About a year ago, I met a woman named Belle, who was trying to leave prostitution. As we began to form a friendship she began to tell me her story. Though the details differ, her story echoes those of other women who have survived prostitution. Despite being smart, funny, resilient, courageous, loving, and sensitive, Belle has not yet been able to find a way out of addiction and abusive relationships. Though I’ve worked in one way or another with people on the margins my entire adult life, I experienced a profound awareness of Christ’s presence as this woman and I formed a friendship. I became keenly aware of how attending to her in all of her pain was transporting me to the foot of the cross of Jesus. While I was trying to be Jesus to her, she, without trying at all, was Jesus to me. There exists a profound mystery and holy center to our friendship. Our shared meals, coffee, walks, raspberry picking, laughter, and tears are all Eucharistic. There is something about suffering, when it is offered humbly and vulnerably, that exposes the very essence of a person. In Eucharistic relationships we receive that essence—nothing other than the image of God—into our very lives. I learned that these are the relationships we are made for.
As a direct result of this friendship, Red Cord Community was founded. Committed to forming Eucharistic relationships, we seek to provide long-term residential care for women who have survived prostitution and to address childhood sexual abuse, a common denominator for 95% of women in prostitution, and a reality for an estimated 20% of our church members.
Here is Belle’s story. It is offered with her permission, though her name has been changed to protect her identity.
Hi. I don’t know if we’ve met before. A lot of my life is hidden, and you don’t have to see me if you don’t want to. And I get why you don’t want to. A lot of the time I don’t even like to see myself.
I’m thirty-three years old and I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life involved in prostitution. That’s right, I was thirteen when it started. I mean I was thirteen when I left home. I was just looking for someone to love me. I never set out to sell my body. None of us do.
My daddy was a self-made millionaire. We lived in a big house in a place I call Snobsdale. And my daddy beat me. It happened all the time. One time he even broke my jaw. He beat my mom and my sister, too. So, finally, we left. We moved miles and miles away from him. Every month my mom got a child-support check. She drank it all away. So my daddy was a millionaire, but there was never decent food in our house and my mom was never sober. At 13 I moved into a friend’s house. That wasn’t too bad until her Dad started molesting me. He said I owed it to him, since I was under his roof and eating his food. By the time I was fifteen I had my own apartment. I thought John was a nice man. He bought me nice clothing and jewelry and paid for my apartment. I thought he loved me. He’d give me drugs, too. I was glad for the escape. And then he told me that I owed him for rescuing me. He told me how much I had to earn every night. He sent me out on the streets with another woman who showed me the ropes and I had to turn all the cash over to him. He did supply my drugs.
I got away from him eventually, but then I was homeless. And I’d never finished high school. How could I get work? So I went back to the streets. It beat starving. There’s always a man saying he will take care of you. I believe them every time. People ask me why I keep buying into the lie. And I get why they ask. I guess I just want it to be true, you know? I just want someone to take care of me. I just want to be loved.
I have two kids. Boys. They’ve both been taken away from me. I just want to be their mom. I’ve been trying to leave this life. I’m doing the best I can. Everything I own fits into two garbage bags. When I was in the psychiatric hospital recently I met a nice lady, another patient, and I told her my story. I told her I didn’t want to go back to my old life. I told her I didn’t know where I’d go when I got released from the hospital.
She let me come live with her and her husband. But this man was no different. He wanted his favors, too. Still, it’s better than a homeless shelter.
I don’t know if I know how to hope anymore. Maybe it’s just too late for me. Five years ago my dad killed himself. Sometimes I think about doing the same. I don’t want my life anymore, but I don’t know how to build a new one. I don’t even know what a healthy life looks like. And why would anyone love me enough to show me?
To learn more about the Red Cord Community, contact Lorilyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Image: Flickr user Ines Seidel]