Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tom Marfo fights forced prostitution

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Translated from Dutch into English. This article is about Ghanian reverend Tom Marfo. He helps African prostitutes in the Netherlands. (Hmmm, I don't trust this Tom Marfo. He's the only person in his organisation. And the only person who actually sees the women is himself.)

Tom Marfo also has a website:
www.womentrafficking.nl

Volzin, November 15, 2002
By Anton de Wit

Tom Marfo fights forced prostitution

“These girls are slaves”

Illegal prostitution has become more intangible since the ban on brothels was lifted. That’s the conclusion of an evaluative report from the Ministry of Justice. Reverend Tom Marfo tries to offer these invisible prostitutes a new life. “The slave trade has been legally prohibited here in the nineteen century. Those who subscribe to the law shouldn’t turn their heads away.” Marfo received the Margo Klompé-price last week.

His eyes became glassy. He starts to speak slower, emphasizes each word. His eyes spit fire, his nostrils softy trembling. Nothing is left of the gentle, timid man who a short while ago showed a picture of his daughter with a proud smile. “That’s my little Princess.” Who enthusiastically tells there is a second one coming. Who hospitably showed his modest and neat apartment in the heart of the Bijlmermeer. Cheerfully he spoke about the Marga Klompé-price which soon will be presented for his work.
Exactly that work is the reason for his sudden change of mood. After asking about his pastoral care for prostitutes the inspired vicar resurfaces. He is doing it for years, but he still feels a sort of sacred indignation. Yes, his work can tolerate daylight. Even worse, he started this so he could show the world the glaring injustice.
“I want to draw attention to the darkness behind the red lights”, he says in a conspiring voice. “The deep evil behind prostitution. People go to the red light district to have sex with mostly very young girls, and they call that pleasure. But I believe even the conscience of those sex-maniacs would revolt if they would know that the girls are slaves, who are being tortured and drugged to do this work. The slave trade has been legally prohibited here in the nineteen century. Those who subscribe to the law shouldn’t turn their heads away.”

The Ghanian reverend Tom Marfo (45) will receive the Margo Klompé-price – a total sum of 2500 euros – on the ninth of November in the auditorium of the University of Tilburg. The price is named after the first female minister in the Netherlands and is meant as a encouragement to people who from a Christian perception of the fellow men push for justice, peace and the emancipation of women within church and society.
Marfo receives the price for the Christian Aid and Resources Foundation (CARF), of who he is the initiator and coordinator. And the only driving force, he shyly acknowledges. He admits it is not a real organisation. The means for him are lacking. CARF doesn’t receive structural support from the government and he depends on donations. Two old computers, a telephone and a fax in a corner of his apartment constitutes his office. The most important goal of his foundation: to offer help to illegal, often African women who want to leave prostitution and build a new life. And first of all to give them mental assistance. Telephonic pastoral care is his main task. If possible, he also offers accommodation in cooperation with a housing association. He supervises four apartments on strictly secret locations. He also tries to help them get a job, mostly as cleaning women, moonlighting. He has offered more than 300 women a new life.
The girls themselves are resolutely shielded by him. Patiently he explains why they don’t like to tell their stories. The ex-prostitutes have been through a lot and want to forget their past. Moreover, they have very different opinions about sexuality than us Westerners. Sex is in all cases something to be ashamed about. Let alone unsafe sex.

