One by one, staff and volunteers arrive at the drop-in center bundled in scarves and puffy jackets and are herded into the living room to practice some shaky Christmas carols. Some first-timers look nervous, but most of us are excited to see our friends. Laughing, we don Santa hats and sling 300 fruitcakes in sacks onto our backs to deliver along the Red Light District. It’s the event of the year: Christmas Caroling in the Brothels!
Caroling in the brothels is nerve-wracking. It’s never easy ducking through the doors into the low lights and the grimy cement rooms under the curious, hopeful gaze of the girls, or the suspicious, hostile gaze of the clients. But it’s harder still when you’re wearing a Santa hat and asking the bartender to turn down the dance music so you can burst into song.
Yet, caroling in the brothels is prophetic. It shines the brightest light the world has ever known, the most intense hope that has ever broken into the world, into the darkest, most hopeless places man has created. It can leave the girls weeping for the hope they forgot existed.
Caroling is never boring. We may be a group of 15 singing to one lonely girl on a corner, or the women in a brothel may come out of their rooms and join us in song. A friend I hadn’t seen for months clung to me and made me promise to pray for her.
Caroling is, for me, the most holy night of the year. I’m always overwhelmed that God has entrusted us, a ragtag band of motley singers, with this matchless mission. I’ve never met a Christmas pageant, a candle-light service, or a Christmas Eve sermon that pierces my soul the way this joyful proclamation of hope in the Red Light District does.
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices.
O night divine
O night when Christ was born.
May that same unquenchable hope break into every Christmas season.
By Cara Contreras
My name is Tasha and I’m 14 years old. This is my story…you may not want to hear it, and you won’t like it. But there are plenty more girls out there with a story like mine. I had a friend; my mom didn’t really like her. Her name is Carrie. She’s 18. But she’s really the only friend I ever had; “Because she asks about things I care about!” I told my mom one time. We used to go hang out at the mall together, or have slumber parties or just hang out. One time…three years ago her friend Jay showed up. I kinda had a weird feeling whenever he came around, but Carrie always said, “Don’t worry about it,” or, “Just chill out, you wish you had a boy like Jay too, don’t ya?” Yeah, I mean, it was kinda true. Every once in a while he’d bring her new clothes or take her out to dinner or something. One time, he even bought her a brand new phone! But then, he told her she couldn’t use it to talk to anyone else – only Jay. So anyway, there was this time Jay showed up at Carrie’s place – she lived in an apartment with her grandma (or at least that was her address). Her grandma was out of town for the evening and told Carrie she wasn’t allowed to have anyone over. But, poor lady, she didn’t have a clue. To make matters worse, Jay brought a few of his friends too, plus some girls who weren’t wearing very many clothes. As soon as I saw them come in, I shot a hard glance at Carrie. “You said we were just gonna hang out and watch movies and eat ice cream!” Before Carrie could even say a word, I heard the most evil laugh ever come from over my shoulder.
“Don’t worry Tish Tash, we’re going to have lots of fun together tonight!”
“Carrie, I’m going home, see you later!” I said and headed for the door. I didn’t know what kind of fun they were gonna have, but I didn’t want no part of it. I almost made it to the door. But just when I was about there, a strong arm slammed hard on it.
“You’re not going anywhere tonight pretty girl!” Jay’s friend laughed.
“Let me outta here! I’m leaving!” I screamed. And a hot slap hit my face. I was dizzy and so confused. “What’s happening?” I thought, “This must be a really bad dream.” When I gathered my senses, confusion pounded me. I looked around. Carrie had disappeared with one of Jay’s friends into a bedroom. Music was blasting. The girls Jay brought were smoking and ignoring everything around them. Jay and another guy were setting up video cameras. I stayed on the floor, and a sense of terror crept up in me. An hour or so went by, then another. Smoke clouded the room and a weird smell I never smelled before. I was crouched up in a corner when the biggest guy of the bunch stomped the floor next to me and demanded me to get up. He looked like he could hit me hard any moment. Before I was even on my feet, he grabbed my arm and jerked me to the bathroom. Throwing me inside, he yelled,
“Put this on and come out.” He shoved a tiny skirt and a see-through shirt in my face and slammed the door. I was horrified. Frantically I searched the bathroom for a mode of escape: a window, a cell phone (Carrie was always leaving hers around), anything! But no hope anywhere.
