How Mirjam escaped forced prostitution and joined a church
Hanneke Klein-den Hertog, RD
As a baby, she was adopted but lacked love. As a child, she was abused and talked into prostitution. In her twenties, she requested euthanasia, but as a mother, she wants to live again. For her daughter.
A cheerful melody sounds from the pink children's laptop placed on the table. Mirjam thoughtfully answers the last question. Her little daughter, in a pink dress, sits on her lap, quietly nibbling a cookie. "Am I super happy? No. But I'm still here. I need to get out of survival mode. That's what I'm doing right now."
She just told her whole story on the occasion of the International Day Against Human Trafficking last Sunday. She lists all the miseries that happened to her. Several times she repeats, "I was not an easy child either. Not all supervisors meant it wrong. My adoptive parents also only acted with the knowledge available at the time." Even for the girl who encouraged her to ask for money for sex at the age of 12, she still makes up excuses to this day, she says. "I keep finding it hard to see that what she did was really very wrong."
Miriam was adopted as a baby from an African country. The family already had two biological daughters, later followed by another. Things did not work out with her adoptive father in particular. "I had attachment problems. During arguments, or if I did something wrong, he would sometimes say they should never have adopted me."
When she was 11, Miriam ended up in a youth care institution. Thirty-four more follow. She suffers severe trauma there. "When I was 11, the counsellor said I didn't clean myself properly. So someone came and sat with me during showers, pointing out where I needed to wash extra well. These were both men and women."
Mirjam experiences many abuses. "Out of ten supervisors, I think you can say that two of them put their heart and soul into helping the young people. Then you have five who work purely for the money. The other three are really in the wrong place and should not be working with young people." Mirjam herself was abused by a supervisor.
When she is told totally unexpectedly at age 12 that she will no longer be allowed to live at home until the age of 18, she starts running away from institutions whenever she can. But she has no other place to sleep. A boy offers her a place to sleep, gets her drunk and rapes her. "From then on, my fuses blew. I went wild sexually."
A girl, only a few years older than Mirjam, advised her to ask for money for sex. "She was one of the bad contacts back then. I didn't have any real friends. If I wanted to be welcome somewhere, I had to make sure I had food or a joint with me. Otherwise, the door stayed closed."
And so Mirjam accepts the offer. She has paid sex in cars, or at other places the girl arranges, and in people's homes since she was 12. The online ads attract plenty of men who don't mind that she is nowhere near eighteen. At first, she gets money for it herself. More and more often, however, the girl wants to borrow some or have half. Finally, Mirjam is lucky if she has anything left. "She arranged the customers, so she took what she thought she was entitled to," she says.
At that moment, Mirjam really thinks the girl is helping her. "Only now do I see how much she has destroyed my life. I didn't have puberty; I had to turn off my feelings. I lost trust in people."
To survive, Mirjam increasingly numbs herself. "Since I was expelled from home, I have been in a normal school one more time. In the mornings, I took a tube of GHB; in the toilets, I sniffed lines of speed, and during the break, we smoked joints in the schoolyard. After four weeks, I was expelled from school."
After a year and a half of prostitution, when Mirjam was 14, the girl who talked her into prostitution realised that things were going downhill for Mirjam. "She then had a child of her own at the age of 17. Her conscience started speaking, I think." By then, however, Mirjam could no longer stop prostitution. "I was addicted and needed money. She couldn't get me out."
Mirjam does not have a network of people who do seek the best for her. She no longer sees her adoptive parents. And so she roams around, living off the money that prostitution brings in. "It was such a crazy world. My day and night rhythm were gone. Sometimes I could afford expensive dinners with other friends from that world. Then we had the greatest fun together. But in the end, no one was really happy."
Mirjam herself also experiences many anxious moments. "I have been stabbed by a customer. My address was also put online once. And once I entered a house where four men were waiting. I managed to run away in the nick of time."
The only truly beautiful memory from that time was a weekend at a campsite in the south of the Netherlands for her twenty-first birthday. "There, it was quiet, and I was far away from all the misery. It was super-relaxed."
But all in all, Mirjam is deeply unhappy. "I was spent. I didn't have a moment's peace. During the day, I was paranoid, sitting with the curtains closed and two knives in my hands to defend myself. At night, I was plagued by nightmares." The young woman makes several suicide attempts, but they fail. She later submits a euthanasia request. "I had no one to keep living for," she says.
When she receives her clients in a tent for four months at the age of 19, police officers stop by. They threaten to prosecute Mirjam if she does not seek help. "That's how I got in touch with Monique, from the Dutch organisation Scharlaken Koord (Scarlet Cord), which helps prostitutes. She stood beside me. As a result, we achieved so much. She helped me with basic things, like applying for an identity card and opening a bank account. That's also how I got into a shelter."
Something else finally pulls her through. She gets pregnant. "God gave me a child. Then the switch went on for me immediately. I didn't want to live for myself anymore, but I wanted to live for her. She is my rescue."
And so Mirjam got out of prostitution three years ago because she did not want her child to have to grow up in such an environment.
With her old life behind her, she is not alone, although the father of her child is abroad. She finds a "new family" in the church.
When she was 18, someone pressed a leaflet from a Christian church into her hands for the first time, Mirjam says. A few years later, she receives another one. At home that day, she finds the old leaflet. "Don't ask me how it survived all my moves. I saw it as a miracle but was afraid to enter the church. I feared people could already see by my head what my past is." She points to her gold tooth and to her tattoos.
On New Year's Day, two years back, she ventured out anyway. Since then, she has not skipped a service.
Wanting to help others, she took a training course. "I have experienced a lot of misery. Now my job is to also pull others out of this world." But she is also working on another project, an old dream. "I have always liked cooking and baking. At a young age, I cried out that I wanted to become a pastry chef later. For a few months, I have been selling cupcakes, cakes and other sweets online. My wish is that this business will grow so that young people with problems can work there. That way, I hope to keep them away from the criminal world."
The name Mirjam is a pseudonym
This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on July 29, 2023
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