ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL IN PROSTITUTION
It’s difficult to describe the women and men we work with in general terms. We choose not to use the term “prostitute”, because they are unique individuals with different personalities, strengths, interests, hopes, and dreams. Most of the women and men we work with disclose their stories in bits and pieces, mixing fact and fiction.
Traits of an Individual in Prostitution
Unlike the movie Pretty Woman, prostitution is NOT glamorous. The individuals involved see very little of the money they earn, and very quickly suffer severe consequences from the lifestyle. A typical woman in prostitution looks very little like Julia Roberts – she may be tall or short, fat or thin, beautiful or rather ugly, young or even as old as 50.
Her life is often very chaotic, and even if she made “bad choices” to end up in prostitution, she often has little actual choice to get out and feels completely trapped. The following are common characteristics of our contacts:
Age: 18-40, for foreigners, and 18-50 for Greeks.
Moldovan, Romanian, Russian, Albanian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Greek and occasionally from Latin America or other Eastern Europe countries.
Often from a dysfunctional family, with dynamics of abandonment, sexual or physical abuse, and poverty. Most often, they are unmarried, with a history of unsuccessful relationships. Some are divorced; others never married. Divorced women are often forced into prostitution to provide for their children.
The Nigerian women typically come from larger, polygamous families. They feel an intense loyalty especially to their mother, and an obligation to help provide financially for the other children of their mother. Some are engaged to someone in Nigeria, and expect to go back home to marry.
Typically, the women have a lower educational level, but occasionally some women even have university degrees. The Greek transvestites tend to be more highly educated than other groups.
Individuals in prostitution tend to be in poor health. The stress of the lifestyle, vulnerability to violence, sexually transmitted diseases, poor diet, and sleep conditions contribute to ill health. Most women have general physical complaints such as headaches, backaches, or stomach pain. Additionally, many women and men in prostitution have experienced violence and rape while working, resulting in frequent use of emergency medical services. They come to expect violence as a normal part of their lives.
Domestic violence is common as well, but it is often hidden through shame and denial. It reinforces the woman’s feelings of low self-worth as well as damaging her ability to have good relationships. Most women choose not to report the violence they experience at home or the violence experienced on the streets, for fear of being arrested themselves. There is also a general mistrust of the police.
Many of our friends working in prostitution admit that the job is soul-destroying. Within a few days of working in prostitution, the women begin to split their physical body from their emotions. They cover their faces in makeup, put on the uniform of provocative clothes, and often change their names to facilitate this split.
Research by Hedin and Manson, in their paper on the importance of supportive relationships among women leaving prostitution, shows the damage done to a woman’s sexual life. In order to protect their psychological integrity, and defend themselves against the customer’s violation, women learn to disassociate so that they do not experience physical and emotional pain. Later on, when a woman attempts to establish a healthy, normal sexual relationship, this disassociation is extremely difficult to unlearn.
There is a high incidence of psychological disorders such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and disassociative disorders, as well as personality disorders, especially after a lengthy period of time in prostitution. There is also evidence that individuals with mental illness are targeted by the traffickers as being easier to manipulate.
Another shocking fact is that an estimated 80-90% of individuals in prostitution in the U.S. have been sexually abused as children; this may not apply to women in prostitution because of poverty. The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse have been well researched and documented. They include profound feelings of low self worth, feelings of isolation, difficulty trusting others, anxiety, depression, a tendency towards self-harming, unclear boundaries, chronic shame, guilt and feelings of powerlessness, as well as substance misuse. Often there are nightmares and flashbacks of the abuse, and the woman’s ability to have healthy adult relationships is severely impeded. Sexual abuse is a form of trauma.
Also, many women develop substance abuse issues while prostituting. As well as being physically damaging, these addictions enable denial and repression of pain and trauma, of past and present abuses, and of the work itself. So the drugs affect the women’s spiritual emotional and mental health as well as their physical health. Drug abuse and the need for the next high also reinforce the necessity of continuing to earn money through prostitution.
New ways of thinking about prostitution suggest that the work is actually an addictive pattern in itself. The adrenaline rush that a woman might get by putting herself in dangerous situations plus the need to feel affirmed, desired and needed in some way, all feed addictive patterns in a woman. The work can also be seen as a pattern of repetition of abuses a woman may have suffered as a child. In an attempt to regain control over her sexuality, she replicates the repeated violation of her sexuality.
Individuals in prostitution uniformly suffer from social exclusion. The longer a person remains in prostitution, they become increasingly marginalized and leave behind them a string of broken relationships with significant others, family, and children. While in general, prostitution is condoned in Greek society, the prostituted individual is blamed and criticized for the fact that they are there, with minimal consideration of the fact that someone else is exploiting them or using them. One of our friends told us, “By buying sex from us, they use our bodies as a dumping ground for their hate and rage, and then blame us; we are the scapegoats for the sins of the community.”
Trafficked women especially are marginalized as foreigners: isolated from the social network in their home country, ignorant of the language, and vulnerable to deportation. Nigerian women in particular cannot return to their home unsuccessful. If they return with money, they are the pride of the community, regardless of how they acquired the wealth (although it won’t be talked about). If, however, they are deported without money, they are dirty and despoiled, possibly ineligible for marriage
In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, the Apostle Paul teaches that the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord. Furthermore, he states that the one who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one with her. Thus he urges the Corinthians to avoid immorality, because every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral one sins against his own body. In light of this passage, we can understand the damage and moral and spiritual fragmentation, which occurs when a woman unites her body with hundreds of men.
Due to this, the individuals we speak with are often loaded down with a weight of guilt and shame, and with a hatred of their own bodies. Their own consciences scream against what they do! The women and men we meet are sinful, just like you and I. They operate out of pride and trust in themselves, rather than turning to God. Greed, rebellion, fear, lying, backbiting, and hate also damage their relationship with God and others. The longer they continue in prostitution, there is an increasing hardening to sin and spiritual blindness.
To survive the pain and abuse of prostitution, most women need to destroy hope. If they hope that things could be different, the pain of the abuse they endure is overwhelming. Killing hope allows the woman to focus on surviving. The spiritual implications of this choice, however, are significant. Hope is a prerequisite for change! It is difficult to reach a person who has cut off hope and disconnected from her heart. We believe there is a “hope, which does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5)! We want to point women and men to God – to help them to know Him better so that they can begin to trust Him, and hope again.