I volunteer with a ministry called After Hours. We are a street outreach to Pimps and Prostitutes in Los Angeles. As our world becomes increasingly aware of sexual exploitation and trafficking, we have become more conscious that it exists on our own front step. I get asked quite a bit what some of the first steps someone can take are in order to begin their own outreach to prostitutes in their own cities. So this is an attempt to help lead you in that direction. If you are a pastor that wants to get involved in ministering in your city this way or you have a group of passionate lay people in your church that are eager to begin an outreach. I hope this gives you some help and encouragement to get started.
The most important thing before you try to begin something like this is to make sure you have the proper perspective: these women are victims. If you see them as the problem: dirty women who are out to make a buck and enjoy manipulating men for money – you won’t be able to help them. Too many people think trafficking is something that only takes place overseas – or when women and children from other countries are brought into the United States, but the truth is every woman we meet out on the streets is a trafficked woman.
The United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:
- 1. Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age, OR
- 2. The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage (the practice of holding persons in servitude or partial slavery, as to work off a debt or to serve a penal sentence), debt bondage, or slavery.
In one of our trainings we had a person ask us “how do you see these men and women as people and not as just objects?” If that’s the point you are beginning at, the men and women will sense it, and you won’t be able to help them.
Most of the women and children that end up in prostitution come from either a family history of prostitution or from a difficult home life where one or both parents are in prison and they are left to provide for their family. An overwhelming amount of children who end up in prostitution are also the result of abusive situations: either rape, incest or victims of hostile homes where their parents have made it clear that their gay, lesbian and transgender tendencies are unnatural and unwelcome. In the United States, approximately 40% of adult prostitutes began their careers when they were underage. It is a cycle of victimization and manipulation that keeps them in prostitution. All of her life she has been told she is a piece of property; worth nothing and incapable of making her own decisions. She is powerlessness, isolated and experiences a marred identity: she has become human capital.
The second thing to keep in mind when wanting to begin this type of outreach ministry is to do your research. If you want to be a street outreach ministry then you need to know what types of resources in your area are available to men and women that will reach our to you and ask for your help. When a woman says she wants to get off the street, what will you do? When she says she is afraid for her safety, what will you do? When she says she has children that she also needs to take care of, what will you do? These are the kinds of questions you need to take care of. What if she is an illegal immigrant? What if she has a drug addiction? What if she is underage?
You also need to know the rules and psychological effects of The Game. The Game is what they call the network of prostitution, those involved and its rules. There are lots of rules and terminology in “The Game” and it is important for you to at least be aware of what that is so you do not go out onto the streets ill-informed and into potentially dangerous situations. You need to learn where the tracks are in your town, how they work the girls, when the natural rotations happen, when to pursue girls and when to respect the fact that sex worker’s time is money. You also need to respect the psychological trauma that has taken place, for example, insulting a woman’s pimp by saying he is a jerk that treats her horribly will make her cut you off and never listen to you again. You need to understand the psychological manipulation and deep connection that has been formed there and learn to work within those bonds to reach out to her.
The third thing to keep in mind when wanting to begin this type of ministry is to adjust your expectations of “results” you need to be in it for the long run. In the time I have been working with After Hours we have had the privilege of seeing women come off the street and into rehabilitation homes. But many of those women have ended up going back to their pimps. It is a really long road to recovery. Going back and fourth out of rehab is not uncommon. And not many girls will make the decision to leave the streets in the first place. Results for us are learning a girls real name rather than her street name, getting a call in the middle of the week from a girl that wants to tell us her kid made honor roll or ask us for prayer, seeing a girl several weeks in a row that recognizes us and is excited to see us again “There’s my girl!” These women have learned not to trust people in their life, so you will have to be consistent in building a relationship with them week after week and week and year after year. They will not trust you easily and you will need to earn their respect.
The final thing (for now!) to keep in mind when wanting to begin this type of ministry is to be spiritually prepared. It is important to take spiritual warfare seriously when engaging in this type of street ministry. Be sure that you are motivated out of a love for God and the broken; not seeking excitement, sensationalism or public recognition. Again, the women can sense this. It is not uncommon for strange things to happen before our outreaches: family quarrels, illness, stressful situations, tiredness, and lack of motivation. There are many things you will experience or see on the track such as partial nudity, violence, gang activity, johns soliciting you, pimps staring at you, trying to recruit or intimidate you, and in the worse case scenario bodily hard to yourself or others around you. It is only through the power of God that a ministry like this can make a difference. God loves these women so deeply, God has a plan for their life and the fact that God will use you to minister to them in any way is such an honor. Make sure your heart is ready to go out on the streets and engage in those types of conversations.