage girls.
The author, Rachel, was the daughter of an unstable, poor mother and Robert, a man who may or may not have been her father, but who physically abused both her mother and her, finally abandoning them. Unable to face his desertion, Rachel's mother, already a drunk became immobilized in liquor and depression, totally ignoring Rachel as there was no room in her life from then on for her daughter. Rachel was glad the man was gone for he beat on her often. Rachel spent little or no time at home, meeting her needs through shoplifting and running with her peers. However, in Rachel's earlier years, her mother had been loving and took care of her. This gave Rachel a foundation when she was out of her teens to straighten out her own life and become what she now is.
However, when thirteen, needing and seeking love and protection, she fell into the same trap that other teenage girls, ages generally from twelve to eighteen do. She met a suave man who took her to dinner, spoke softly and gently to her, made her believe he cared about her and then took her to his room and introduced her to sex. This man became her family, her Daddy, the only one who loved her and cared about her, but as time passed, he beat her up often for not enticing more johns more quickly, earning more money, explicitly following orders or just because he was in the mood to make her suffer.
1997 was the end of the crack era. The idea is out there that most of these girls are drug addicted, but they are not. They are "love" addicted. Their desire for love is so great that they, in their youth and innocence, believe a kindness extended to them by their boyfriend (their pimp) is love, which keeps them under control and causes them to tolerate beatings, torture and murder, in some instances. More Black and Latino girls than White girls suffer from poverty, physical and sexual abuse within their families in their young lives, which make more of them susceptible to being out on the streets under the control of pimps.
From the author's own words, "The gang culture replicated the family unit for children who found their support systems in the street. The desire for a family is so strong and so overpowering for most children that it doesn't take much to create that illusion. Pimps play upon this desire by creating a pseudo-family structure of girls who are your "wives-in-law" headed up by a man you call Daddy. The lessons that girls have been taught, implicitly and explicitly, about family and relationship dynamics are all fuel for the exploiters' fire. The greater their need for attention and love, the easier it is to recruit them....Growing up with an alcoholic or drug addicted parent sets the stage for caretaking and codependency patterns that are helpful in making girls feel responsible for taking care of their pimp." Girls who had non-existent fathers or abusive relationships with fathers are easily drawn to a pimp who calls himself Daddy.
Throughout the book, Rachel gives many case histories of girls whom she has either rescued or attempted to rescue through the organization of GEMS. She describes almost every type of situation that exists. She also alerts the reader that most, but not all policeman, consider these teenagers to be prostitutes rather than victims forced into sex and thus are not sympathetic to their needs when they are either arrested on the street or are found beat up or try to complain about violence against them. She explains the differences between pedophiles, pimps and johns.
Rachel's experiences and case histories are generally in the New York City area, but acknowledges that the same conditions are prevalent in other large metropolitan areas. Social and governmental policies have been particularly destructive to children in the sense that children in poor neighborhoods frequently receive a substandard education, are subjected to lead paint in poorly constructed buildings, have higher rates of asthma, and fewer recreational or green spaces where entire neighborhoods have been abandoned. Children born into these conditions are more susceptible to the dangers of commercially sexually exploited teenagers.
Children are vulnerable because they are children; their hormones are raging; they desire to belong; they are subjected to confusing messages about sex and love; and with the usual desire of teenagers to be independent, thus are ripe for plucking by pimps who understand the needs of these female children for love and can skillfully manipulate them into being forced or coerced into being sold for sex.
Throughout the book, Rachel gives flashbacks of her life on the streets, her experiences with her boyfriend pimps and it was after she almost died from a beating by a pimp boyfriend, that she had an epiphany and joined a church, which became her salvation. Thereafter she finished her GED, attended college and set up GEMS with the help of others. But she also makes it clear that through the years in dealing with government officials, that often something is said that is disrespectful to her as a woman because she has never denied her background, which, has been to her advantage when trying to help these unfortunate girls who know she understands their plight and condition.
The books flows well, reads well and is highly instructive. I would recommend this book even as a text book for anyone who is a social worker, politician, law enforcement officer or even a foster home provider. It gives an entirely different viewpoint about teenage girls thought of as teen prostitutes and of teen children whose lives have thrown them into this den of lions.