Joanna got out of prostitution and now wants to help other women: “I want to leave something good behind”
Vanity Wijnhamer – 19 May 2023 – Revive.nl
During his work at the Red Light District, Frits Rouvoet encounters women, each of whom has their own harrowing story behind them. None of them enjoy working in prostitution. He often tells the women that they are not ‘accidents’; they were born for a reason. God has a reason for their lives. One of the valuable women to whom he has said this is Joanna*. This 29-year-old woman is a mother of six and is an ex-escort. She is currently working hard to make something of her life. Frits introduced her to us and she told us her story in a candid interview.
In her country of origin, Joanna grew up in an Orthodox family. She went to church every Sunday, but not with pleasure. “We were not taught that God loves us and that we are allowed to have a relationship with Him. At that time we were frightened of God and were told that we would burn in hell.′′ Everything was happening behind the front door of the family and this was picked up every Sunday after returning home from church.
Her mother was an intelligent, hard-working woman. In addition to her work, she also went to university. Joanna also remembers the wonderful smell that often spread through the house. In all the hustle and bustle she managed to always bring treats to her children. But at the age of 33, unfortunately, she became addicted to alcohol. “My father was very violent,” says Joanna, “and I don’t think she could take it anymore.”
Very religious father
Joanna’s father is still a very religious and cold person. “He did feed us and stuff, but I don’t remember ever getting a hug from him or spending time with me. Not long ago I fell into a depression. I called him during that time and confronted him about the fact that he never told me that he loves me. Then, after nearly 30 years, he said it for the first time. I’m quite old now, but it still hurts me.”
The absence of a father is characteristic of women in prostitution. Frits looks back on a conversation that took place at the Bright Fame office between Joanna and the other women: “There they could conclude that none of them really had a father in their life. I think that’s such an important thing. A father is the first man in your life and so many women grow up with the wrong image of a father.”
Joanna grew up and eventually got into a relationship, which gave her two of her children. When the relationship ended, she was on her own. In addition to taking care of her two children, she also took care of her sister and brother. “They were always at my house and I had to take care of the food and other things for all of them. The rent on my house was too high, to afford the bill and food; even with two jobs I had no money to buy milk for my daughter.”
Joanna decided to go to another country in Eastern Europe to work there, but she didn’t get the job she was promised. She then traveled to yet another country, where she ended up on the street. There she first worked in prostitution. “I didn’t understand what was happening. I was so young. It was at the time when my daughter was only 9 months old and she is now 6 years old. I expected to get another job, but I was forced to work there. I was lucky that someone who knew my father saw me and took me out of there.”
Situation in the Netherlands
She arrived in the Netherlands with that same person. “I did other work for a while. No prostitution, but no normal work either. My uncle ended up in prison at some point and I stayed behind at the house with a friend. At least, I thought it was a friend. She managed the money I brought in and made me believe she was helping me with it. I only ‘woke up’ when I met my husband and years had passed by by then.” In the meantime, she had ended up in prostitution again.
When asked what working in prostitution has done to her, Joanna doesn’t have to think long: “Pain. As a girl I loved my body. I was always grateful that God gave me beauty, but at work it was like I wasn’t myself anymore. Like I had a mask on. It took me three years with a psychologist to process all my traumas. That was my way of not feeling dirty anymore. I also used cocaine, because I don’t think I could have worked without it. It happened so often that after work I was crying in the elevator or in the car.”
Frits adds: “What I hear very often is that you always cross a limit, especially if you really need the money. You lose yourself because of that and you live in a bubble. ” Joanna agrees. “I also lied to myself: I kept saying ‘this year I will stop, no next year’, but it didn’t happen. In addition to my serious drug problem, I also developed an alcohol problem.”
Frits and Joanna reflect together on how painful it is for a woman to walk into a hotel to go to work. Joanna tells what it did to her: “You have to give your passport at the reception. The people at the reception look at you and they know what you’re here for. They think you do it for fun, but in all the years I’ve worked in prostitution I’ve never met a girl who does it for fun. Everyone has their own story behind it. But nobody believed my story that I had three children, for example, because I was very thin. Moreover, with this work you often endanger your life and that also does something to you.
