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By Laura Coulter
Kathleen Mitchell still wonders what happened
Carrie (not her real name) was only 18 years
old when she appeared at the shelter where
Mitchell worked. Her two children, fathered by
the pimp who had put her on the street when she was only
12, had been taken by the pimp’s sister. While other girls her
age were attending their senior proms and planning for college, Carrie was just trying to survive.
When the other women at the shelter learned of Carrie’s
history—that her pimp targeted 12- and 13-year-old girls,
dropping them when they got “too old” at 16 or 17—they
began to withdraw from her. Concerned that Carrie might
attempt to draw their own daughters into prostitution, the
women tried to keep their children from coming into contact
One night Kathleen Mitchell arrived at work to discover
that Carrie was gone. The girl had, however, left a note for
Mitchell, one of the few who had shown her kindness. She
wrote about her reasons for leaving and then concluded, “I
don’t think anyone here understands what it feels like to be
a disposable person.”
A former prostitute herself, Mitchell has been working
in Arizona with women and girls victimized by prostitution
since 1989. While in jail in the late 1980s, she began to
organize a support group for women looking for a way out
of prostitution, because, she says, she needed that support.
After her release, she was able to make a complete break with
her past and ultimately went back to school to earn certificates in chemical dependency studies.
The product of her labors, a ministry called DIGNITY
that operates under the auspices of Catholic Charities, offers
long-term and transitional housing to formerly prostituted
women, providing them with the support, education, and
tools they need to move out of the miasma of their life in
prostitution. DIGNITY touches the lives of more than 900
women and children each year.
Like Mitchell, women from all over the world who were
once caught up in the commercial sex industry are reaching
out to give a hand up to people most of society views as
worthless—victimized pawns in a global web of sexual servitude. Armed only with the weapons of hope and love as they fight an enemy of legionary magnitude, these women
on the front lines are offering a new future to those whose
lives have been shattered by prostitution.