1) Tell us more about yourself. Nationality, family, how you got involved in the issue of human trafficking.
I was born in Argentina of US parents, who were in ministry there until I was 11yrs old; so I grew up bilingual. I first came from the US to Spain for church planting in 1986, with my young family, with a 4 year-old son and a 1 year-old daughter. My third son was born in Spain. After 7 years here, God led us unexpectedly to Australia, where we were in pastoral ministry. After a number of years there I experienced the devastating end to my marriage, followed by a season of healing. God then opened the doors for me to return to Spain for ministry with the C&MA, after 11 years away, along with my youngest son, then 16. This was a definite calling to minister to women in crisis, though I didn’t know what that would look like.
I noticed several dramatic changes in the country upon my return. One was the huge influx of immigrants, most from Latin America. I thought God was leading me to a ministry to abused women from this background. But, while in the US during 2008 & 9, working on a college campus, I kept hearing about Human Trafficking, without really understanding the issue or its magnitude. Hearing about it so often, I felt a nudge from the Lord to investigate what impact H.T. might be having in Spain.
Only a small search on the Internet revealed absolutely shocking statistics! I soon found that, of all the crisis issues for women in Spain, H.T. for the purpose of sexual exploitation was by far the most devastating, affecting a staggering number of women. As I researched, I found that VERY little was being done by believers, and the government was totally unprepared to handle the growing crisis. This was a vast, “unreached people group”- from a missional perspective- and a seemingly untouchable group. With the support of my field leaders, the focus of my ministry since 2009 has been to focus completely on responding to the needs of women caught in this specific situation.
2) You are based in Spain, right? Which city? How long have you been there? Do you have a web page?
I have been in the city of Granada since 2006. At the beginning of my involvement in the area of H.T., back in 2009, it seemed best to stay there, since we didn’t sense God’s clear leading to move anywhere else. This has changed in the last few months, and we are in the process of changing locations.
We have web page focused mostly toward people in Spain. But it is not being well managed at present, due to being short-handed. I hope soon to have someone helping us make better use of this tool. http://www.hogarcenicienta.org
3) Tell us about your ministry to women.
When God redirected me to focus on H.T. & sexual exploitation, I felt God leading toward the establishment of a holistic care residential program, since there are other groups in various parts of Spain focusing on outreach, with a great & growing network we are a part of, called Esclavitud XXI (also members of EFN). But having a comprehensive program of restoration with a Christian focus, including a safe place where that can happen, was a fairly large gap here in Spain. Other groups have emerged recently to address this need, also. But there continues to be a big shortage in this area.
Initially, we researched, networked, laid the groundwork and did fund-raising for over 3 years. Then we wrote up plans for our project, started gathering a team together, and God opened a wonderful rental property where we could begin. After many difficulties along the way, we opened our doors last spring, receiving our first ‘Princess’, as I call our residents. ‘Grace’ came to us with her 7 year old, arriving quite close to her delivery date for her second child. We hadn’t planned to start with children. But we are happy to say that we helped a whole family escape the consequences of sexual exploitation. Shortly after the birth of our little prince, our next resident arrived. We chose not to add more women to the mix, because of the complications of having & caring for the children; in addition to a lack of personnel. Everyone was quite stretched with the 4 residents we had.
4) You said you are in the midst of transition. Can you tell me more about that?
Since December last year, doors in Granada began closing for us, and we were finding it difficult to access local resources for helping our residents move forward, especially in terms of training. But at the same time, new opportunities seemed to come out of nowhere in the larger neighboring city of Malaga. It became clear that God was orchestrating something special. One answer was that crucial need for resources, more readily available to us in a larger city. A second aspect has been forging strategic partnerships with 2 other Christian abolition projects starting up complementary projects there, with whom we can collaborate. And finally, there is a broader, more united Christian community. A portion of the project moved in March. But we will be settled there more fully in the next few weeks. During this transition, we are not providing 24-hour residential care. Instead we are accompanying our current residents into the next stages of their restoration. They are now in a shared flat in Malaga, with more independence and responsibility, almost ready to step into full independence, within the next 5 months or so. Each of these steps has been a huge learning curve for all of us.
5) Biggest challenges?
Having children under our care makes things much more complicated, since it does not allow us to give 100% of our time and effort towards the needs of the women. We weren’t fully prepared for some of those challenges.
We will most likely always be dealing with undocumented women with little preparation, language skill or education. Finding the right mix of ‘regular staff’, paid professionals, volunteers & local resources is a huge challenge. You need someone on duty 24/7 in the first phase. That is exhausting & emotionally draining. So having enough staff to rotate and share the load is vital. Pastoral care for the workers is also vitally necessary, in order to prevent burn out. We are still learning, and working on most of these areas. We chose to limit our efforts up until now, because of lack of human resources.
6) Joys? Successes?
I was there throughout the labor and delivery of our little prince, supporting and translating for his frightened mother. That was an incredible Joy! And seeing that both gals have persisted in our program through thick and thin, for over a year now feels like a success for all of us, also. Starting a small domestic enterprise for our gals, making jewelry that we’ve been selling, to put toward their future is another success, at a time when no jobs or legal status have been forthcoming.
7) Your organization concentrates on aftercare, right? What are the most important things to consider when beginning a ministry in “aftercare”?
(SEE also, Question 5.)
