It is rather unfortunate that I would have to write a public letter to express my discomfort with your actions, but I am afraid this is the only alternative seeing as you refuse to hear any correction that is given in a direct manner. I will explain, for those who don’t know, that I am what most people would call a human-trafficking victim, what some would call a survivor, and what I personally prefer to call a recovering prostitute. I went through a year-long residential program through which I received extensive care and healing, as well as a close-up view to the disturbing dynamics that occur in some non-profits and ministries that work with women leaving the industry. It is distressful to recollect many of the events and attitudes I’ve witnessed as a woman in recovery and even more so as a Christian among Christians in the midst of your organizations that work primarily for the sake of appearance and esteem, and only secondarily for the people that you claim to want to help. In other words, you have a messiah complex and you’re putting on the appearance of saving the world at the expense of people who are legitimately suffering in ways that you cannot possibly comprehend.
This is not to say that those who have not lived the lifestyle cannot serve or even lead in these organizations, but it is to say that a very special posture is required of you if you do decide to do so. This is a posture of humility and recognition that no matter how many degrees you have, how many books you’ve read, or how many seminars you’ve attended, you have an extremely limited understanding of the woman’s truth when you are face to face with her. This understanding only comes through the genuine building of relationships; through the experience that is gained not just with time but with the richness and depth with which you care for the woman who’s in front of you, whenever she’s in front of you. The problem with this is that we sex workers, being heavily intuitive because of the dangerous circumstances we’ve been forced to learn to navigate, will instinctively know if you are a safe person, and if you aren’t, you can be sure that a relationship will not reach anywhere past the surface. Basically, it cannot be fabricated, and frankly, it is extremely insulting when you try.
I don’t think you fully realize the re-victimization that occurs when you treat us as projects, as numbers, as objects to be won over, as the muse of your Twitter accounts, as stories to share with your friends over dinner so they think you a virtuous human, as platforms to stand on to plead your own cause, and most unfortunately, as a means to monetary profit which is just a milder form of pimping us out. In most cases we don’t have the right to complain, however, because you operate on the basis of comparison. This means that as long as you’re providing a living situation that is mostly better than our previous one, you’ve done all that there is to do and we should be grateful. We actually are. Any help is worth acknowledging and it is a great thing that there exist places where women can go for shelter and food, but it becomes very confusing when you make claims about your organizations that you so miserably fail to deliver mainly because of your ignorance in regards to the population of people you’re working with.
I must repeat: academia is rather insubstantial when it meets the reality of the prostitution lifestyle. It is also not the forefront of the healing process. Academic credentials cannot be solely relied upon in an organization that promotes and offers healing. This is why it is so important for each individual working with recovering sex workers to engage and invest in their own inner healing so they may be capable of directing others there. If you have not faced the darkness within yourself, how will you ever be equipped to lead someone else into and out of his or her darkness? No one wants to follow you into a territory you’ve never tread upon and have no idea how to navigate. The entire basis of leadership is the presumption that you can offer guidance and direction to those you’re serving through your own experience in walking out that path.
It’s ridiculous that there are so many people in significant roles in these organizations that have absolutely nothing to offer to the women because they refuse to get uncomfortable in order to get healthy. Dr. Dan Allender says in an interview on abuse and human trafficking that people who are working with victims must take of the same medicine they are prescribing to the people they work with. To neglect doing so is not only hypocritical, but also highly ineffective. Still, many of your staff members and volunteers refuse to engage in any kind of self-evaluation because their lives seem manageable enough to the outside world. If you are a drug addict, an alcoholic, and definitely if you are a prostitute it goes without saying that you need help. If you are a porn addict, food addict, or full of anger and bitterness, you can silently walk past your responsibility to deal with your sin because it is much more easily hidden and often even more acceptable or forgivable among social and/or Christian circles. Once again, you are working on a basis of comparison that is not only repulsively arrogant, but flat out insulting.
It’s important to reiterate that the incompetence itself is not the problem. The problem is the refusal to address the incompetence, while arrogantly demanding position and authority within the organization. The problem is painting a picture for donors and the surrounding community of genuine care, understanding, and empathy that is, in fact, often absent. The problem is feigning qualification without even the understanding of what it means to be qualified. The problem is in pretending to do a job that actually never gets done. I have had several unfortunate exposures to women who are in director positions of organizations and do not have a clue what they are doing, but will go to their grave defending their right to do it. I’ve seen these women cower in fear in the midst of panic attacks, in the midst of my anger, or simply in the midst of a hard day. With absolutely no direction on how to proceed, they tossed me to the one person who knew what she was doing (luckily there was one), which provoked a great amount of shame, and confirmed the belief that I was going crazy and that little existed to restore me to sanity.
Even more severe, one of these directors left a bottle of Xanax in the bedroom where one of the women in recovery was sleeping, and accepted no responsibility, and showed no remorse when the woman relapsed on that bottle of Xanax. Instead, sentences like “she would have relapsed anyway” were thrown around, implying that the responsibility for failure always lies on the shoulders of the addict/prostitute and no introspection is ever necessary on the part of staff. The point is not that mistakes shouldn’t be made, because it would be unrealistic to presume perfection from human beings, but a degree of humility needs to be present so that growth and healing can take place after trust has been broken or someone’s actions have put someone else in danger. It’s actually an elementary concept, and it is beyond understanding why it is so complicated for some people to embrace.
