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Blog

The Jasper House Haiti blog is designed to share stories, updates and testimonies that raise awareness, create dialogue and bring enlightenment to those seeking to become more involved in the advocacy and abolition of injustice. 

 

Filtering by Tag: sex trafficking

The many faces of prostitution.

Maria Atkinson

It's Friday night in Jacmel, Haiti. The bars and restaurants are preparing for busy evenings full of happy patrons ready to eat, drink, dance and be merry with their loved ones. 

The music is turned up full blast, and the moonlight casts a soft glow that reflects off of the shimmer of short dresses and skirts of young women giddily holding their boyfriends' arms. 

In the midst of the gaiety and merriment, just one street away a very different spirit looms. In the confines of much smaller and darker rooms, the local "cafes" begin to open for the night. Here, local men come to revel and drink, and buy a girl of their choice for a very small and negotiable price. 

They make their orders as if creating a meal a la carte. Tall or short, curly or straight hair, they choose girls as young as fourteen and fifteen years old as if they are flavors in an ice cream parlor. For a dollar or two they can use them for a few hours, or if they are willing to go as high as five or ten dollars, they can have them the entire night.

Cars drive past, headlights exposing what seems like nothing more than a corner bar. But, behind emotionless faces, behind the graffiti covered walls, lies young women caught in the web of exploitation, abuse and desolation. 

Several miles down the road, in a few neighborhoods over, a young, single mother finds herself alone with three children. After getting pregnant at the age of fifteen, her family kicked her out without a second thought. With only a third grade education, and now twenty-one with three small children, her options are extremely limited. 

Scared, alone, and without anyone to turn to, she provides for her family the only way she knows how.

Selling herself to men in her community for a few dollars here and there just to put food on the table and provide a place for her family to sleep - even if it is a concrete floor and a few dilapidated pieces of board slapped together to create a makeshift shelter. 

It's a home, and there, inside the tiniest of spaces, she can shut out the world, shut out the nightmare of her reality and she can feel safe.

Travel just a few miles more, and you'll find yet another travesty. At age sixteen, she was kicked out of the orphanage that raised her in Port-au-Prince for "aging out." With her mother dead, and a father who ran away to the Dominican Republic years before, her options were more than limited. She heard a cousin in Jacmel could maybe find her a job and a give her a place to stay, and that seemed the only thing to do.

Leaving behind everything she had always known, she left the city to find new life in a place she had only heard of in stories and seen in photographs. 

Yet, upon arrival, her dreams and hopes for a new life and a fresh start were crushed when her cousin abruptly announced she could only stay for a few nights. 

Disheartened and discouraged, she sought comfort in the arms of a past lover. Within weeks, it was discovered she was pregnant, and conveniently her lover was no where to be found.

Alone again, and this time, pregnant, she felt empty and worthless.

Until she met another man.

This man was older, much older, and seemed kind. He promised to care for her and the baby, too, once it was born.

This was it. The answer she had been praying for.

Her rented her a small home nearby to his. He brought her food and even paid for new hairstyles and clothing. The baby was born, and he covered all of her medical expenses and needs.

However, soon after, her dreams were quickly shattered once again. 

She soon discovered that kindness always comes with a high price. In return for accepting his benevolence, she found herself bonded to him. 

Her took care of her, and in turn... she was his property.

In the midst of all the horror and pain she found the ability to hold on to hope. She had her daughter, and her daughter would keep her going, and be the shining hope that one day, the nightmare would end.

Please God, if you're out there... please don't let this be the end.

These stories are all examples of the very real and raw reality for many, many young women in Haiti. Each of these testimonies are taken from bits and pieces of stories and accounts I have come into contact with over the past two years of working in this field in Haiti.

The faces of prostitution in Haiti take many shapes and forms. 

Yet, one of the largest challenges faced when attempting to address and combat issues such as these, is how interwoven prostitution, sexual abuse and exploitation is into the very fibers of Haitian society.

It is wildly accepted that with sex comes some type of exchange. Prostitution is difficult to outline and identify because the lines here are so very blurred.

Many people would argue that these women want to be in this type of lifestyle. That they enjoy having sex for money and if they wanted to leave, they would. 

Others would say that the young girl in the last story has found an ideal situation being taken care of an older man who provides everything for her.

Despite opposition that may be received from rival opinions, there are women who recognize the severity of their situation. Those who identify the pain and abuse they are experiencing every, single day, and who desire a way out.

This is who we exist for.

We exist for the sixteen-year-old who was kicked out of her orphanage and now finds herself entangled with a man old enough to be her grandfather.

We exist for the single mother trying to feed her young children and has no where else to turn.

We exist for the eighteen-year-old girl who thinks that working in a "cafe" (brothel) will let her becomes like the girls she sees in music videos wearing sexy clothes and driving expensive cars.

We exist for the fourteen-year-old who was raped by her cousin, and now finds herself pregnant with a family who is ashamed of her.

For all young women who find themselves in the various situations that leave them hopeless and abandoned, feeling worthless and unlovable. For the ones who cry themselves to sleep, and pray to God to make another way for them.

Your prayers are not in vain, your tears are have not fallen to shallow graves.

We see you.

We hear you.

We are here for you.