Buying love from children
For two years, Joanna had to live without her children. “I fell into a depression and got to the point where I tried to buy my kids’ love. I would then try to buy them clothes and toys with the money, but one day I visited them and my son told me he didn’t want it. He didn’t have anyone to play with anyway, he said. He just wanted me and not the toys.” Joanna gets emotional when she looks back on this.
Help from her husband
She met her husband and he is the one who, madly in love, kept saying, “Come on, let’s get you out.” Joanna thought it was a difficult step, because she had a husband who did nothing before. One day he gave her a choice: either you stop now or it’s over between us. “He said, ‘Trust me and I will take care of everything. How much money do you need per month, even if the children will eventually be with you? We calculated it together. I moved in with him, which canceled the rent, and he took another job.”
In the meantime they had a child together and he also had two children from a previous marriage. Working three jobs, he took care of Joanna and eventually the six children they have together. He is the father to their children she never had herself. Joanna is amazed: “I often watch my husband play with my daughter. He tells her how beautiful she is and that he loves her, and it’s not even his own daughter. But he sees it that way.”
Meeting with Frits
Her husband arranged for her to see a psychologist and she has been clean for years now. She is now a full-time mother, studying and in the process of setting up her own business, which her husband also helped her with. Before she looks ahead, she looks back for a moment together with Frits: ‘ ‘Before the corona time, a friend told me that she went to a foundation. She said she met a kind man there and when he prayed for her she felt very good. I myself had lost contact with God during that period. It was the same period in which I was still trying to bring my children to the Netherlands and had all kinds of problems with my ex-husband. He used the children to make me suffer, but he himself did not take care of them in any way. At that time I came to Frits and he prayed for me. I felt liberated, so to speak.”
Frits tells how he experienced their meeting: “What struck me was that she actually switched very quickly. And I also noticed something else about her: We see ourselves here as the giving party that wants to be around the women, but you noticed in Joanna that there was something mutual. Joanna is a giver, which was reflected in the fact that she brought a treat and was really actively present. Some come and some sit, which is also good and doesn’t matter at all, but you notice when someone has something to offer. And in Joanna’s case that is not only to our team and during that period, but she also has something to offer to the society around her.”
She is now a nail artist and has her own salon, where she does manicures and pedicures. She plans to introduce a new technique in the Netherlands. This is not just a dream she has for herself: “I can remember from my first meeting with Frits that he told me that he experienced that God made me to help people. He said he saw something big in me and I always kept that in mind. It makes me happy if I can help someone else. I don’t want to die in vain, but really leave something behind. In addition to the salon that I have at home, I also have a workplace at my husband’s hair salon. I want to help the other women who want to get out of prostitution and offer them a place to work.”
God as a Father
When asked what God means to her now, she replies, “All my life I have wondered who I was and now I realize that I am the daughter of God. He is the Father I have not had. I later realized that God has protected me so much. I went into situations, countries and places where God wanted to save me like a father would for his daughter. He came with His love and His forgiveness and that brought me back on His way. If I should lose my love for Him, I would lose everything in this life. Every time I look at my children I thank Him because without Him I wouldn’t have it all. I owe everything to Him.”
Example for other women
“I believe that is so important,” says Frits. “There is a reason for everyone’s life. Besides the fact that she is working on the project to help other women, I believe there is more: Everyone needs an example in his/her life and she is that for many other women. To show them that it is possible. Don’t look at your circumstances, look beyond them. Of course it was hard for her at times, but God was always there. It is that you give and you receive. She sees this in her relationship with God. And I also see that reflected in her partner and with her children, whom they raise so well together. We always say: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and that also applies here. They are very sweet, friendly, open and spontaneous children. And I also see it reflected in her bond with us. I believe in her and look forward to what’s to come.”
*For privacy reasons we use a pseudonym
Bright Fame can do all this because of the many people who support us once or monthly. Become a partner of Bright Fame and support us in our mission every month.