Alabaster Jar is an outreach to women working in prostitution on the streets and in the brothels in Berlin. Each week its small female team visits sex workers offering friendship, support and practical help. New Zealander Patricia Green – whose story was told in last week’s blog – founded the organisation in 2006.
‘When I first came to Berlin my objective was to help Thai women who had been brought here on the pretext of marriage, and sold into prostitution,’ Green told me. ‘I wanted to offer them freedom, a chance to live a different life, and the love of Jesus.’
Soon Green was helping working women of all nationalities. ‘I remember the first time that we walked down Oranienburgerstrasse. Everyone cut us dead. Then on our second or third visit, one woman smiled at us. The next night we took her a bouquet.
“Why have you brought me flowers,” she asked us.
“Because you are beautiful,” we answered.
‘At Christmas we started handing out fluffy earmuffs, gift bags and chocolate angels. On Valentine’s Day and at Easter we gave out Easter eggs and red roses. We seek to restore dignity and self-esteem through acts of kindness.’
As well as along Oranienburgerstrasse, Green’s team runs a twice-a-week drop-in centre at the Café Neustart, operated by Neustart e.V on Kurfürstenstraße. Last year more than 400 women dropped by for coffee, tea, conversation or a hand massage in the ‘spa corner’. They shared their life stories, talked about accommodation and financial problems as well as family, health and pregnancy matters. About 60% of the German women who use the café are drug users. Some women ask for practical or spiritual help, but most simply want to rest and talk.
‘There is a girl who came from a broken family,’ said Green, sharing the story of one young woman. ‘Her parents had separated, and her leftover parent had a new partner. She was no longer welcome at home, and at thirteen, she met a man who could have been her grandfather. He raped her. As far as I recall, she had already been sexually-abused within her family too. She became pregnant and dropped out of school. At eighteen she landed on the streets.’
Green explained that the most common method of recruitment today is through a ‘lover boy’, an attractive young man who snares a vulnerable girl.
‘Once they find a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old, they pretend to be in love with her and court her affections,’ she explained. ‘The girl is enticed away from her family and moves in with him. He prepares her for prostitution and sends her onto the streets. There are men in Berlin who are constantly doing this with three or four girls at the same time. The women are so emotionally dependent on the man that they do what he wants even when they hate it. Some are compelled to take drugs. They become drug-dependent and prostitute themselves to make money for the drugs, though most of that money goes to their pimps. Escaping this kind of situation is difficult, because it has broken the will of the woman.’
As well as helping victims themselves, Patricia Green – whose story is told in the new book ‘Ein Engel im Rotlichtviertel’ (An Angel is the Red-light District) -- is passionate in her determination to create public awareness of these haunting issues. She wants to motivate people to actively combat sexual trafficking. But Alabaster Jar – like many small charities and the women it aims to help -- is suffering from the impact of the economic crisis. To continue its work, Green is seeking financial support and volunteers, both linguists (eastern European languages) and ‘ladies who are a bit older and willing to be mother figures for the girls’. Individuals who are interested can contact her here.
‘Being with the girls in the café was like taking a very honest look into a mirror, seeing all the brokenness in their eyes and realizing that I carry the same broken heart inside me,’ said one Alabaster Jar volunteer. Another recalled a young woman who ‘sat down at the "spa corner" and when I started to gently massage her hand, tears started falling down her face. It was like she had never been touched with care, respect and love.’
Isherwood’s Sally Bowles? Dietrich’s Lola Lola in The Blue Angel? Sonia Rossi’s Fxxking Berlin? They are just stories. This is the reality of modern day sex work in Europe.