- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

NEW YORK No angels walk the streets of Harlem, but if they did, they could hardly stand out more than a petite, 27-year-old British woman battling to rescue teenage prostitutes.
Rachel Lloyd has one big advantage over others trying to save the girls from violence, drugs, exploitation and prison: She is a survivor of what she calls "the life."
"Everyone is going to put their own personal slant on my story," she said in her headquarters in a converted shop in Harlem.
Her work with the girls, and her public advocacy of their cause, has turned her into a local celebrity.
Much of the attention has been focused on her past, a grim narrative that begins with a "too much, too young" childhood on the south coast of England and leads, via Germany's vice industry, to her new life in the United States.
She acts as role model, elder sister and angel of mercy for teenage girls who have been led astray.
"I don't mind sharing my own story," she said. "I don't like it, but I don't mind it if it has a purpose and people are willing to put a face to the issue."
In New York, the face of child prostitution belongs chiefly to 14- or 15-year-old black girls, victims of sexual assault and broken homes, some of them with children of their own.
"Right now, if it weren't for Rachel, I'd be out there doing the work, doing the thing," said "Sparkle" Johnson, 16, who began earning money as a prostitute three years ago. "Before, my life was real hectic."
A shelter, help with returning to education, leadership classes and therapy are only some of the facilities offered by Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), the organization Miss Lloyd founded three years ago.
On one cold evening recently, a new normal life for the girls was as basic as traveling downtown to the movies.
But it can be as challenging as reclaiming them from drugs, prison and predatory pimps or repairing the damage of years spent in broken, fatherless families.
"They have a strong daddy hunger," Miss Lloyd said of the girls. "One problem is that they know there's no male in the house to protect them. And the fact that pimps make the girls call them 'daddy' is indicative."
Born in Stalbridge in Dorset, England, Miss Lloyd won a scholarship to Portsmouth High School for Girls. She soon dropped out and began living the life of a wild child shoplifting, nude modeling, drinking and taking drugs.
She fled to Germany at 17 and was sucked into the world of prostitution in Munich and Mainz. Her body still bears the scars of brutal run-ins with pimps and boyfriends.
Salvation came in the form of a church on a U.S. Air Force base and a military family that employed her as a nanny. Her only vice by then was smoking, but even that provoked disapproving looks outside the church.
"I thought to myself, 'I came off crack. I came out of pimps. I came off the street. You'd better chill about the cigarettes.'"
She came to the United States as a missionary, and GEMS began life on her kitchen table. It now has six employees.
The initial impression she makes on the girls she helps, often during visits to prison, can be disconcerting. So is her British accent.
"She was a very strange woman," Quiana, 19, a former call girl, said of their first encounter. "She had hair right down to her waist and talked funny."

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