“The first thing I feel from my Christian inspiration when I see the girls on the street is compassion. I got to talk to some of the girls. I asked them how they came here. Why they did this work.” He found out that most girls end up in prostitution against their will. They pay a lot of money to human traffickers, with the expectation they will get a job or education in Western Europe. “They are tricked. I know a young women who wanted to continue her study of law here, but who ended up straight on de Wallen.”
Leaving prostitution is difficult. The criminal organisations who exploit the prostitutes don’t fear intimidation. Marfo: “I have heard about a girl who escaped her ‘madame’. They sent a couple of tough guys after her to get her back. They hung her on the ceiling until she wetted her pants. Then they pulled her down. They repeated that three times, until she was practically dead. ‘Next time we don’t pull you down’, they said. That sort of things happen here in the Netherlands. In the entire country, not only in Amsterdam.”
His work is not without danger. The criminal organisations and he are playing “a cat- and mouse game”, he says, “They know what I do and they know that the police is on my side. So they keep their distance. But I have been threatened more than enough.” He doesn’t know fear. A leftover from his youth, he believes. Marfo grew up in a polygamous Islamic family in Ghana and was raised roughly by his uncles. “Already then they could wound my body, but not my will. That upbringing has determined my willpower and fearlessness for a big part. It caused me to fight for the emancipation of these slaves. If I have to die for something I believe is just, than so be it. I lack the gene that produces fear.”

The reverend pleads for a touch approach towards to perpetrators, instead of “cosmetic actions” against the illegal prostitutes themselves. “What the authorities are doing in these cases, is to attack the victims. They raid clubs, get them of the streets, throw them in jail. After all they have been through. I have experienced many times that such a girl calls me from the women’s prison in Zwolle: ‘I’m in jail, please pray for me.’ I would urgently like to call on the government: stop with aiming at the soft spots, the defenceless targets.”
Politics and the judiciary should shift their priorities to a more structural approach, Marfo believes, that means to deal with the human traffickers and the pimps. “Don’t underestimate the scale in which this is happening. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal activity in the world, only drug trafficking is bigger. It involves billions. To fight, this perseverance and willpower is necessary. It will also demand willpower from Western governments. The same willpower they also exhibit in the war against terrorism.”
Marfo suspects that the problem of human trafficking and illegal prostitution can be efficiently combated with only a fraction of the display of power the Western world showed in Afghanistan. “Al Qaeda is well trained and professionally equipped. You can’t say for the human smugglers. At any moment their mobile phone-traffic can be tapped. So why does human trafficking increase in the Western world? I would like George Bush to stop talking about Iraq and say a word about the human trafficking which takes place right behind the White House.”

“Cleansing a tippelzone is like carrying coals to Newcastle”

[tippelzone=tolerance zone for streetprostitutes]

The legalisation of brothels in October 2000 hasn’t been an unqualified success. Women who work in prostitution involuntarily, who are a minor or illegal, are moving from regulated sectors to the unregulated, hardly verifiable forms of prostitution. Because there it is lacking of supervision and access by aid workers, these prostitutes are extra vulnerable to exploitation. That’s the conclusion of the evaluative report “het bordeelverbod opgeheven” [“Lifting the ban on brothels”] which appeared early October [2002]. In this report assigned by the ministry of justice, hundreds of insiders in the sex-industry have been interviewed.
“The willingness to talk was better than expected”, tells researcher Marjolein Goderie of the Verwey-Jonker Institute in Utrecht, one of the four agencies involved in this research. “Sometimes we had to pose as a client to speak with the girls in person. We also paid them, because the pimps expected them the bring money home.” The researchers registered stories about extortion, repression and intimidation. “In many cases there was serious compulsion. Some girls their spirits were literally broken, through long lasting rapes.”
The report didn’t create clarity about the scale of the problem. It’s neither clear if the illegal sex-industry has grown or shrunk since the ban on brothels was lifted. But the researchers did notice a shift of illegal prostitution to municipalities where there was less supervision over legality. “Here lies a task for the national government, who has decentralized the prostitution policy. Lax municipalities should be put under pressure more, to stop the shifting-effect. There has to be a tougher national policy anyhow, because one is dealing with nationally and internationally operating human traffickers. Targeting them is more useful than cleansing tippelzones, like recently happened in Amsterdam. That is like carrying coals to Newcastle. The traffickers turn out new girls in no time.”
The entire report can be downloaded from www.wodc.nl (in Dutch unfortunately)
Actually, you can find the specific download-location here:
Het bordeelverbod opgeheven

Tom Marfo also has a website:
www.womentrafficking.nl

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