Jasper House Haiti is a bridge that provides young women such as this the opportunity and ability to find hope, and rediscover their worth, purpose and value. 

Working in a brothel, being trapped in an abusive relationship, or having to sell yourself to survive does not have to be the end of the story for these women.

There is now a chance for a new story to be written.

The pages of their books do not have to read anger, pain, suffering and sadness, but rather restoration, hope, healing, joy, freedom and empowerment.

New beginnings can start today.

Will you join us?

Right now we need an increase in monthly support to be able to open our doors to more women and provide them the opportunity to begin again. 

Click the link below to make a one-time or recurring gift that will provide the resources and means to help save and change a life. 

Together, we can work to rewrite history and let more women in Haiti know - this is not the end. 

The rest is still unwritten.


Written by: Maria Atkinson - Founder/CEO of Jasper House Haiti. 

To read more about her journey and passion, check out her blog, Going Forth.

Photos by: Melissa Marshall

Extinguishing darkness.

Maria Atkinson

This past week was quite sobering for most of us who hail from the United States. Any time tragedy strikes, it's always a brutal reminder that the world can be such a dark, evil and ugly place. 

In Haiti, those reminders are far too frequent and consistent. With fragile governments systems, poor healthcare, lack of economic stability and less than ideal infrastructure, there can be rude awakenings almost daily that hail a chorus pieced together by injustice and the pains of poverty. 

Yet, there are other moments, testimonies and stories that sing a different song. These are the stories of victory and triumph. The ones that remind us that there is still so much good left in this world worth fighting for. 

Last year I met a woman named Veronica*. She was a single, widowed mother of three in her thirties. Her family had always looked to her as a source of stability and income, but, the death of her husband took an incredible toll and provided for an insurmountable weight to lay heavy upon her shoulders. 

She had always worked in the market as a "machann," a woman of commerce, but with the ever increasing needs of her family, more drastic action had to be taken. She had heard that markets were more lucrative across the border in the Dominican Republic. Veronica began spending time and money traveling to the DR in an attempt to make a living for her family. 

Soon, the weight of her families needs were beginning to cave in on her.

It wasn't enough.

Veronica began to grow desperate, and heard that women on the beaches of Sosua were making more than a living wage. 

Out of desperation and the sheer urgency to provide food, clothing, schooling and shelter for her children, Veronica found herself becoming tangled within the web of prostitution. 

Over the next few years, Veronica would often go nine and ten months without seeing her children. She would only go out and work to make the money needed to support her family. Disgusted by the lifestyle, she refused to call it by its true name. She never recognized herself as a prostitute or took that on as a part of her identity. She would pray at night that God would somehow make a way for her to leave this life and one day return to her children.

Veronica began to attend a local church, and found some community members who offered her help when they could to keep her from going out on the street. She dedicated her life to God and knew that this was not the life she was supposed to live. 

Her prayers did not go unanswered.

A Canadian woman, who had been working as a journalist in the Sosua area reporting on the realities of prostitution and sex-trafficking in the Dominican Republic befriended Veronica. She listened to her story, and set out to try her hardest to help this woman leave the bonds of prostitution and return to her children once and for all. She connected Veronica to a group of missionaries who did outreach on the beaches specifically to women involved in prostitution. 

It was then, through the channels of grace and divine intervention, that Veronica was connected to Jasper House Haiti. 

In late September 2015, she crossed the border once and for all and traveled back to Haiti where her life would receive a chance to begin again. 

For the next three months, Veronica lived in our home. Attended bible study, worked on her reading, writing and french, and began to learn to make jewelry. 

However, Veronica wanted nothing more than to return to her family and children for christmastime. 

Along with the amazing generosity of some incredible individuals, Jasper House Haiti was able to award Veronica with a small micro-loan to begin buying and selling in the markets of her home in Cap-Haitiën, northeast, Haiti. 

On December 22nd, 2015, Veronica was reunited with her three beautiful children. 

Just the other day, almost exactly six months later, I received a message from her with the following words: 

"Good afternoon Maria. I say thank you for everything you have done for me because God has sent me on a road that has changed my life. Today I say thank you because I feel I have changed completely. I want you to know that I am getting married next month, and I am very happy." 

Hearing these words brought me to tears. Darkness abounds, but where there is darkness, there is also a powerful force of light that extinguishes the darkest corners of the world. 

This is why Jasper House Haiti exists.

We exist to help mothers leave the street and return to their families with dignity and pride. 

We exist to provide a safe, loving environment for women who have endured unthinkable tragedy to be restored and have the chance begin again. 

We exist to offer education and empowerment to give women the power to take control of their lives and destinies. 

So, while there will always be darkness looming about it, we will be fighting to extinguish that darkness with ever fiber of light we have been given. 

We will continue to work to see that more women in Haiti have the opportunity to know that they are loved, valued and cherished and have a purpose and a destiny. 

Right now, we currently are in need of $5000.00 to renew the annual lease of the downstairs portion of our home to continue operating. 

Will you join us in this fight? 

*Names have been changed for the protection and privacy of the mentioned individuals and their families.


Written by Jasper House Haiti Founder/CEO, Maria Atkinson
To read more of her writing and to learn more about her story, visit her blog, Going Forth.