They were on duty under the glow of neon red lights. We walked by with eyes and smiles trying to convey the worth we feel so deeply these women have. We wave and ask to come inside the scarlet glow of the brothel. She smiles, but looks curious about our visit. She opens the door and lets us in, quickly before too much cold air chills her mostly unclothed body. It’s very warm inside; maybe a little bit stifling. We quickly state our purpose to determine if we can take off our coats and visit for a bit. She looks around outside the window in each direction, then draws the red curtain shut and reaches for a towel she wraps around her body. She’s heard about us from other women in the district. She’s from Eastern Europe, and is housed in a nearby town with various other girls from her country as well, though they had never met until they found themselves here in Amsterdam. Who got them here and arranged their living quarters is a question we may always have, but we can be certain these people are profiting from it in a big way. The girls in this foreign home all speak her language, so they talk. She heard we go around praying with girls in the brothels.
She says she would like us to pray for her. Her requests are generic, but the same as all the others: “Pray for my family... and for health for me.” We ask her some questions without seeming like we are investigating or prying. “Where is your family?” “Do you get to see them sometimes?” “How do you like it in this city?” “How long have you been here?” Most of them have been in the notorious Sex-City of Amsterdam for less than a year. Most of them have been moved around from place to place by these same unknown profiteers. “I used to work in The Hague before I came here” she admits. She feels self-conscious that she is sitting with girls who don’t do this line of work and begins talking of her past.
“I used to be in medical school, but I didn’t finish. I just got married last year too!” She shows us photos of her wedding on her smart phone. The story of what put her behind the windows in the Red Light District of Amsterdam, begins to unfold.
“My sister is getting her PhD in biology back home, but it is very hard because there are no good jobs for students. She was the secretary for a small apartment complex where she was responsible to collect money from the tenants and pay all the utilities for the building. One day when she was on her way to make the payment with the cash, she was robbed by a gypsy man who hit her and knocked her unconscious to the ground. He stole 3,000 Euros she was carrying. She was scared to tell the owners because they would believe she stole the money herself, so she covered it up by taking other money she was in charge of, to pay the utilities so none would be cut off. Her plan was to somehow borrow the money to cover the loss. The police and law would never side with her to protect her. Our family has no name or connections. So I am here in Amsterdam working in the brothels to make the money for her so she doesn’t go to jail for the lost money, since it was found out. If she goes to jail, her schooling will have to stop, and she is almost done with her PhD. Once she has her degree, she can get a job that can help our family, and I can go back to medical school too.”
She offers a phrase I hear a lot: “I’m just a normal person, just like you. I just work here because I have to take care of my family.” If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard a prostituted girl say that... and I know that it is true.
The issue is complicated. Not everyone in the brothels are there because she was gagged and tied up and thrown in a trunk of a car and put there. The UN recognizes the number one cause of human trafficking is poverty. I would add “injustice and corruption in government” to the list. Regardless if some of their own choice is involved in being there, it’s not what they want to do, and it is only because their circumstance is so horrible that offering their bodies for rape is the only alternative left for them. Many believe they have no escape; no hope; and that it is what they must endure. This girl went on the tell us how she was kidnapped when she first arrived in Holland and kept in a Dutch man’s basement naked and in the dark. He had bashed her head against the wall and she had a wound on her forehead. Being that she knew a thing or two about the human body (from medical school), when she came to, she found something sharp enough to slit the guy’s Achilles’ tendon when he came up to her as she laid on the ground. He fell and she ran for her life. The doctors wouldn’t give her treatment because she didn’t have Dutch health insurance (as she had just come from Eastern Europe.)
Her story is one of hundreds... no, thousands, where being trafficked and being sexually exploited is lower on the list of atrocities that have happened in their lives.
This isn’t Hollywood. It’s so much more complicated than that. Injustice; government corruption (both in the East and West); people who have made an entire industry out of the sexual exploitation of destitute or desperate women... that’s the root of so many of their stories. I for one am going to start telling them.
Please check back to hear more and to put our efforts together to make a change.