Having made a stroll into the world of prostitution, familiarity with Genesis House will help strollers not to be overwhelmed with the challenges but to reach-out compassionately and concretely with hope and help.
Genesis House (2815 West 5th ST - Chicago IL 60612; 773-533-8701) is a house of hospitality and nurturing for women in female-heterosexual prostitution. It was providentially opened in October 1983, by Edwina Gateley -- lay missionary from England who came to study at Catholic Theological Union (Sept. 1979). Genesis House is a concrete, compassionate response to the challanges presented by prostitution.
The Genesis House Mission Statement reads:
The Mission of Genesis House is to offer hospitality to all adult women caught up in the system of prostitution, to provide an environment where they can make a free choice regarding their lifestyle, and to assist those who choose to leave prostitution by offering them appropriate services and support.
A primary focus of Genesis House is to provide a long-term residential program which combines a nurturing therapeutic community environment with the necessary rehabilitative services.
Another important focus of Genesis House is to provide support services,assessment, referrals and crisis shelter to all women involved in prostitution. Women are made aware of these services through an extensive outreach program
Genesis House also serves as a voice for change in the political, legal, and social systems which contribute to the perpetuation of prostitution.
Over the years, hundreds of women (prostitutes) have availed themselves of Genesis House services: need for housing, referrals for substance abuse, health care, educational opportunities, parenting skills, legal advice, and numerous other needs. Several of the women leave the life of prostitution and are now leading more life-giving lifestyles. Some have not as yet left the life-diminshing style of prostitution, but they know they have friends and a safe-non-judgmental place to go when they have needs -- Genesis House.
One way to describe what Genesis House offers is to reflect on: SHE CARES.
S - she's (and he's) stand in solidarity with our sisters in prostitution skillfully assisting them to leave prostitution and lead more healthy lifestyles;
H - hospitality -- no perjorative judgments are allowed; they only serve to further compound the abuse these women in prostitution have already suffered. Perhaps, the greatest tragedy that can befall any human being is that everyone has her and his story but either cannot adequately articulate it, or there is no one with whom they can share their story. Genesis House provides a safe place and listening hearts where women with a story of prostitution, abuse and neglect can share their story, to make sense of their lives;
E - education -- both formal and informal education of how to rise above pain inflicted on them by a life of prostitution;
C - court program -- every day several courts are visited by Genesis House outreach workers, making known to women arrested for prostitution, Genesis House services and alternatives;
A - AIDS program -- a very extensive AIDS outreach program; women in prostitution are easily victimized;
R - residential program -- some women are able to live at Genesis House for long-term assistance. It has been our experience that the longer the women live at Genesis House (one year to one-and-a-half years), the less likely they will return to prostitution;
E - empowerment -- our goal is to empower the women to do for themselves what needs to be done for a living a happy and healthy life; Genesis House always remains in solidaity with them;
S - street outreach -- outreach workers also walk the streets where prostitution is practiced to make women aware of what Genesis House offers -- new beginnings, order out of chaos.
While the above is a rather facile way of describing the services which Genesis House staff ably provides, the fourteen year history of Genesis House proves that while one can briefly describe what Genesis House does, it take much, much longer to implement the program in the women's lives. It usually takes from two to three years at a minimum for a woman, formerly a practicing prostitute, to walk away from the close security safety-net of multiple programs which Genesis House offers. When a woman comes to Genesis House she often needs a 12-step program in AA, NA, PA (Prostitutes Anonymous) or one of the other 12-step programs. Often too, the 12-step program is not sufficient; she may need professional help of a de-tox center but they are frequently-filled to over-flowing and the wait tries one's endurance. The average women coming to Genesis House is a victim of incest or other emotional abuse as a child. Her formal education is spotty at best. She has few skills to obtain legitimate employment, now that the source of her livelihood has ceased because she has stopped prostituting. Self-esteem and self-confidence, what little might be left, are all she has. But patiently and perservingly pursued in cooperation with a skilled staff and the house becomes a genesis -- a new beginning, order out of chaos.
One of the many stories told at Genesis House is: "Terry's Tale":
On a Friday morning, a policeman saw a pimp chasing a very young and very pregnant girl. It was Terry. She did not want to `turn tricks' anymore. The policeman arrested the pimp, took Terry to the police station, called Genesis House and begged the counselor: "Do something!"
Terry shyly came to Genesis House, told her story, ate, took a bath, and went to bed. Her baby was due any day.
On Friday evening, two women unexpectedly came for counseling, both in crisis. Jane brought her little ones with her. Jane talked to Ginny (counselor) first. Maggie admitted being suicidal, but she could wait. Ginny's son, and girl-friend came to pick up Ginny, a little earlier than usual. They were assigned to the task of watching Jane's sleeping todlers.
While Ginny and Jane talked, Terry woke up, teetered downstairs, and asked Maggie if she knew anything about having babies. Maggie certainly did! Ginny and Jane came downstairs, called the hospital and Terry went off with the paramedics. Jane's babies slept through it all. Jane took over the phones doing crises intervention while the very human drama unfolded.
