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'They say they have been turned into plastic'

Dar Hosea is helping women in prostitution turn their lives around

Light at the end of the tunnel: An average of four to five women drop into Dar Hosea every day and are “accepted as they are”. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Light at the end of the tunnel: An average of four to five women drop into Dar Hosea every day and are “accepted as they are”. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Grace wears a uniform to work these days, keeping down a stable job which is finally allowing her to make rent.

The former sex worker is still worried, however: a string of criminal charges related to her previous life could quite easily unravel all the hard work she has put in to starting a new life.

Because of delays in the justice system, women like Grace (not her real name) often fall back into old habits, according to Rita Bonello, manager of Dar Hosea, which helps women in prostitution.

Launched by the Sisters of Charity, run by the Friends of Thouret Association and managed by Ms Bonello, the aim of the place is not so much to draw women out of prostitution as it is to show them an alternative way of life and help them regain their dignity.

Dar Hosea is not a residential home. Instead, it offers women a meal, a shower and health and advocacy services during the morning and early afternoon hours.

Convincing them that someone does care about them is one of the challenges facing Ms Bonello and the other employees and volunteers.

“When they first come to the house and we offer them a cup of coffee, we have to insist that it is free. Many are taken aback and ask how it is possible that someone is doing something for them free of charge,” Ms Bonello said.

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Women in prostitution do not work in the glamorised environment often seen on cinema screens. Some of those who set foot in Dar Hosea have gone without a bath or even food for several days.

“They say that they have been turned into plastic. They no longer feel hunger or emotions,” said Ms Bonello.

Substance abuse helps them keep up with their work in prostitution.

“She might be dressed nicely and wearing heels while out on the street, but that is just to act as bait. Once the job is over, she has nothing left but drugs to forget all about it. If she is lucky, she gets a shower and a meal.”

They say that they have been turned into plastic. They no longer feel hunger or emotions

This is the situation Grace was in before one day, she turned up at Dar Hosea with her toddler. Having spent its life sitting in a pushchair, the child had developed walking and communication difficulties, and was taken under the wing of two teacher volunteers.

Mother and child were provided with a shower and meal every day, and support from a counsellor and social worker, while a dentist and a lawyer provided their own services pro bono.

Prostitution, said Ms Bonello, often threw women into a tangled web of substance abuse, usury and other crime. None of the women she has met over the last five years has gone into it out of her own free will.

“When a woman says she is okay with being in prostitution, she usually descends from generations of women like her, so this kind of life is the norm. However, if given a choice, she usually looks for a way out.”

Prostitution is classified as human trafficking, according to Ms Bonello, because while the latter might bring to mind images of women being kidnapped and used as sex workers abroad, the reality is that women in prostitution do not exercise their free will.

This might be hard for some to understand. Even she, a social worker by profession, was “shocked” about the things she encountered in the world of prostitution. When first approached to take on the role she was reluctant to do so, she recalled, so she now understood how difficult it was for some people to comprehend the crude realities involved.

One incident she will always remember is waiting outside prison for an 18-year-old who had just served a sentence for loitering and drug abuse. There was no one else waiting for her – no family or friends – just Ms Bonello and a professional from Mid-Dlam għad-Dawl, which offers help to prisoners and their next of kin.

“They have no family or sense of belonging at all. This is their reality,” Ms Bonello said.

Grace is one of eight women over the past 18 months who, with the help of Dar Hosea, have managed to leave the world of prostitution behind and find a job or resume their studies.

Others helped by Dar Hosea have not managed to extricate themselves from the web of prostitution, but at least their situation has not deteriorated, observed Ms Bonello. While cutting down on substance abuse with the support of the detox centre, they have started to develop a sense of belonging.

As the number of women who seek Dar Hosea’s help continues to rise, so do the success stories. And while most of the women who turn up at the home have heard of Dar Hosea by word of mouth, the NGO is boosting its outreach efforts.

An average of four to five women drop in every day, and they are “accepted as they are”.

“There are no ifs or buts – we take you in as you are, which is not always possible at other shelters,” said Ms Bonello.

Dar Hosea needs your help

The Dar Hosea team consists of three employees – Ms Bonello, another social worker and a social support worker qualified in psychology.

The rest – around 10 people – are volunteers, some of whom also hold weekly craft sessions with inmates at the Corradino Correctional Facility.

The NGO is in need of more volunteers, especially those with a professional background in social work, education and counselling, who would be able to help the women’s children on Saturdays and during the summer.

Bringing in funds is also a headache at Dar Hosea, which has in the past received funding from the Social Impact Award scheme and the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation. This year the organisation received funds from the MCCFF and the Church, however Dar Hosea is running short.

Meanwhile, it is also appealing for food, educational toys and children’s books. Cinema tickets or other entertainment vouchers would also be appreciated, as the children of women in prostitution do not often have the opportunity to engage in activities like this.

Anyone who would like to lend a helping hand is asked to contact Ms Bonello at darhosea@gmail.com or by calling 9950 8954.

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