Earlier this year, as we peeled back the pages of “Girls Like Us,” I felt myself struck at the lack of true choices available to so many women. Rachel Lloyd, who authored this powerful book, challenges our culture’s current conception of choice, asserting that “the issue of choice must be carefully framed and understood in the context of the individual and cultural forces facing girls at risk.” She continues, “The sex industry may initially appear to provide a life of economic freedom, independence, and a secure future with someone who loves them, in contrast to the bleak futures that they may believe are the only alternatives. Selling sex may seem like a small price to pay, particularly for girls who have abused and raped. Combine the power of media images of young women as sexual objects with the girls’ familial and environmental situation and the trap is set. It is often not until the reality of the situation begins to sink in, when the situation becomes too toxic or when she finally accepts the reality that her boyfriend is actually a pimp that a girl may choose to leave. At that point it is no longer a matter of choice, but rather a matter of escape.”
As I read those words, Lloyd gave me words to a tenet I had long believed, but did not know how to assert: even if a choice was made by a girl that does not mean that the girl freely made that choice. The freedom to choice relies upon a plethora of options. If one does not have options (or does not know they have options), they do not have the freedom to choose.
The girl who stayed with her boyfriend who coerced her into selling her body to clients— did not choose her boyfriend, but instead clung to the closest version of love she had ever known because she didn’t know real love.
The girl who didn’t speak up when exploited— did not choose silence, but instead felt she could only be safe if she said nothing because she didn’t know true safety.
These girls had what many in our society may deem a choice. One could cruelly say, “she could have chosen to leave, she could have said something,” but those cruel words are not “carefully framed and understood in the context of the individual and culture forces facing girls at risk” that Lloyd previously enumerated. When framed in light of those forces, the lack of true choice becomes evident. These girls were lied to by their abusers, but were also unsupported by society; no one showed them the options they had and no one showed them what it meant to be loved and safe. So many girls lack true choice. And abusers capitalize upon this perceived lack of options to coerce, deceive, and force girls into situations they may not have otherwise embraced.
Having choices, and knowing these choices, is an important piece of restoration for survivors. Survivors deserve to know that there is real love and real safety that not only exist, but can belong to them, to know that they can choose what to do with their future, to know that they can choose who touches their body, to know that they can choose what to do with their body.
In a world where not everyone has true choices, the choices we do have should not be recklessly abandoned. To have choices is a basic right, but unfortunately has become a luxury. Because choice has become a luxury, it must be protected at all costs. It must be given to all. Because lack of choices, perceived or actualized, allows exploitation and abuse to run rampant.
Today, on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and therefore remove the protection of the right to an abortion. By removing this protection, depending on one’s state, women may no longer be able to choose to terminate pregnancies.
The girl who became pregnant by her rapist— could not choose to have an abortion, but instead carried the child to term in accordance to the laws before placing the child up for adoption.
The girl who became pregnant from protected sex— could not choose to have an abortion, but instead dropped out of high school to raise a child with no preparation and no support.
The girl who became pregnant by an abusive boyfriend— could not choose to have an abortion, but instead stayed with her boyfriend because she could not financially leave with a child on the way.
This potential, perceived, and/or actualized lack of choice only increases the opportunities for force, for fraud, and for coercion. The less choices women have, the less women are able to know that their lives do not have to sit in the box an abuser has sought to keep them in. Removing a choice is never a step forward— to choose is fundamental to freedom. May we appreciate the choices we currently have and seek to extend choices to all women, rather than, as the Supreme Court did today, steal a personal choice from someone who deserve to choose what to do with their own body.