The outcome? The suicidal Maggie felt good about herself for the first time in months, having given her advice on having babies. She thought, maybe she does have a reason for living. Jane forgot momentarily what was so important about her crisis, felt she has done a good deed, and took her two children home to sleep. Sheila, the Residential Director, returned from an errand and calmed - again - Genesis House. Ginny's son and girl-friend never asked again what happens at Genesis House -- they lived through a typical experience!
New beginnigs for many people -- INDEED!
Three persons from the Chicago Theological Schools were engaged in the Local Globalization Program (October 1992 to May 1993): Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite (Chicago Theological Seminary; Dr. Dow Edgerton (CTS faculty); and Ms. Marilyn Olson (student at Lutheran School of Theology). Genesis House staff ably assisted the Globalization students: Ms. Sheila Griffin -- Residential Program Director and Volunteer Coodinator; and Ms. Charmaine Young -- Outreach Worker in the Chicago Court System and streets served as on-site supervisors:
Ms. Griffin comments:
The interaction in the Chicago Local Globalization Program was an education for all of us. For the students and professors, an enlightenment opposed to society's stereotypical portrayal of persons in prostitution; and for Genesis House staff and especially the women -- here were people from the `square'ommunity eager and open to learn first-hand that these women (former prostitutes) are very much indeed beautiful human beings, although covered with scars of years of abuse by society and even self-imposed disgust with themselves.
The friendly interaction of the Globalization participants and the Genesis House community helped tremendously to relieve the years of degradation. The women of Genesis House have loving memories for a life-time. The participants made my (Sheila Griffin) work easier by the cooperative efforts of Susan, Dow and Marilyn.
Many ministerial students have been on the Genesis House staff and have volunteered many hours during these past fourteen years (Genesis House opened in October 1983) -- being with their sisters who try against many odds to leave -- physically and emotionally -- prostitution
Perhaps, another driving motivation to be involved with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution comes with the realization, that at least in some ways, WE ARE ALL PROSTITUTES!
ARE WE ALL PROSTITUTES?
Most people, when that question is asked, are either immediately offended, stunned, or emphatically reply: "NO!"
Throughout this reflection this question is implied, but I ask it now forthrighly. It is implied when we realize we are all pilgrims in this life, in solidarity struggling to obtain a bit of happiness here and eternal happiness hereafter. The question is implied when I realize I too am a sinner, misusing God's given gifts and talents, and misusing one of the greatest gifts for self-communication with others -- gifts of sex, sexuality and sensitivity as a male to other males and females. The question is further implied when in friendship and ministry I secretly or openly behave pharisaically: "Thank God, I am not like this publican". But aren't I like this publican? Am I really without sin of any kind? Am I so without sin, could/would I throw stones at others whom I judge to sin?
Dr. Jean Guy Nadeau, on the theological faculty of the University of Montreal, in his address at the Catholic Theological Society's (CTS) Convention in San Francisco (June 1990), presented his years of experience in ministry with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution entitled Pastoral Inculturation with Regard to Prostitution. This presentation is from his Doctor's thesis on prostitution.
Dr. Nadeau most significantly and eloquently gives theological grounding for involvement with persons in female-heterosexual prostitution and quite emphatically states that the church really does not have an option to exclude its (the church) involvement in this ministry.
I sincerely am most grateful to Jean for his hopeful reflections and I quote in part from his presentation CTS Convention and his Doctor's thesis:
Pastoral practices are at the front of culture, hence of incultural. Modifying its praxis, a body modifies its self image, and vice versa. So it is with the Church: modifying its praxis, the Church modifies its ecclesiology, and vice versa. The history of pastoral ministry toward prostitution, in tension between confinement and solidarity. Between the virgin Body of Christ and the Pilgrim People of God, exemplifies this interaction.
Dr. Nadeau in his paper gives a brief outline of the history of former pastoral practice towards persons in prostitution, especially the women (prostitutes). Prostitutes were confined in convents where they did penance for their numerous sins. However, the corrected prostitutes were never completely free of the stigma of their past sinful lives. This practice endured through the early and mid-Christian centuries and is, what Dr. Nadeau calls, "a ministry of confinement".
He continues with the recent pastoral practice towards persons in prostitution and other marginalized peoples:
Contempory pastoral practices with regard to prostitution engage in a different context, determined by critical discourse, sociologists and feminists...and by the Catholic Action movement in France. So rooted, these practices do not center exclusively on the activity of the prostitute but rather on the transformation of society and the Church [emphasis is Depaul Genska's] themselves. Present pastoral practices go beyond the former practice of confinement to the understanding of prostitutes in...solidarity and struggle with [emphasis is Depaul Genska's] prostitutes."
One of the founding members of the Mission of Paris, Father Rossi, thus recalls his meetings with Cardinal Suhard (then Archbishop of Paris) who was very concerned with Fr. Rossi's mission in the world of prostitutes. "What are you doing?", the Cardinal asked. "Nothing," answered Fr. Rossi. "That's all I can ask of you, to be present to persons in prostitution because it exists...and because they are daughters and sons of God." replied the Cardinal.
