Girls Like Us
"Hey, my name's Rachel and I'm from a program called GEMS that works with teenage girls who've been in the life, and I'm just here to see how we can support and help you. I know you've had a pretty rough day, how are you doing tonight?" Pause. Silence. Danielle sits eyeing me warily, with her arms folded tightly across her chest. "Guess they didn't tell you I was coming, huh?" I roll my eyes at the door. Cheap trick, bond against the system when all else fails. Silence. "I'm just here to talk to you a little bit and see if there's anything we can do. I'm not from the cops or child welfare or anything like that. What you tell me will be confidential." Silence. If she is at all relieved that I'm not a cop, she doesn't show it.
"You know, the reason I started GEMS is cos I used to be in the life, too, so I wanted to have a place for girls who'd been through the same thing."
Silence. That admission normally at least provoked a question: "Really, miss? How old was you?" "What track you worked?" "You had a daddy?" But nothing, not even a raised eyebrow or a show of interest. "Can you tell me what brought you here today?" Silence. This is a little tougher than I'd expected or, to be honest, wanted, particularly at the end of a long week. A lot of girls I encountered in these situations started chatting right away and it was harder getting them to be quiet.
"So I know that your name's Danielle. Can I ask how old you are?" I'd already been told over the phone by the intake worker that she is fourteen and it is a close-ended question (bad move in the counseling process), but I'm not really getting anywhere so I figure that this will at least get her to respond. She breaks her silence. "Eleven."
I'm so mentally prepared for a different answer that it takes a moment to register. Double take. "I'm sorry, how old?"
"Really?" I say, with far too much incredulity in my voice, and, I'm sure, on my face. Wow ... dumb response. She looks at me like I'm a little dense and just nods. I wonder if perhaps she is lying. Lots of girls lied about their age in order to be older but I'd never met anyone who'd lied to be younger. While it probably isn't hard to believe that one of the staff had erroneous information, I really don't want to believe what she is telling me. Fourteen was bad enough, but eleven? [read more]