“Quit stalling and get out here!” a voice barked. I felt panic rising up in me. I began to cry. “This can’t be happening!” my thoughts shouted. There were hard blows to the door. “All this noise!” I thought, “Surely the neighbors downstairs will hear and call the police!” As if he heard me thinking, the big guy outside said slowly,
“Nobody’s comin’ for you tonight. Nobody’s comin’ ever.” Then I remembered something I once heard some adults saying, something about minding your own business when it comes to neighbors, something about steering clear of getting involved in someone else’s junk. Suddenly, the door burst open with a bang and the big guy was yelling at me to hurry up. He made me undress and dress in the new terrible clothes while he stood there. Then he pushed me back into the main room. The other girls were there, they were dancing in front of the cameras. The strong mean arm shoved me into the middle of them and I heard the shouts,
“Dance, you whores!”
“Dance like you like it or you’ll pay. Hard!”
“What’s the matter little Tish Tash, you need another hand across the face for convincing?”
I HAD NO CHOICE.
The guys shot video for an hour or so. Carrie reappeared. She avoided eye contact with me. Then they made us pose in really gross positions while they took our pictures, and posted them right away on the internet. I tried not to puke. They got so angry with me when they had to wait because there were tears streaming down my cheeks. They threatened to make me take drugs if I didn’t act like I was enjoying all this. The night wore on. I was exhausted and disgusted and kept hoping the police would come barging through door. But instead, some ugly old men and some younger guys came through the door. Then they’d disappear with one of the girls for while. A few looked at me and talked to Jay, but he kept shaking his head no…until one man. He was old enough to be my dad and wearing a business suit. I saw him hand Jay a big bunch of bills and then they forced me into a bedroom with him. But first, Jay grabbed my arm hard and whispered in my ear,
“You do anything this man wants and you smile. Do you hear me?” He squeezed my arm harder. “I know where your mom lives and I can make life hell for both of you if I want.” He shoved me back towards the man in the suit. “You already are,” I thought.
Before I left for Carrie’s that day, I had told my mom that I wouldn’t be home until dinner the next day. So she wasn’t expecting me any earlier. No one would look for me. No one would think anything unusual was going on. Carrie and I had had a hundred sleepovers before. But this was no joke. It began to hit me that night, “I am nobody to these people.” And many nights after it, “All I am is a way to make Jay A LOT of money.” Carrie had made Jay a huge amount of money – she told me that night that Jay had been selling her to other guys for a few years. I kept wondering how all that went on and her grandma didn’t know about it. And then the thought hit me like a ton of bricks, “This is happening to me right now and my mom doesn’t know a thing about it.”
I know some other girls who got sent home after a night like that with threats over their life and their families if they peeped even a word to anyone. Some of the girls I know now lived in that hell every weekend for a long time before they finally escaped or told someone or were rescued. I understand, when someone threatens to kill your family (or you) and you’ve seen the rage and felt the uncontrollable violence behind it – you’ll do whatever you’re told, even if it’s the unthinkable. So there they were going to school like everybody else, looking all ‘normal’ on the outside, but their life was hell. But that’s not how it happened for me. I mean, yeah I was threatened with my life and all, and my mom’s, but I didn’t get to go home that day or the next or any other day. Jay rounded up the crew before the sun even came up and we hit the road. Like I said, my mom wasn’t expecting me home for hours, so when I saw my city disappear behind me, my heart sank lower than low. I never imagined what fear and terror someone could feel. We passed by my street and it was gone, but I didn’t dare cry out – the bruises I had all over me were reminders not to. I felt like the size of a pea. Nobody. Scared. Alone. Powerless. But it only got worse after that.