Around this time (early 1940's), Fr. Andre-Marie Talvas founded Le Movement du Nid to give shelter and support to prostitutes who wanted to change their lifestyle. Maturing over the years, Le Nid extended its ministry to work on public opinion, sensitize it to the world of prostitution, to the social obstacles to rehabilitation and to the public and church resonsibilities towards persons in prostitution. Doing so, Le Nid aims at both the rehabilitation of society as well as the rehabilitation of those persons in prostitution [emphasis is Depaul Genska's].
These new pastoral practices attend to prostitutes not only when they want to change their ways of living, but also when they are still actively practicing prostitution. For example, Le Nid denounced the arbitray taxation of prostitutes that was added to their juridal oppression, and also denounced attempts to confine them anew to brothels.... So it was that Le Nid came to play an important role in the strike of the French prostitutes in 1975, and many observers and analyists underlined the fact that prostitutes then turned to, and went to, the Church. As a matter of fact many others in society did not want to have anything to do with the prostitutes, fearing ridicule and rejection. The prostitutes went to Church and even occupied them...because the Church had already gone to them, because some Christians and ministers already supported their cause. Thus even before the strike and occupation of the churches, Bishop Etchegaray exlaimed that the situation of prostitution discloses the indifference and shame of Christians. He affirmed their precedence in the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:31)....Pope Pius XII in 1946, addressing members of the Young Girls Protection Movement, stated similar sentiments: "The worst obstacles to your action (on behalf of young women in prostitution) is not the hostility of the declared enemies of God. Neither the hostility of libertines nor of sex dealers. That hostility is very understandable. But it is peculiar, with regard to the high stakes, is that you have to overcome the indifference, the unconcern, for the irony of people who think themselves good Christians, earnest and practicing Catholics".
Bishop Cadilhac on behalf of the French Episcopal Council for the Working World gives us much to consider: "Prostitutes and the marginalized send the Church back to the Gospel. Prostitutes are the eye of God unmasking our sin and the sin of the world. God asks of us: `What have you made of your sister, what have you made of your brother? What have you made of Me? What are we doing so that each day and in every way, persons will become conscious of their calling, of their dignity, and cease to be treated as objects of pleasure and greed? They (prostitutes) tell us more about God than many books of theology and they come before us...pro-stare (to stand before) prostitutes: `We act with prostitute persons and not only for them. They must be the subjects, the authors of their own liberation, and of the liberation of their world, learning to walk by themsleves, discovering their dignity and self-confidence. Otherwise, we substitute our answers for their own, instead of helping them, we alienate them further. With them, we become founders of the church!"
I realize that this has been a lengthy quotation from Dr. Nadeau but his many tears of experience and eminent theological stature speaks so hopefully to me, and I am sure many others, I strongly felt I needed and wanted to share his inspiration and insights with many others:
Jean Guy Nadeau's concluding remarks at the Catholic Theological Society's 1990 Convention:
Let us say that it is the whole Church that has to be evangelized and has to walk forward to conversion with persons in prostitution. We could even say that the Church cannot grow as the Church of Christ if it doesn't do so with persons in prostitution. The new ecclesial consciousness and pastoral practice take us from a marginal ministry aimed at marginalized people, a fringe ministry aimed at outsiders, to an ecclesial ministry lived with marginalized people...The focus has changed, or rather, some among us have changed focus...What was a fringe concern to the Church is, or has to become, a CENTRAL ONE! [emphasis is Depaul Genska's).
SUGGESTED WAYS OF IMPLEMENTATION
Means of continuing our process of being involved with the marginalized in prostitution and thus becoming less marginalized ourselves, the following is suggested for implementation.
1. I promise to take the phenomenon of female-heterosexual prostitution seriously, realizing that globally over 100-million persons are presently engaged in it;
2. I will read at least one book on female-hetrersexual prostitution in the next six months and I will view and analysis one film/video on this subject in the next six months;
3. I will initiate and maintain friendship with a woman or man engaged in female-heterosexual prostitution.
1. I plan to discuss the phenomenon of prostitution with my colleagues within the next six months;
2. I plan to develop a strategy to educate myself and others concerning female-heterosexual prostitution;
3. I will analyse the relevant implications of female-heterosexual prostitution and its impact on society locally and internationally.
1. I plan to do serious research on female-heterosexual prostitution, its development throughout the centuries, persons involved, reasons for its existence;
2. I plan to use more examples in my teaching and lecturing from the world of female- heterosexual prostitution;
3. I plan to be in contact with others who are knowledgeable of the phenomenon of female- heterosexual prostitution;
1. I plan to volunteer at an agency/ministerial site which works with persons in female- heterosexual prostitution;
2. I plan to introduce other persons into this often neglected ministerially neglected world of female-heterosexual prostitution;
3. I will examine my own attitudes and actions to eliminate any prostituting thoughts, words and behaviors I may have.
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