Amsterdam’s Red Light District is infamous for its open prostitution. Now, though, it’s being used to raise awareness that what you see may not be what you believe it to be.
We’re working through the meaning of the tenth anniversary of welfare reform, debating important ‘next phase’ issues like marriage and fatherhood and what those mean to helping people leave poverty…permanently. That debate about government’s appropriate role in addressing social need is important. At least equally important is the work or private citizens at the local level, ‘on the street’–figuratively and literally.
A Way Out Victim Assistance, a program of Citizens for Community Values of Memphis run by George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley, is designed “to assist any woman, regardless of race or religious preference, who desires to leave her profession in the sex for sale industry, namely topless dancers and prostitutes, to permanently escape the industry and re-enter society and the work force with a value system that promotes a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”
NPR’s program Marketplace posted an interview on Tuesday about this same great program (audio here): “Citizens for Community Values started as an anti-pornography organization in 1992 and began ministering to strippers three years later. Now it helps all sex workers leave the business. Carol and George get referrals. Sometimes the girls call them directly. And sometimes they drive right up to a hooker on the street and hand her a business card, which is dangerous. Both for them and for her.”
Local help on the street truly can make a life-changing difference for another human being.
The February 11 issue of WORLD Magazine includes a culture feature, “Giving their names back.” Profiled in the article is Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a nonprofit in Memphis that does a victim assistance program called “A Way Out.” It’s a reclamation program of sorts, literally reclaiming women ensnarled in the sex trade industry, and giving them back their lives, reclamation evidenced by names.
The very nature of the sex industry, be it topless dancing, stripping or prostitution, requires anonymity–no names. And having no name reflects the ultimate devaluation of the human person. One of the women in this program said, “I felt like I was just a joke that God had accidentally made.”
Imago Dei may seem an odd term in this context, but in fact, it is the very core value of “A Way Out”: The reality of the imago Dei, being created in the image of God, having inherent worth, value and dignity. And the excellent way in which just two staff people, George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley empower women with so many problems and issues, oftentimes beaten, drug addicted, dumped naked on a busy street is the reason that the program was selected as a 2005 Acton Institute Samaritan Award Winnner.
While well-meaning Christian leaders protest public funding cuts for poverty and social programs, getting themselves arrested for blocking the entrance to the House office building, other effective compassion workers like George and Carol aren’t focused on whether the ultimate issue is fraud in government programs or tax cuts. Since “A Way Out” doesn’t depend on public funds, George and Carol just keep patiently returning again and again to help the hookers and strippers near the Memphis airport. They just keep connecting them to mentors who help them leave the sex trade, find good work, save money, learn how to live.
Each person has dignity, has value expressed in a name, and effective compassion programs, even very tiny ones in Memphis, are reclaiming those names, one woman at a time. This is the translation of imago Dei that matters.