Today I live at a Home for girls who have similar stories to mine. I’ve been here for a year now, and it’s been almost three years since that awful night I told you about. I like it here at the Home. I get to see my mom pretty often. The food’s okay and I‘ve met a lot of nice people. Well, more than nice…I think they love me. They’ve seen me at my worst at least, and they didn’t run away. See, because when I first got here…after some guy called this hotline number or something – I guess he thought something didn’t look right at a rest stop onetime when Jay was taking us to work another city (for some big football game or something – you know, a lot of guys at a big sporting event – yeah.) Well anyway I’m glad the guy was paying attention at that rest stop or gas station or whatever it was – cuz that’s how I get to be here now. So yeah, when I first arrived here, it was ugly. I was messed up after those years of being a ‘nobody,’ of being abused. I thought I deserved what was dealt me in life – would you believe Jay had me so brainwashed I even stuck up for him at first!? I can’t even believe it now, but I was stuck there in that pit of thinking for a while. He gave me clothes, he gave me food, right? He deserved something in return, right? You add some drugs to the mix and a few slaps in the face (or worse) and your thinking becomes a real mess. That doesn’t go away overnight you know. These people here at the Home though, they stuck right with me. Didn’t get mad when I yelled, didn’t give up when they had to explain something for the hundredth time, didn’t quit on me at all. Nope, they didn’t run away when I had withdrawals, when I had a bad attitude about getting my G.E.D., when I threatened to run away and go back to the streets. This is a long road, you know? This path to freedom. Not just being physically freed from Jay, I mean REALLY FREE. I mean knowing that I’m worth something and that I have a say about it all. I mean knowing that I am loved – by God. I mean forgiving all those men who hurt me (some of them don’t even know it – thinking that looking at porn is no big deal.) Yeah this business of healing is no small task. But I’m moving in the right direction with the help of these wonderful people at the Home, AND all the people who help make the Home possible, AND all the people I don’t even know who are praying for me! I thank God for all of them.
by Laura Straniero
In one hour, I have to go meet David. He says we’re flying to Montreal for a weekend festival. He says there will be lots of “great sales opportunities”. I know this means my body will be sore and my mind will be blank for 3 days. I want out of this! I just- don’t know how to get out… but I don’t know, because David loves me, right?
In the last 5 years, I have made some friends in this industry. I learned quickly that some girls are not really friends; just pimps in disguise out to get you. But some of the girls are just like me – kind hearted, taken advantage of, and with no way out.
Lots of times we go to L.A. for porn conventions. On the outside, this means smiling faces and a glamorous event. But when the sun goes down, this means we are harshly abused for hours on end. I remember the first time, me and my friend Shana were ushered into a dirty hotel room and told to get on the bed. The next two hours, a strange man filmed, while 5 men penetrated us, harshly and powerfully. I saw this video on the internet 2 days later – 500 000 views, grossing $20 000. I felt sick to my stomach. I cried that day. I wish people knew that we were forced into those videos… cause then they wouldn’t watch them…right?
I’ve been doing this for too long. But I know I’m lucky- I mean, David treats me okay, better than some other girls. He helped me find an apartment downtown…with Shana and other girls, but still it’s something! David says I’m not allowed to contact my mum. He doesn’t know I tried to call her once. If he found out, he would kill her. That’s usually what he says when he is upset with me. But I know he has my best interest in mind, so after he sometimes hits me, I usually apologize, and then he kisses me and tells me how beautiful I am. David loves me like I wish my dad would have. Mum and dad fought a lot, my dad would get mad at mum for everything. We were poor, and he blamed this on mum, hitting her and yelling.
When I turned 12, dad started treating me the same as mum. Except instead yelling, he touched me. When mum found out, she didn’t do anything about it. She was too scared. So she kept quiet, I kept quiet. One day, when I was 15 making breakfast in the kitchen, he suddenly grabbed me around the neck, and pushed me against the wall. He touched me in all the places I hated, and whispered gross things in my ear. When he was finished, he released my neck, and I slid down the wall to the kitchen floor. I was frozen, and felt the cold tiles beneath my fingertips. I could not do this anymore. I got up and walked like a
zombie to my bedroom. I grabbed my red backpack, and 2 changes of clothes. Then I got on the bus downtown. Since we’d moved from the out of country, we had no family in Calgary. I didn’t know where to go, but I vowed I would never go back again.
One night, after months of sleeping in shelters and doorways, a man pulled up in a car. “You look cold”, he said. “Do you want to come warm up?” I saw a woman and two kids with him, which made me feel safe. I nodded and got into the car, then we all went out for hot chocolate. I told them why I was sleeping on the streets, and after his wife and kids got in back in the car, the man gave me his card ‘David Jones, Marketing Associate with J.R. Consulting’, the card read. He said to call if I ever needed anything. “Really!” he said. I put the card in my pocket, and then they dropped me off at a shelter.
