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On a recent Tuesday morning, Sr. Magdalena Pascual stood in front of an open black metal door and looked toward the woman inside. The woman wore red platform shoes, black leather hot pants, a red T-shirt and black vest. She was 30 years old but had the weary look of someone much older. A bed behind her with one white sheet caught the pale glow of a bare lightbulb that hung from the warped ceiling. Cracks in the walls rivered toward a mirror hanging beside a calendar.
A broom and a bucket stood in one corner. Pascual, a diminutive woman in sandals with long, dark hair, squinted above her glasses and handed the woman a slip of paper that said, "Make your best effort and be brave. Seven days a week, nearly 24 hours a day, as many as women or more ranging in age from their early 20s to mids work as prostitutes on a barren, two-block stretch of grim row houses where a weed-covered train track divides the bleak street in half.
The women solicit business standing before darkened, windowless rooms that resemble storage containers and that reek of sweat and garbage and mildew. They work alone without pimps, but they must pay powerful local gangs a protection fee every few days if they want to stay in business and not suffer consequences that can range from beatings to death. The order's mission is to work with women involved in the sex industry. We must take our shoes off and put on theirs and see into their lives.
Unlike other organizations that work with prostitutes, the order does not harangue the prostitutes about leaving the street. Pascual said the order has no agenda other than working with the prostitutes to make their lives as safe as possible. Should those efforts lead the women to seek help, the order will work with them to achieve whatever goals they set for themselves. Other programs say, 'Fill out these forms and do this.
We know when to talk to them and walk away. Our message is, 'We care for you as you are. Maria Enriqueta, worked with prostitutes in Mexico and Colombia for 29 years before the order transferred her to Guatemala City in No one sees the women, period. Our Lady of the Rosary is nearby, a major tourist attraction, but no one cares about these women.