13 August 2012

A Prostitute does her work with pleasure?!?

It's been almost a year now since I started volunteering again with the Salvation Army's vrouwenpastoraat (pastoral care to women). It's something I am thankful I can do, as the women are my neighbours, and I want to be able to reach out to them and show them love and respect - an attitude too often lacking amongst many of the tourists and visitors to the Red Light District.

Joan van't Hof, who has a lead role in the work of the women's pastoral care, recently posted a short article on wij about this. For those of you who read dutch, I encourage you to follow the link. But for those of you who only speak English, the following is the translation:

A Prostitute does her work with pleasure

My initial reaction to this statement was: If that were true, then the Vrouwenpastoraat (Women's pastoral care) of the Salvation Army would hardly need to exist. How did it start? After the Second World War 'Major' Bosshardt began caring for this special group: care that grew into an extensive social and spiritual work that has now become the Goodwill Centre Amsterdam and where more than a thousand people work. Since January 2007, I have been able to participate in the work as a volunteer.

Ever since it began, the Salvation Army has been active in visiting the prostitutes that work in the Red Light District. The visits were initially limited to once per week. Now there are more than twenty volunteers who ensure that visits are made three times per week to the prostitutes working in the Red Light District. In addition, on Thursday those working in the area of the Spui and Singel are visited. We also provide Dutch language lessons so that it is easier to find a job in the Netherlands, as well as making it easier to communicate with Dutch people.

Every week we reach out to three to four hundred prostitutes. The contact itself is very diverse. It ranges from a short raising of a hand to sometimes a conversation of an hour or more. On account of our regular presence and the lack of conditions for how we approach "our" girls, we have built up trust with many, if not most, of those whom we visit. If we are asked to talk about our beliefs and matters of faith, we gladly share more about that. On our own, we do not bring up this topic, recognizing that many are believers.

Sometimes the Red Light District is populated by hordes of tourists and spectators, who march through the alleys shouting, banging on the windows, and calling out to the women (for example, "Hey, grandma," when they see a prostitute who is "already" thirty years old). Or there are couples walking hand in hand through the alleys, kissing each other in front of a window, and staring disapprovingly at the prostitutes. In the last while, a girl next to our building has occasionally donned a kind of police uniform, in the hope of attracting (certain) men. Last Thursday, there stood a group of people before her window laughing together at her. Such an attitude disgusts me: no respect for the women who, without exception, always respond to us with respect and love.

During our visits, family situations often comes up. The women talk about their (grand) children and favourite nephew/niece. And the sun breaks through completely whenever we ask whether they might have photos. With barely concealed pride, the little children and other relatives are always shown. At such moments, we recognize our common humanity. A fellow human being who is no different than us. The only difference is where and how one's life began. Coming to know the latter can cause your heart to break when you realize how many of the girls have been forced into this profession. The force can be a lack of another means of livelihood and therefore, often at wit's end, "choosing" to work here in the prostitution, or the force can be having been recruited by a human trafficker and made to do thise work under the most horrible of threats (not infrequently followed through). No, this type of work is not something you do because it is respected or because the work is so enjoyable.

article re-posted with permission from the author.

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