catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 12 :: 2007.06.15 — 2007.06.29


Red light

Recently I started filling out a questionnaire related to pornography. The first question asked how often I looked at pornography. When I answered daily, I knew there was a problem. Yet, it wasn't quite the problem that the survey anticipated. My daily exposure to pornography (and prostitution) happens to be an inevitable consequence of living where I live.

For the last year I have been living in a Christian community in Amsterdam's Red Light District. All of us who live in this community are in some way a light to the world around us. But living here also means that we are exposed to much that Christians try to avoid. Porn theatres, second-hand pot smoke, and window prostitutes are impossible to miss if I walk outside my front door—and my exposure to these things has affected how I see the world.

People tend to see prostitutes as either victims or active agents. In other words, either innocent women have been forced into prostitution or some sinful women have actively chosen this means of work. If a woman is there by force, she could be a literal prisoner, or it could be less violent. She might see this as her only choice: either because of a poor understanding of her worth as a female or by perceiving prostitution as the only means to get enough money. If a prostitute has chosen this work, the choice is made primarily on the basis of prostitution being the best way to earn the most money. If I see prostitutes as innocent victims of their circumstances or there through some fault in society, prostitutes' need for help and my desire to do so are a lot greater. But seeing prostitutes as only victims, even if many do not start out working as prostitutes by choice, causes me to ignore the voice of the prostitutes themselves. Most of the prostitutes that I see on a day-to-day basis would argue strongly that they are there by choice and do not need someone like me to come in and 'rescue' them. And if I truly want to be a light to this world around me, then I have to be willing to hear and see what those around me are willing to share—and not just what confirms what I want to believe.

It would be much simpler to avoid the whole situation and dismiss prostitution as evil—whether the prostitutes themselves or the persons who force someone into prostitution. But living in the midst of the Red Light District makes such a dismissal impossible. I am faced daily with the reality that the prostitutes are there—and that prostitutes are real people like me. Outside of working hours, they blend into the scenery as easily as I do. Even when working, they'll appreciate being waved to by a child barely old enough to walk, just like the rest of us will. Being exposed to prostitution on a daily basis makes any simple response to prostitution difficult.

Some days I just try to ignore it. I dodge the men looking in the windows as I pass by without acknowledging the prostitutes, knowing that I will be ignored by them for I have no place in their work. Knowing that if I look like I belong here, I won't be asked whether I'm interested in whatever drug is currently being offered to the tourists. For even after living here a year, I still don't have a great answer for those offering me drugs. Nor do I know a good way of acknowledging the prostitutes.

Some days I am filled with sadness. The work of a prostitute requires distancing oneself from one's feelings and the need to function amidst logical inconsistencies.  The brokenness that results from this work (a reality few deny) seems too large a price to pay for the monetary benefits received from it.

Some days I am filled with annoyance. I am annoyed that I live in a world and place where prostitution can be the best choice for some. I am angered that prostitutes are looked down upon while those who visit them are considered to be doing something normal. And I am frustrated with the many tourists who come to explore and implicitly affirm what is happening here.

And some days I am overwhelmed with compassion. And so I've been reading as much as I can about this strange world around me. I've contacted people who minister to the prostitutes to see how I might be able to help out.

The world around me daily proclaims that money, drugs, and sex really do bring true happiness. The hope is that I might be part of painting a picture of what true hope and joy and community are and that by exposing our neighbours to a better picture of what God intended for people, we might be a light to the world around us.

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