*Build the ministry on prayer. Build a strong base of prayer support. Try to prepare your team for the spiritual warfare you will encounter. The women have lived such horrible and unspeakable things. They come with so much spiritual & emotional baggage. We find that the atmosphere sometimes feels thick with opposition. Don’t under-estimate the spiritual dimension of the struggles you will face! The enemy does NOT want us to succeed. He does not want these women to come into full freedom. Know for sure that the Prince of Peace has called you! Don’t be presumptuous when entering such a ministry. We need the humility and love only Jesus can give us, with a huge dose of dependence on the Holy Spirit and His wisdom!
*Practically, make sure you find out exactly what local resources you have available. We had a young local ‘psychologist’, for example, who was recommended by a person respected in the area of H.T. here in Spain. In the end, she was really the only person we could find for that need. But she was so overwhelmed and unprepared and under qualified in terms of experience, especially as it related to the cultural differences and the language level of our residents, that she came 4 times, and then quit. Her title here doesn’t carry the same weight as the term ‘psychologist’ does in my experience. We also discovered that being located in a smaller town outside the city limits closed many doors for our gals, as far as courses and most other resources. We were ‘out of area’ or ‘wrong profile’. We had been told of these resources before we opened, but then found that they were being greatly restricted due to the economic crisis. This was very discouraging and frustrating.
8) From which countries do most of the women come from?
In Spain, statistically, Latin America is #1, Eastern Europe is #2 and Nigeria/Sub-Saharan Africa is #3. There are more Asian women being discovered in recent times, as well. But they are usually hidden away in flats, much harder to find and help. Within this broad demographic, especially from Latin America, main source/’supply’ countries seem to change every couple of years. I think this is due to the rapidly changing conditions within Latin America. We have many women who are Romanian, some Bulgarian women, and a few from other Eastern European countries- Ukraine, Russia & Moldova, for example. I’m sure the present crisis in Ukraine will have an impact on numbers.
9) Is prostitution legal in Spain? Brothels? Street prostitution?
Spain is unique, in this respect. Prostitution is neither legal nor illegal. It is termed ‘A-legal’! Each region or city deals with prostitution in different ways, generally struggling most with how to deal with street prostitution. Since tourism is so big here, keeping up appearances and image is very important. So many cities have been forcing street prostitution away from residential areas. Women can be fined or arrested for breaking that local ordinance, though prostitution is not technically ‘against the law’. Malaga, I understand, fines the johns who break the city ordinance. But this approach makes the women more vulnerable, since they are pushed into isolation and dangerous situations, since they are off the beaten track and out of sight.
There are many private brothels all over Spain- in city high-rises; remote agricultural areas; in luxurious tourist mansions or in normal residential communities. I had one of the latter about 8 doors down from my first home in Granada, with bouncers and all!
Most brothels are called ‘Interchange Clubs’ or ‘Club de Alterne’. They are everywhere, and most fall legally under the status of ‘hotels’, with the women officially being the client who ‘rents’ the room. But all these ‘clubs’ have many rules the women must follow, bars and dance floors where the women mingle with men who are there ‘to buy drinks’, etc. The rationale is “If a woman meets a guy at the bar and chooses to invite her new friend to the room she has rented for the night, that’s her business.” Many of these places force the women to take drugs with the men at the bar, to encourage the men to use and purchase drugs on site. This, of course, is illegal, along with other things that happen in the ‘Club’ context. It is obvious that this is a great hoax! Raids happen far too infrequently, and the clubs are often tipped off ahead of time. It is very hard to gain access to these places, leaving the women unprotected. When a well-planned raid actually is successful, there are often up to 150 women rescued, almost all (somewhere around 95%) are foreign and undocumented, many unable to speak much Spanish, and are usually terrified, totally distrusting anyone. In these raids, there are often several who are found to be minors.
10) What are the greatest needs of the women? Most difficult problems for the women to overcome are….
Trying to get their papers in order so they can stay here legally and have more access to various services, without fear that the police will come after them at every turn, is undoubtedly the greatest problem for the women to overcome. This is complex, unless a woman will testify against her trafficker.
Then, lack of skills, language and education is the next biggest problem, since it translates into NO JOB options. Both of these issues can cause depression & despair, which only magnifies the challenges! Our current residents came almost completely illiterate. So in a country with such high unemployment and economic stress, they are at the end of the queue for nearly everything. Sometimes WE feel somewhat hopeless and powerless. So imagine how they feel every time another door closes?
Then, too, they don’t understand that everything takes time. They want everything resolved in days or weeks, though they have been in prostitution with these same unresolved issues for years! We try to help them understand that we don’t have a magic wand or the power to change laws and circumstances. They live in the present, and often don’t understand ‘planning for the future’, and delayed gratification. Sharing simple Bible studies and examples from people’s stories; and patiently demonstrating the love, grace and mercy of God is huge! But we also need the balance of teaching them responsibility, determination, initiative, follow-through and the hardest lesson of all– the hardest pill to swallow: That choices have consequences. These are the most practical needs.
But overall, they need deep inner healing from all the wounds and trauma they have experienced. They need their hearts restored and transformed by the Prince of Peace. If they are going to survive all the odds stacked against their succeeding, they need a relationship with Christ. This will give them HOPE & Endurance to face every obstacle, knowing that God is WITH them, loves them, and is FOR them. This is the key for them to walk into complete FREEDOM and a life with dignity- the life God intended! But this can be a long process. Its all about God’s timing, not ours!
Written by Betsy Blanchard