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The oldest profession in the world can be glamorized by Hollywood and made fun of on comedy shows, in sitcoms, by comedians and even among friends. The sad reality, however, is that many women go into prostitution as a result of having been emotionally, physically and/or sexually abused from a very young age. Many prostitutes are also drug addicts and use the fast money they make to support their substance habit.
In a recent NPR program, a very special place called Magdalene was highlighted. Magdalene is a private rehabilitation center, helping prostitutes overcome emotional, physical and substance abuse issues in their lives. It was started in 1997 by a Nashville priest named Becca Stevens as a radical way of re-thinking about prostitution. Magdalene is aimed at helping prostitutes change their lives, clean up their acts, and go straight. The two-year program provides counseling services and career support.
Many former prostitutes are leading the way, helping to shine a light on the nature of the work they’ve participated in, showing photographers and journalists the areas in which they worked. Others are doing outreach work to current prostitutes. They try to speak from the heart, without judgment, compassionate about the realities of these women’s lives, knowing that, for many, there doesn’t seem to be any other choice.
Another unusual component of Magdalene is its “john schools.” These are places where men who have utilized the services of prostitutes, known as “johns” in the life, can become educated about the societal and community harms that come with prostitution and the solicitation of it. Former prostitutes speak to these men. Their goal is to humanize prostitutes and help men to fully grasp the three-dimensional qualities of these women. They gently portray and get busy calmly explaining how prostitutes are not commodities for purchase, but actual people with real lives and the responsibilities, and pain and confusion that is part of those lives.
Becca Stevens, the founder of Magdalene and a former victim of abuse, feels passionately that these women are victims of their circumstances.