The faces in the photographs on the front page of the newspaper
startled me. They were laid out in rows. The first photo in the series was
invariably of a young girl, maybe with a mischievous smile or a rebellious
glare, but with a decided look of innocence. By the end of the series, that
same face was battered, bloated and bruised.
Gwen opens the circle session at nine a.m. on a Monday morning with a reading from Alcoholics Anonymous’ Blue Book. The theme is powerlessness, and Gwen reads in a halting voice. Her audience is a group of women who’ve come to work here in an old parsonage just up the hill from a well-heeled Episcopal church.
Most prostitutes do not make a conscious choice to go into that way of life. Many are led into it by a childhood experience of sexual abuse. Others turn to it as the only way to earn a living. Especially in the developing world, prostitution is often a means of survival. “I would rather die of HIV/AIDS” than starve, a 17-year-old girl in Uganda said.
More than 100 organizations have urged President Bush to “stand firm on legislation and policies” to ensure that groups receiving certain federal funds provide written proof that they oppose prostitution. The letter to Bush criticizes unnamed groups that demonstrate lenience toward prostitution by, for example, providing condoms to prostitutes or conducting AIDS education programs.
Zana Briski is a New York photojournalist who went to India in 1995 to document the plight of women in a patriarchal society. In 1998 she encountered the prostitutes working in the red light district of Calcutta. She moved in with them and got to know their routines.
Catholic Sister Clare Nolan stood before a packed audience at the City Club of Cleveland and asked her audience to think about some numbers: Somewhere between 700,000 and 2 million women and girls are taken beyond their national borders and forced into prostitution each year. One million children are channeled into the sex industry annually, starting as young as six.
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