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Q&A: GEMS CEO Rachel Lloyd discusses documentary ‘Very Young Girls’

By Ashley Vu

March 4, 2015 2:05 p.m.

When she was 19 years old, Rachel Lloyd finally escaped the life in which she had grown up – commercial sexual exploitation.

Four years later, as a survivor, Lloyd founded Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) in New York in 1998 in order to help and empower girls and young women like herself who’d been domestically trafficked and commercially sexually exploited.

As the current CEO of GEMS, Lloyd has helped foster the largest service provider for commercially sexually exploited children in the nation, weaving hope with empowerment to girls and young women moving forward. An advocate for these girls and young women in public policy, Lloyd played an integral role in the passage of New York state’s Safe Harbour for Exploited Children Act in 2008, and in 2011, her memoir “Girls Like Us” was published. In 2014, Marie Claire magazine named Lloyd as one of the “20 Women Who Are Changing the World.”

On Wednesday, “Very Young Girls,” a documentary Lloyd co-produced about the issues girls face within and upon leaving the commercial sex industry, will be screening at UCLA’s De Neve Plaza Room B at 7 p.m. The Daily Bruin’s Ashley Vu spoke to Lloyd about her experiences in the movie-making process, her motivations for such a project and responses to the movie thus far.

Daily Bruin: Can you describe the emotions that were taking place in your mind as you were making this movie?

Rachel Lloyd: After a while, you get used to the fact that there are cameras there, honestly. The emotions that I was dealing with for the film were the same as (the ones) when I’m running GEMS and doing work for the girls on a daily basis. It just happened that there was a camera there at the same time. But (I felt) a lot of sadness because you see girls going through a lot of painful experiences, a lot of anger at the system – (how the system) would treat girls, penalizing them and stigmatizing them. Still what I think is nice about the movie is that there is still a lot of hope there. (I got to) work with some of the strongest, smartest, funniest young women on the planet. I think the ultimate message of the film is the feeling I get on a daily basis, which is hope.

DB: What experiences or what motivations did you pull from when you decided to make this movie?

RL: I’ve been running GEMS since 1998. That was my motivation. Also my own experiences … and recognizing some of the (resources) that I didn’t get (when I was rescued) that would have helped and some of the things that actually did help later on in life. (I wanted) to change people’s perception of who the girls and young women in the commercial sex industry and human trafficking are, to bring a spotlight to the issue and to bring some dialogue and hopefully some action around the issue.

DB: How long was the movie-making process, and did you initially know what story you were going to tell?

RL: We filmed for about nine months maybe and then edited for another seven or eight months. I think we had a sense of the kind of story we wanted to tell and how much we wanted to highlight the abusiveness of the pimps, the failure of the system and the challenges the girls face.

DB: What have been some of your responses to the movie so far?

RL: (“Very Young Girls”) was on Showtime, so that actually gave it a reach beyond people who normally watch documentaries. And just a couple years ago, over 4 million people had seen the film. It’s had such an incredible impact in terms of propelling the conversation about what’s happening domestically with girls and young women in this country, and (it’s) helping people’s idea of who a real trafficking victim is.

We get emails still to this day from folks who’ve seen the film who’ve had these experiences growing up, we’ve had emails from johns (the individuals who pay for sexual acts) who say, “… I’m realizing that (these girls) are human beings,” we’ve had emails from law enforcement and community members … I think what stands out to me the most is people having that shift of, ‘Oh, I thought this (issue) was something I would never connect to’ and now, ‘I recognize that these are girls like me … If I had had other experiences and hadn’t had the protection from my parents or community or whatever, this could have been my experience.’ The girls aren’t victims in the film solely – they’re not a sensationalized portrait of how we think the victims should act – they’re girls and young women who’ve gone through some crappy experiences, who have a crush on Patrick Swayze, who liked “Blue’s Clues” when they were growing up. They’re no different than any other young person.

Compiled by Ashley Vu, A&E contributor

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