Making space ActNow: The Northside Women's Space opens its doors as a drop-in center for women in the sex trade
"One of the best things we can do is provide a safe place for people to tell their stories. In their story is their power." -Alika Galloway
by Kathy Magnuson
Culture and women's lives are being changed in north Minneapolis because the Rev. Alika Galloway sat on the steps of Kwanzaa Community Church and listened.
She listened to the stories of prostitution from the women walking by her church. She also listened to the stories of women in her congregation. They were stories of women needing to sell their bodies to pay the rent, to buy diapers, to feed their kids.
At the same time, Lauren Martin from the University of Minnesota was completing her initial research on prostitution and sex trading in north Minneapolis. She found that among women in the sex trade:
the average age is 37
half began trading sex before they were 18 years old, many were age 13 or younger
84 percent had experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse
64 percent regularly asked for help getting food and
more than two thirds did not have stable housing.
Using a community-based, participatory research model, Martin brought together participants, stakeholders and community members to help design her work.
"If you start with the hopes and dreams of people who want change, you will have more of a likelihood of achieving that change," Martin said.
When Martin and Galloway first connected in 2007 they found they shared a window into the same stories. "We know these women are here and this is the reality," Galloway said. And they both were asking what they called the big question: "What do we do?"
What Martin heard women asking for was a drop-in space-a place to connect, to sit down, to get a clean drink of water, to get condoms.
Martin and Galloway had identified a need and realized they had the capacity to fill it. The Kwanzaa Community Church already had a second building. They identified the ideal space in the current building-a room that was large enough, comfortable, private. Galloway talked with her husband and co-pastor, the Rev. Ralph Galloway, and said, "Let's put it in your office, honey." Not only did he give up his office for the drop-in center, the congregation agreed to donate the entire building to the project.
"Part of what we heard was, 'I didn't know this was an issue. I thought women were just prostituting because ...'" Galloway said. "Part of my challenge has been to ask 'because what? Why do you think a woman would want to sell her body? Would you want to do that? What if that was you?'"
The Northside Women's Space had its grand opening in April and plans to receive the first guests in June. PRIDE and Breaking Free, organizations that help women to get out of prostitution, are joining along with other faith- and community-based groups.
The Northside Women's Space has moved into an outreach to the community phase now. The building needs much renovation and additional funding is needed.
"When you have to sell your body for rent, something is wrong with that," Galloway said. Her hope is that women can come to this space and rest long enough to find themselves and make different choices for their lives. And that the systems around them change to support those choices."
"The way to solve the problem is to help the women so they are not out there," Martin said. "[This] is a poverty issue. They are not doing this because they like it or they are immoral. They need money or a place to stay or food for their kids. And yes, some are addicted to drugs. We support girls and women to make choices and receive the services and support they need to get out."
How can you help? Volunteers are needed for renovation and construction. You need not be a skilled contractor. Financial contributions and donations of canned or boxed food, feminine hygiene supplies, underwear are welcomed.