I was really lonely and broke, and Calgary winter was coming. I didn’t want to be on the streets in the winter! So out of desperation, I called this ‘David Jones’, and he came and took me for dinner. Over the next weeks, he bought me flowers, jewelry, and clothes… he made me feel loved and special. One Saturday night, he invited me to a party. “It will be just smashing”, he said. He bought me a new dress and a necklace, and we went. It was very fancy. I noticed a lot of women going in and out of rooms with men. I saw one girl my age crying, and when I asked why, he smiled and said not to worry, enjoy the party! So I did. At the end of the night, he asked if I wanted him to help me find an apartment, to help me get on my feet he said. I was so grateful!
One night we went to another party. He held my hand as we went in, I was smiling in another new dress, so happy to have found this man to love me. This party wasn’t as fancy as the other one… it was in small apartment, and there was lots of smoke. I was starting to feel a bit funny, when David suddenly pulled me into a hallway and said: “Dear, you have a friend who wants to get to know you. He may want you to take off your clothes. You will do whatever he tells you to, because you need to pay the rent somehow Sweetie”. I was confused, and I felt that something was wrong, so I said no and turned to leave. But he grabbed my wrist tightly, and pulled me back, thrusting me into a bedroom. He looked at me sharply, with his hand on the doorknob. “Darling, you need to do this, it’s time to grown up and take responsibility.” The door slammed, and before I could try to leave, a tall man in a suit came into the room. He had a greedy smile, shiny shoes, and a wedding ring. He unbuckled his belt and grabbed my hair. The next hour was painful, exhausting, and just the beginning of my new life.
That was when I was 15. Since then, I’ve had many of these nights. But now, they are normal. Sometimes David sends me two men per night, sometimes ten, sometimes more – usually more. I cried and yelled the first week of this all happening. David told me to cry more, because the men liked it. So I stopped crying, and did nothing, lay limp –they still kept showing up. When I am with a John, I have to leave my mind. I usually prefer speed, but if I can’t get that I just drink. It’s hard to be sober while strangers rape you, ya know? I say rape because I don’t want this, I never did… I consent now, because… well, I think I owe it to David, and I really have no other choice. But this was never my life plan.
I used to want to be a teacher. I used to walk along dirt pathways with stick in hand, drawing pictures in the mud. I dressed my dog in doll clothes, and paraded him around the neighbourhood. I had chicken pox when I was 5, and my mom held me close while I cried. I liked ice cream, and Happy Meals, and cartoons. I was just a girl. I am just a girl… I’m a woman, I’m a human.
Shana and I have been with David the longest, and we see him recruit new girls almost daily. 13 year old runaways, desperate moms, naïve immigrants… it’s really hard to watch. I know that they are ignorant and trusting, just like I was, and I know what they will become… depressed, hurt women like Shana and I. I want out! But I don’t know how… I have been living like this for years, where would I even start? Who would even believe me? Would David kill my mum? What about Shana? I can’t leave her behind… And in the midst of all this, I know David cares about me, he would miss me! And I would miss him. But I
don’t want this life…
Sometimes I wish all the Johns would stop showing up. If they didn’t call David for girls, then we would be out of work. Maybe then we could start over. Maybe then I could go to school! Maybe if they knew… if they knew that we were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters… would they still crave and pay for us the way they do? Or would they stop coming? …I wonder these things sometimes.
David tells me to smile, and act like I’m enjoying the sex while I’m working. If I don’t, he takes a bigger cut from my pay, or he hits me, depending on the day.
But I wonder…Yeah… If in the middle of a trick, I looked into a man’s eyes and said “I don’t want to be here; I also went to kindergarten with your daughter”, would he cry, stop, leave? Or would he play deaf, and just press harder, and deeper inside of me?
I’m truly, not sure…
This fictional piece is based on the reality of prostituted and trafficked women and children around the world. It was originally written and performed by Rheanna Lauren, a former Servant Team member with Word Made Flesh Bolivia. The dance show Invisible, held at The Grand Junction Theatre in Calgary, revealed the vulnerabilities of women and the role of culture in bringing these vulnerabilities down.
I’m sitting across from a girl I am just getting to know. She is knitting a baby hood for the third time, after having to take out her progress because she couldn’t quite get a handle on the stitch. But she’s trying it again. She is also trying to get custody of her 7-month-old daughter. Suzie’s mother processed all the paperwork for guardianship of her tiny granddaughter because Suzie was working in a brothel when the baby was born. Not a visit to the drop-in center goes by that Suzie does not share with tears in her eyes about the constant legal struggles she has to go through to reclaim her baby.
