In the 17th century, St. Kate's founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, helped women escape prostitution as their sole means of supporting their families by teaching them to make lace.
In the 21st century, Rachel Lloyd helps young women escape the same fate with an array of emotional and social support services to help them grow from victims to survivors to leaders with the nonprofit she founded in New York City in 1998, the Girls Educational and Mentoring Service (GEMS).
Lloyd discussed the root causes of human trafficking and how to address them in a riveting lecture that concluded the 2017 Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Distinguished Scholar in Residence program.
“The zip code you were born in determines your economic future, your educational future, your future encounters with law enforcement,” she told the packed O’Shaughnessy audience. “The idea of pulling yourself by your bootstraps that so many talk about is a myth.”
A victim of trafficking herself, Lloyd spent the evening busting myths that popular culture has propagated about sexual trafficking victims.
“Stop using the little white blond girl with duct tape over her mouth and chained to a bed as your stereotypical trafficking victim,” said Lloyd. She stated that in her 20-plus years in the field, she’s never seen any victim with duct tape over her mouth or chained up. She pointed out how these stereotypes keep us from seeing the real victims closer to home.
“We miss the woman in the cubicle next to us who wears sweaters all summer,” she said. “We have to get real about what’s happening.”
Lloyd also made the case for looking at sexual trafficking as a consequence of the cycle of poverty that spans generations.
“We have to move beyond the paradigm and recognize the issues that make individuals vulnerable to sexual trafficking,” said Lloyd. Poverty, racism, sexual assault and even the refugee crisis are all intertwined and more resources are needed to break the cycle of poverty earlier.
Lloyd reported that for many of the young women that GEMS serves, sexual abuse starts as early as five years old and 70 percent of them have been in New York’s child protective services.
“Sexual trafficking feeds on people in poverty who lack choices,” she said. “When you live in violence and trauma, that’s all you know.”
Lloyd pressed the audience, which included many members of the justice and social service communities, to use facts — a statement that brought applause. "Facts matter! Isn't it sad that we're applauding that? But we need to be truthful,” said Lloyd. “We are feminists — loud and proud!”
She also encouraged those present to act, and said that as a community and as a country, “we can do better.”
“Get laws passed now,” she said. “Get the funding now. It’s not about rescue. It’s about empowerment.”
She also encouraged the assembled crowd to get involved directly by mentoring a child through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. She told the audience that one healthy adult in a child’s life can help that child avoid falling victim to traffickers who prey on the vulnerable.
Lloyd walks her own talk. She discussed how the GEMS Survivor Leadership Institute helps “her girls” and others grow into leaders who share their own ideas about policy, and develop business and career skills to break the cycle of poverty and abuse.
“These young women have learned that ‘I am more than my story,’” said Lloyd. “How can you not be hopeful?”
The evening closed with questions and answers for Lloyd curated by Allison Adrian, St. Kate's Endowed Chair in Women's Education. Adrian also led the Kelly Scholar Committee’s call to action. Members of the audience were asked to sign postcards in their lecture program asking state leaders for increased funding for victims of sexual exploitation.
By evening’s end, boxes in the lobby were nearly overflowing. On Friday morning, April 7, St. Kate's students delivered over 2,700 postcards to the Minnesota Legislature.
Joan Kelly (May 22, 1924 - Nov. 2, 2016) was a 1946 St. Kate's graduate, donor and member of the St. Catherine Centennial 100. She honored the memory of her parents and sister with generous gifts that fund three prestigious programs designed to recognize academic excellence and advance the national visibility of St. Catherine University. A successful businesswoman and Phi Beta Kappa graduate in English, Joan Kelly attended both high school and college on the St. Catherine campus with her sister, Bonnie Jean, who died while a student here.
Kelly established the Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Distinguished Visiting Scholar Fund in 2006 to annually bring a nationally-known scholar to St. Kate's for seminars, workshops and classroom discussions. In addition, her gift also supports the Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Faculty Excellence Award and the Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Student Excellence in Writing Award that recognizes superior work in writing. Two exceptionally talented student writers are each presented with a $2,500 award at the University’s annual Honors and Awards Ceremony in spring.