This week I was visiting women who are still working in situations of exploitation. For over 3 years I have been visiting women in their work places. I have seen a lot of things over my hundreds of visits. Due to my exposure to direct exploitation, it takes a lot to rattle me when I visit.
This week I was shaken to my core. My two friends and I were visiting a shop and talking with a women we had known for a few months. I have never met any of the women in the shop, but my coworker did. She was introducing me to the women that we have existing relationship with, Miss Wang. After talking with Miss Wang, I introduce myself to her coworkers. After giving my standard introduction* I asked for their names. Without pausing, the 2 new women introduced themselves by a number. [As a way to protect their privacy and make things fair in the brothels, the women are assigned numbers. The numbers rotate and the customer is served by the next person up on the rotation. When talking in front of a client the women will address each other by their number, not their names, as a form of privacy and anonymity.] I met #16 and #8. No names, not even a made up nickname to pacify us.
It broke my heart how in the month the new employees had been working there had adapted to being referred to as a number. The thick walls they have put up as means of survival have penetrated their very identity. They have accepted the reality that they can be referred to a number and seen only as a thing to be used. During the course of our 45 minute visit, I heard the women refer to each other as a number the entire time. I was on an emotional roller-coaster as I went from being on the verge of tears that these women are looked upon so poorly, to sad for the fact that their personal histories have made this seem acceptable, to admiration for the fact that these women have figured out a way to cope with circumstances that I would never survive, to prayer as I asked the One who can shatter the walls to do His work.
I don’t think I will ever get used to starting injustice and exploitation directly in the face. I am not sure what I can do personally that will chip away at the protective walls these beautiful women have put up. I know that I have the most powerful weapon, asking our Loving Father to meet them where they are and woo them to Himself. However I can help in that process, I am thankful I am in a position to do so. Until that day, I am going to do my best to build trust and learn these beautiful women’s real names.
*(Hi I’m Jennifer. Yes, I’m American. Yes, I am tall and this is my natural hair color. If you want to study English I can teach you free lessons if you agree to teach me free Chinese lessons.)