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ALEXIA FOUNDATION: “Organization for Prostitution Survivors” a Women’s Initiative Grant Update

June 17th, 2013

Alexia Foundation Logo
This was originally posted to the: Alexia Foundation’s blog on 12/05/2012.

I sat, on the end of the row of chairs, feeling like the journalist. The outsider, the observer, the untrusted. Not because my intention is exploitive, but because I don’t directly help people. I tell stories, hoping the people who see them will learn something and want to act on their new knowledge.

I was at a training meeting for the Organization of Prostitution Survivors (OPS); the intention of the series was to get volunteers and board members on the same page, although most already were.

The room was split fairly evenly between survivors of prostitution and social services providers, though to categorize so simply is unjust. Many fit both roles and, it seemed, all had some kind of a story.

This evening’s training was on trauma. Single event, vicarious; there are many forms. The evidence of trauma manifests itself in many ways too. While I observed, I was beginning to remember.Meeting Space for the Organization for Prostitution Survivors

Like the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting next door, whose cheers and clapping I could hear through the wall, this group thrived on sharing. On honesty and vulnerability. Some were talking about horrific experiences they owned; to do this meant trusting the people in the room.

The only reason I was in the room is I have been researching the story of domestic minor sex trafficking in Seattle for four years, hunting for funding and trying to do this without repeating earlier mistakes; the kind where I overextend myself financially and personally.

And that’s when it clicked. Sitting in that chair I remembered, and my own story became clearer.
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ALEXIA FOUNDATION: “JP” A Women’s Initiative Grant Update

June 17th, 2013

Alexia Foundation Logo
This was originally posted to the: Alexia Foundation’s blog on 11/30/2012.

I met James on a cold, clear night. There was a rally for the homeless in Westlake Park, in downtown Seattle.

James was clean and sober and in search of housing. He’s been in and out of prison over the last ten years. He doesn’t want to give “the DOC,” the department of corrections, any more of his life; he says he’s old enough now that every year counts. He shows a self awareness and intent that just may keep him out. We both knew, as a formerly incarcerated person, the odds are stacked against him. Even in his search for housing.

His body was in continuous motion, physically filling space as he filled the silence with stories of prison. Clallam Bay, aka Gladiator School, where they put the young gang bangers. The penitentiary, in Walla Walla, where the guards ask, when you arrive, where you’re from. It’s so they know where to put you. Meaning, you better have a group to belong to or, for your own safety, they’ll put you in the hole. Isolation. JP a former pimp and hustler

Then I asked him what he knew of the Life. Of pimping and prostituting. He laughed; he used to pimp, he had a few girls. They came to him, he said. They wanted to be taken care of. I asked if they gave him all their money. Yes, he replied, but they were expensive. Getting their hair and nails done and everything. One time he had two girls with a crack habit and a heroin habit. It was tough, he said, hustling for those two habits.

As a journalist, I’m looking for stories that will illustrate the theme I am pursuing. Sometimes I don’t feel this is a fair way to be in a conversation, in a relationship with someone, however brief. James wasn’t the story I was looking for, but he had some history, something I could learn from. And I relaxed; I let him lead the conversation again.

What struck me most is how he saw himself; the provider for these women who went out to have sex with anonymous men, and then turned all their earnings over to him. I had the sense that in this transaction there was a kind of intimacy, however skewed in my opinion, where it wasn’t just business. That there was some kind of love. After all, he said, the girls came to him.

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ALEXIA FOUNDATION: “On Aurora” A Women’s Initiative Grant Update

June 17th, 2013

Alexia Foundation Logo
This was originally posted to the: Alexia Foundation’s blog on 11/28/2012.

It happened one evening in early August. We saw a woman sprawled beside the road, holding her head. We looked, drove past, then my wife asked if we should stop. We did.

I rolled down the window and asked if she was ok. She said she was in pain and everyone was driving by. She said all she needed was a ride. It was crushing, but I quickly understood what she was doing and probably why she was in pain. I asked where she wanted to go.
Just off Aurora Avenue
“Aurora,” she replied. We were 200 feet from the highway. I asked where.

“Anywhere,” she replied. “By the donut place.”

“Near 125th?” I asked. She replied yes. That was not a go; we had a nine year old in the back and I didn’t want him any closer to her. In the driver’s seat, my wife asked if I’d get out and talk with her. I did, and she drove up the block and waited.

Kneeling down, I asked the woman if she was “working.” She replied, softly, that she was. She identified as a prostitute.

I asked if she wanted me to call someone, that I knew of a safe place she could go. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear, because she started screaming at me for not giving her a ride, for wanting to take care of my family, not her. She got up and walked off.

She was an adult, she wore a short black skirt, black tank top, and had a rather large black hand bag. Her hair looked to be bleached, she wore heavy makeup, and she moved erratically.

North of 125th is where the older prostitutes tend to work. It is likely that a john or a pimp hurt her then dropped her beside the highway, leaving her to find her way back to where she would earn the night’s money; for the pimp, for the drugs, for whatever.

For us? She walked away; you can’t force help on people who don’t want out of “the life.”

But I, we, wanted to do something, to help. We didn’t want to turn away but, in the end, we did. And now our son is scared of the bad people who hurt her.

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