In 1998, at just 23 years old, Rachel Lloyd founded Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) at her kitchen table with $30 and a borrowed computer. She was driven by the lack of services for commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked girls and young women and the incredible stigma and punishment they faced from service providers, law enforcement, the courts, their families and society.
Sixteen years later, her indelible impact on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking has helped shift the perception of trafficked girls from criminals to victims and now to survivors and leaders. GEMS is now the largest service provider of its kind in the nation providing intensive services and support to over 350 girls and young women, preventive outreach and education to 1,500 youth, and training over 1,300 professionals each year.
Rachel is well-known for her tireless dedication to ‘her girls’ and has impacted thousands of individual lives through her love and commitment, but she is also passionate about changing public perception and policy. Her courageous advocacy ensured the passage of New York State’s Safe Harbour for Sexually Exploited Children Act, which in 2008 became the first law in the nation to protect and not punish trafficked and exploited youth. Since then 13 other states have followed suit.
She co-produced the ground-breaking Showtime documentary Very Young Girls, which has been seen by over 4 million people and created a national dialogue on the issue. Rachel is also the author of the critically acclaimed Girls Like Us, and has used her unique voice to advocate for survivors at the White House, the United Nations, and before Congress.
Nationally recognized for her innovative work in transforming the movement’s understanding of survivor leadership, she continues to pave the way for survivor leaders across the country. She was honored as one of the “50 Women Who Change the World” by Ms. Magazine and recognized with a Reebok Human Rights Award. She was also a recipient of a 2009 Ashoka Fellowship, the Frederick Douglass Award from the North Star Fund, and the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women, among many other accolades.
Rachel received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Marymount Manhattan College and her Master’s in Applied Urban Anthropology from the City College of New York