By the Grace of God, Society Will Change (Thistle Farms National Conference)

(This is part four of a four-part series on the Thistle Farms national conference, “Welcome to the Circle.” The first three posts were written by Twila Wanamaker. This post is from another participant, Bonnie Sestito.)


I recently attended a national conference hosted by Thistle Farms*, “Welcome to the Circle,” in Nashville, Tennessee. Out of all that I experienced during the conference, three things especially left an impression on me. They were:

  1. Hearing a survivor share her story. She told the group she remembered watching her father beat her mother, and when she got older she married and her husband began to beat her. She told us that she thought it was normal because of what she witnessed as a child, and she said that she liked it because that’s what she thought love was. She began crying and told the group that she knows now that it isn’t true.
  2. Hearing a workshop leader share that people say, “You can’t rape a prostitute,” and that young girls say, “I’m already having sex; I might as well get paid for it.”
  3. Learning about John School. John School is for first-time customers of prostitutes. In Nashville, a john who has been arrested for the first time for soliciting the services of a prostitute is given the choice of going to class or going to jail. If the john decides to go to class, he must pay a $300 fee to enroll, and must be tested for STDs. The class is eight hours long and focuses on the experiences and harms of prostitution, such as the violence associated with prostitution, the sexually-transmitted disease risks of prostitution, and the effects of prostitution on families and communities. After completing the class all charges are dropped and expunged from the john’s record. The majority of johns are not rearrested. If they are, they go directly to jail.

The stories are heartbreaking. The way some people view sex is maddening. But there is hope. There is hope because of safe houses like Magdalene and Thistle Farms. There is hope because of the programs that provide education. And by the grace of God, the attitude of society will eventually be forever changed.

Bonnie SestitoThis post is contributed by Bonnie Sestito, coordinator for Mission with Women and Girls on the national executive committee of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, and member of “All Hands In,” a ministry in Boston, Massachusetts, working for the abolition of human trafficking.

*Thistle Farms, located in Nashville, Tennesee, is a residential program and social enterprise of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. The women create by hand natural body-care products; purchasing their products helps them become economically independent and supports the outreach of the organization. Magdalene is the two-year residential community for women offering housing, food, medical and dental needs, therapy, education and job training without charging the residents or receiving government funding. Thistle Farms offers education, training, and conferences for others who wish to learn about how to create social enterprises. For photos from the 2013 conference “Welcome to the Circle,” click here. (Photo collage at top of post from Thistle Farms.)


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