I spoke at length with five women in prostitution tonight, but two of their stories kept circling in my mind as I came home and took my customary, wash-it-all-off-after-outreach shower.*
The first woman was Thai, beginning only her fourth shift as a dancer in one of Bangkok’s infamous go-go bars. She hasn’t yet “gone with a customer,” the euphemism for being taken out of the bar for a sex act, but with a sad face, she told me, “I can do what I have to do.”
What circumstances brought her here? She used to work in a factory and share the family expenses with her husband, who worked in another factory. Life was going well, until she realized her husband was cheating on her. Making matters worse, he decided to leave her for the new woman. One salary from the factory wasn’t enough to meet her family’s needs, so a friend told her she could make more money as a go-go dancer, and recruited her into the sex industry. As if the devastation of her recent betrayal and abandonment wasn’t painful enough, she now feels ashamed to be dancing naked in front of men she’s never met.
The friend who recruited her shrugged the whole “family problem” off, saying, “That’s the reality of Thai men. It happened to me just like that too.” In case going with customers is too difficult for the new woman, I passed along my number and an offer of another job. But, even if she comes in for an interview, our job might not be able to pay her more than the factory did.
A little later in the evening, I sat across the table from a lovely African woman, the same age as me. She was trafficked to Asia last year and forced to sell sex to buy her freedom back from her trafficker. We’re currently working to assist her return back to her country, and as she waits for her plane ticket, she thinks about what her life will be like when she gets home. She has some very dear memories of her first love – the father of her two small children – but he cheated on her, breaking her heart and at that time, ending their relationship. A few weeks ago, after “her man” contacted her to reestablish their relationship, she called me excitedly to share the news. After having thought about it for a while, tonight she told me she feels wiser than she was when she first fell in love with him. She didn’t choose to work in prostitution, but this experience has educated her about men, so she told me, “If my man is unfaithful when I go back, I will just endure it. I have seen the men who come to us here – how they have wives and families. If those family men are coming to visit women in prostitution, then all men must be like this… I will endure it because having a husband is better than living in poverty… but my first love is gone.”
I didn’t know how to respond. She was sharing a deep place of pain and disillusionment, and with my own limited romantic history, I didn’t have anything to say except to agree that she had experienced real pain and feebly vocalize my belief that, “There are good men. Men don’t have to be unfaithful.” At that point in the conversation, I was glad Annie was sitting nearby to jump in and glorify God for her husband and his faithfulness in their marriage of 28 years.
I’ve heard painful stories like these two, in various forms, over and over again. Our tendency may be to hear about prostitution and sex trafficking and immediately assume that the abuse done by traffickers and sex-buyers is what these women need to heal from, but the deepest wounding usually seems to have pre-dated the sex work – in the form of broken family relationships and failed marriages. When I hear these women share their experiences, I can’t help but wonder how these stories could have been different if the men in their lives had behaved more like Jesus.
Church, we need men, good men, to mentor other men in what it means to live like Jesus. Men don’t just automatically know how be a good friend, husband, and father. Young men, seek out wisdom from the Word of God and from men who have good relationships with their friends and family. Be teachable. As you grow, share what you’re learning with the men around you. We women are trying to do our part, but the only way for families to be whole is for both men and women to display the character of Christ in humility and by the strength of Holy Spirit. I know there are many good men out there whom God has called and is using to mentor others. Thanks, men. Keep up the good work. We need you. 🙂