It is also baffling how words like ‘empowerment’ are utilized to sell your product, but when it comes down to living it, you work harder for the disempowerment, the submission, and the quieting down of the women because you are so insecure within yourself that anything seems like a threat or competition. On countless occasions I, along with several peers, have been silenced and chastised for speaking up about matters we found disconcerting within the non-profit, including extremely serious matters concerning spiritual and sexual abuse that took place long before my arrival but the ripples of that abuse were still flowing out. It is pretty simple logic: if you are in the business of getting the people around you to shut up and not ask questions, you are hiding something of gravity. When situations are handled with Godliness and integrity, there will exist honorable and cohesive explanations for those who inquire, regardless of how complicated the circumstance. Unfortunately, your organizations prefer avoidance and denial, sweeping things out of sight and crossing your fingers that no one will ask what the lump under the carpet is all about. It’s wrong, it’s unethical, and it’s sick. It also makes us feel incredibly unsafe, which means we will no longer heal in your environment.
However, you continue to offer healing in these places that are so toxic that no one could possibly get well – truly well – in them. It is like locking yourself in a room of people who are ill and contagious, sharing beds, napkins, breathing the same air, expecting to recover from your sickness, and even more preposterously inviting others into this cesspool and promoting it as a place of well-being. And yes, I dare to say that the room is one full of sickened people, because I suspect most of your organizations don’t even have one person who is remotely qualified and well enough emotionally, spiritually, and mentally to do the work you’re trying or claiming to do. Consequently, many of the people you are supposedly helping are left feeling misunderstood, and often hopeless in their attempt to acquire healing for their deep-rooted wounds.
Furthermore, it simply is not fruitful to work with prostitutes in isolation – a certain integrity and personal pursuit of wholeness is required in your life across the board, not only from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. Of course it is a different scenario if you’re offering food and clothing only, in which case you may very well be able to compartmentalize your work and your private dealings. I am making particular reference to those organizations who claim to bring restoration back to women’s lives. In these environments, the demand on you is substantial and if you cannot commit to the lifestyle that follows walking in solidarity with the women, the solution for you is rather simple: find another job. Anyone would consider it far past irresponsible if a mere medical assistant propped his or herself up as a doctor and awaited wounded soldiers rescued from battle while promising assistance they could not offer, so why is your negligent stance any more respectable?
My impression is that you don’t actually believe in the redemption of the women you are working with. I think you have made up your mind that we are too far gone and cannot possibly recoup all that we’ve lost, so any kind of attention will suffice, and any kind of care is appropriate, and anything beyond is practically a waste of time and money because we will probably fail and return to our bad behaviors anyway. I have seen it in your eyes, I’ve heard it in your voice, and witnessed it time and time again in your actions. You yourself would be surprised if anyone in your program actually thrived and lived a wholesome and fulfilling life. In fact, I have experienced contempt towards myself and other women I’ve walked with in recovery after we managed to get firm on our feet and began challenging some of the inner workings of the organization. The director even admitted to holding a personal grudge toward one of the women in program, and confessed to just plainly “not liking her”. This kind of attitude is not only unbelievably immature, but a complete signal of the lack of compassion, empathy, and care that truly exists there for the women, not to mention an utter inability to understand the people you’re working with.
If there is anything you can expect from women coming out of the sex industry, it is a set of interesting attitudes and personalities. Oftentimes, we are jaded, rough around the edges, and have a very hard time trusting anyone around us. You must be prepared to take nothing personally if you are going to work with us. If you’re fearful, we will smell it. If you’re insincere, we will see it. We know quite well how to identify a demeaning tone, as many of us have become accustomed to hearing them on a daily basis. We may have serious damage to our brains from drugs and trauma, but we will never be as ignorant as some of you believe we are. Please stop insulting us by treating us like the rest of the world treats us in places that you have labeled safe. This is not safety; it is re-victimization, humiliation, and the perfect design to perpetuate hopelessness.
You must have both feet in if you really care about helping us back to wellness. You must be willing to become a woman’s family, and you must have no doubt that you can love us without condition – without making excuses for us, without having to refer to us as victims every other second just to convince yourself that you can respect us, and without covering up the ugly truth about the lifestyles we’ve lived and the lowliness we’ve come from. Yes, we are human- trafficking victims. All of us. But unfortunately this term has been used conveniently by your organizations to create a sense of pity that the word prostitute does not offer. You’ve used this word to appeal to churches and donors for financial gain, because compassion seems much more attainable regarding the woman that has been tied in a basement against her will as opposed to the woman who’s been walking the neighborhood streets for decades and who you believe has the power to leave at any moment she so chooses. This again, is a gross misunderstanding of prostitution and the factors that force a human being into it. Educate yourselves or step down. Look around your organizations. How many survivors are in policy making leadership roles on your team? What kind of accountability do you have within and outside of your organizations to verify the integrity with which you work with women? How are the women coming in and out of your program rating you? These questions are essential to the health of the organization and the wellness of the women you serve.
If you are part of a non-profit working with trafficking victims, and anything I’ve mentioned strikes a nerve in you, take a somber look inward and reevaluate the way in which you’ve been doing things. Challenge yourself in the secret of your own heart instead of searching for the error in all I’ve said, even if you think you are doing everything perfectly at first glance. I realize that everything I’ve discussed may not apply, since I am specifically addressing those organizations I’ve been thoroughly exposed to, but the more I see, the more I realize how small the percentage of people who actually know what they’re doing. This is not a place of shame if you allow yourself honesty and humility, and request guidance from those who do know. This, I believe, separates those who truly care for the women from those who want to play savior for their own gain. I pray that God would teach you to truly love the prostitutes as He does, and to extend to them the respect that they deserve. I pray He would lead you to your inner wounds, and upon bringing healing to them you would be able to bring healing to others. I pray for humility, wisdom, and openness. May your work be underlined with integrity and truth, and your intentions be pure and transparent. It is in this that God will be glorified, and that the women will receive the care they need and the love they deserve.