I used to see them as women who had made this choice for their lives. I saw them as individuals who had chosen to spend the nights walking the streets, waiting for their next client to pull over and shepherd them into the car.
I now see them so differently.
I see them as victims. I see them as girls, some as young as 12 or 13. I finally notice how young they are. I see them as individuals who have been taken captive and have a hard time getting out. I see them - not as prostitutes but as people who are being prostituted. I see them as individuals who are being trafficked. I see them as people who need help.
After searching for different options for how our congregation can be more involved with all of our neighbors, including these individuals, two of our members found an organization called Courtney's House (www.courtneyshouse.org). Founded and led by a survivor herself, Tina is an extraordinary leader, speaker and visionary. She knows the life these girls are living, and she knows that it is not easy to get out. She is pouring all of her time and energy into providing a way where there is seemingly no way.
Tina estimates that there are 1000 pimps working in Washington, DC alone. These pimps have control over boys and girls, some as young as 11 years old. Tina has opened our eyes to just how painful their world is and to the realities of the business. Pregnant girls are more valuable than non-pregnant. Breast milk sells. The younger the girl, the higher the amount can be earned. A typical one-night quota offered by the pimp to the girl is $1000 to $2000. Beatings happen regularly when this money does not come in. 95% of the girls have been sexually abused. The average age of someone coming under pimp control is 12 to 14 years old. An average night includes sleeping with 12 to 15 men.
And, we're trying to help. Last Saturday, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church was able to host a group of 26 women who are willing to help - willing to be trained in how to work with these boys and girls. Soon, our church will become the office location for Tina and her assistant. We're trying to play a part in providing ministries of mercy and justice.
I keep thinking about how much my perspective has changed. My entire vision has changed since I have learned more about this issue and the stories behind what I see. My outlook has changed to one of disgust to one of compassion. My heart has been taken captive in a whole new way.
I wonder what might happen if we all took time to listen to the stories of others - to not be so quick to conclude who a person is or why a person lives a certain way, loves a certain way, talks a certain way. What if we were to first take time to hear the person - to hear their heart, their mind, their background, their hopes, their dreams, their fears.
I wonder then if we might all have a change of perspective - towards the people who work the streets at night, towards our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters, towards the homeless man who sleeps on the church's porch at night, towards the person in line before us at Safeway who is using electronic benefits.
God, give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Help us to see the people around us as you see them. Forgive us for being quick to judge and slow to listen. Help us, Lord, to be more like you. Amen.