Suzie has recently begun participating in our activities. She told us that she’s been away from the brothels for four months, largely due to her daughter’s birth and the legal battle.
Her new daughter has inspired many changes in Suzie’s life. Today she tells me about her high school diploma that she needs to get back from her mom. She needs it because she wants to go to the university. She tells me that what she would most like to study is psychology and that this year she will begin preparing for the entrance exams.
It has taken several years for Suzie to even be able to think about continuing her studies. Although she did finish high school, which is not very common for our friends, she comes from a broken home. Her mother often charged her with responsibilities that were beyond her age, and if Suzie failed to complete them, she would suffer harsh verbal and physical abuse.
Suzie ran away from home and from her mother’s abusive words and hands after she graduated from high school. She spent nights sitting/sleeping in the largest market area of La Paz, wondering what to do. It was here that one of her friends found her and invited her to work at a bar. At the time Suzie didn’t know she would be required to do much more than serve drinks.
She laughs a little bit as she tells me about her first run-ins with other girls that worked at the bar. “You just have to be tough,” she says. She got in an all-out fight one time, and she tells me that the next day the girl she fought became her best friend. Survival brings unlikely friends together.
She serviced clients who bought sex, telling me with reticent nonchalance about the power to turn down the “ones you don’t want to have anything to do with.” Her current boyfriend found her in the bar/brothel, and he was the one that took her home and insisted she come to the drop-in center.
Suzie has been coming to the drop-in center regularly now, and last week she pulled me aside and told me about a fight with her live-in partner. She showed me her bruises, and I could tell from her closed demeanor that she was still thinking about him climbing onto the bed to hit her. This is hard to hear, but also expected. Sometimes I think, “How long until one of my friends realizes that a partner found in the brothels is no partner at all?”
I am thankful though, that Suzie is more determined than ever to continue. She recently signed up for a series of more intensive workshops at the drop-in center, and she has been punctual and active in participating in the classes. The episode of abuse with her boyfriend has also given her more strength to pursue independence from him as soon as she can. We will continue to encourage her in her studies, as she returns to the dreams she has treasured in her heart, even through the long dark nights of rows of clients. And we continue to look forward with her, as God continues to shine hope on her; He strengthens us as well to walk alongside her in this new friendship.
By Ariel Arnsdorff
O God, our words cannot express what our minds can barely comprehend and our hearts feel when we hear of women and girls deceived and transported to unknown places for purposes of sexual exploitation and abuse because of human greed and profit at this time in our world.
Our hearts are saddened and our spirits angry that their dignity and rights are being transgressed through threats, deception and force. We cry out against the degrading practice of trafficking and pray for it to end. Strengthen the fragile-spirited and broken-hearted. Make real your promises to fill these our sisters with a love that is tender and good and send the exploiters away empty-handed.
Give us the wisdom and courage to stand in solidarity with them, that together we will find ways to the freedom that is your gift to all of us.
By S. Gen Cassani, SSND, http://www.scnfamily.org/
Each visit is so different.
Last night was a time of reconnecting with a lot of friends from the past four years. One lady that I recognized in a brothel waved at me to come over to her. So, I walked across the hallway to her. I knew her from our visits 2-3 years ago; she works in the same brothel she always has. There is usually blaring music, so sometimes we have to figure out how to talk over the music. The lady waved me over and said, “I heard you guys are offering sewing classes to learn how to make purses.” I was so excited to tell her about the possibility of Suti Sana, because we have been praying for new girls to come for training. I was also excited because she told me she had been working for years and wants to leave to the brothels. She came today to celebrate Mother’s Day. So, I hope and pray my friend keeps coming to the center.
By Alicia Bunch, former Therapist
I went to the brothel
and took God
The Madam cursed and spat
fury and hatred,
spewing it out
all over the kitchen
and all over God.
The girls sat listless,
in dreadful despair,
waiting for the customers,
with their dirty minds,
and cold, cold lust.
furtive and awkward,
in their smart business suits,
itching to rape,
and to steal,
before driving home
to the wife and kids,
on the lawn.
I went to the brothel
and found God
And, through all
the sin, and
in stunned and dreadful
By Edwina Gateley, I Hear A Seed Growing: God of the Forest, God of the Streets