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Death and The Life
The ladies we serve are in the grips of death, quite literally. Some are dying slowly, as their bodies struggle to survive the reality of the streets: sexual assault, physical assault, hunger and malnutrition, surviving extreme weather, lack of sleep and access to preventative health care.
Most risk dying suddenly daily with risky behavior: jumping into cars for tricks, using drugs from people who do not see them as people - but as another person to exploit for money.In my more than 15 years working with sex workers and women who are trafficked or pimped, I’ve learned this: money, luxury and the promise of being comfortable one day are the tools used by pimps to give women what they are truly longing for - and no big surprise, what they are really longing for is what we all long for:
As a woman enters the life, she is groomed to believe she is the MOST special woman, even though other women are around, she is slowly manipulated into believing that she outshines them all. Furs, jewels, dates with men who have fancy cars and who exude confidence and power - she is led down a path that feels exciting and glamorous. Drugs used at this point really are for recreation. Along the way, she may step out of line, assert her voice or decline a date, say… and that is when things stop being glamorous. Physical and verbal abuse are used to keep her in line. Even if she starts to wake up to the ways she is being used, often the bond of love she feels toward her pimp along with fear for what he’ll do to her if she stands up for herself will keep her obedient and quiet. This is when drug use often moves from recreational to self-medicating. The pain is so real. These are real women with real emotions: the desire to love and be loved, to raise a family in a peaceful place, to enjoy what life has to offer. It’s just the path they chose wasn’t what it seemed.
After a while in this life, often women become so reliant on their drug of choice that they no longer are of use to a pimp. In what feels like their worst breakup ever - they are often left to fend for themselves with no more support network for basic needs. This is the stage most of the women we see on the street are at when we encounter them.
So we must meet them where they are - bruised and bloodied, tough exteriors, attitudes that protect and help provide the bare minimum of security, brokenhearted, grieving the life they thought they’d have. We must look past those tough exteriors and see the tenderness within them - to remind them that they are worthy of love.
And the love we provide looks really different. We don’t have furs and fancy parties to offer - but we have real relationships of support and love. Relationships that require give and take, that require learning how to be vulnerable, learning how to trust again.
We must remind them that yes, transformation takes time - and like caterpillars into butterflies, there will be struggle and pain in that process. But help them see - through our example - that a beautiful life of freedom and love is possible and waiting for them. We must show them what true connection looks and feels like by creating a sisterhood of support that helps her to be the BEST version of herself.
Early in January, we lost 5 women to the streets - women that I served and built relationships of trust with. I have to believe they have found the freedom they hoped for, albeit not in earthly bodies. Though their deaths are tragic and painfully hard to accept, I will continue doing my work as best I can so that others who are still surviving the streets might learn to grow their own wings - and experience the freedom and beauty of this life, in their earthly body.
Darlene joined the Franciscan Peacemakers team in late 2021 and will be working closely with Cynthia and Mary as an Advocate and Case Manager for women in Clare Community and women we encounter through outreach.
This article originally appeared in our May 2022 Newsletter.