Art & Volunteering: Breaking Free

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I am not any different than you.  Although I’d love to say I live a perfect and hip gypsy lifestyle the truth is I wear sweatpants more than pretty clothes. I watch Law and Order. I sing songs to my dogs. I make pretty paintings. I don’t socialize much and when I do its in sweat pants and unwashed hair.  The idea of the cool artist is a pretty cool thing and I really want to be her, but I am just a marveously ordinary chick who paints. Way easier to live up to.

Saying that, there is nothing I do that you can’t do, and I am volunteering. No, I don’t have all the money and security in the world but if we wait until our lives are ‘perfect’ before we give the recipients will be waiting forever. There are girls in your town right now that need you, you, just as you are.  Let me tell you about my experience on my first day at breaking free. I cannot show you pictures of the girls because they are in a safe house. But I can show you the art we made.
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Domestic Trafficking – a back story. You all have a bad part of town. You don’t drive down those streets. Neither do I it’s not safe but, you know there are girls there. Statistically they start out at 13 years old. A guy ‘grooms’ them. He picks a troubled girl who has been abused at home and becomes her role model. He may not show his real intentions for several months. Months. Let that sink in.  She has known no real love. She did not come from a slightly dysfunctional family like you and me – she’s had it really hard for her 13 years. Now she is with him. He buys her stuff. He is everything.  Then he says they need money. That she could help. She’s already been abused so now she could get paid for it.  Make it work for her. He makes her believe its their fortune. He takes 100% percent of the money she makes – often a quota like 1000 a night she has to come back with, and if she doesn’t she is beat up, he takes it all and he pays the rent and the food, gets her nails done, buys her clothes. She is allowed 20.00 a day for money in her pocket.

I tell you this because we think we know what prostitution is. We watch HBO real sex and think the pretty privaleged grad student using her body for cash is a choice she has made. Maybe it is.  Chances are she also has been abused in her past but THESE sort of prostitutes are not the majority. They aren’t even a minority.  They are a handful of women glamerized by hollywood. The truth is women who prostitute are no different from you or me if we were given no choice in life. When you are having sex to survive, when you were forced to do it at a young age, when you are looking for family, those bonds are what keeps you in the life. The women you see on the street were once very young girls doing the same thing.  At 13 and someone makes you have sex for money, and you have to keep doing it for a roof over your head…how would YOU get out of that lifestyle? Where would you go?

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No one asked me to volunteer. There wasn’t a position set up for me nice and ready to begin, it started instead with an idea.  Who better to show love to, and by spending quality time with a person and kindly teaching them art, or anything, is love – than women who have been sexually exploited?  Who feels worse than them? They are child abuse and domestic battering all in one place.  They feel they are beyond hope. You might to.  Well, they aren’t.  I sat in a room with girls in sweatpants and we made art together.  If you hadn’t told me the context from which they came from I would have never known.  Girls in ponytails are girls in ponytails.  They love journals and pens and “Ooh can I use this?” I never met a more POLITE groups of women in my life.  These are battered women.  Women taught to keep their place. To do anything for the customer, ya? They’ve been trained well.

They came in rather shy and reserved. Some with a blankness on their face.  I am a dramatic person and wear ever fleeting emotions on my face easily and without thinking. The contrast is heartbreaking BUT by the end of the day those same faces had eyes wide as they loved the layers they made and the brilliant idea to put certain words together for the cover page of their journal.  Eyes that have seen things no one wants to see.   Things that made them go blank, now, a sparkle. I seen it. Beautiful girls who have been crushed, dissapointed, have given up at such a young age. They think they need the abuser who has run their life for so long. Eyes and hands now realizing, however slowly, that they can do something wonderful. Something fun.

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I am extremely honored  to bring to you the completed Breaking Free Girl painting.  One of my girls from the Breaking Free Program which helps women get out of the life of sexual exploitation worked with me on this. Most of the women and girls were intimidated to work straight on a canvas with me. But one of chickies was not and she and I went back and forth on this painting. I did the face then gave it to her. She painted the background, collaged the body, and did the hair. I added some birds and she beeswaxed it to finish it off.

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