The Angel of Berlin

Change for the good: Patricia Green says that prostitutes in Berlin are beginning to trust her.
Change for the good: Patricia Green says that prostitutes in Berlin are beginning to trust her.

As soon as the moon rises Patricia Green turns up the collar of her coat and walks down Berlin's most dangerous streets. She's not scared - she's armed with a basket and a smile.

Her weapons are aimed at the beautiful, broken creatures standing under street lamps. Most ignore the smile. Others rummage through the basket. They'll take the condoms. They'll leave the Christian literature.

The 74-year-old ordained minister, originally from Hamilton, is slowly changing the lives of European woman tricked and trafficked into prostitution. She set up her second non-profit charity, Alabaster Jar, in 2006, with a group of volunteers to do that.

Trafficking: Patricia Green started Rahab International after seeing the sex trade in Thailand – now she’s focusing on Germany.
Trafficking: Patricia Green started Rahab International after seeing the sex trade in Thailand – now she’s focusing on Germany.

In 1986, she founded Rahab International in Thailand after feeling powerless when she saw women and young girls being sold as sex slaves in a time when that trade started booming in Asia.

Rahab goes from strength to strength but there is still work to be done in Germany before Green hands over the reins. She doesn't want to, but doctors found "a neat little thing, perfectly round" in her lung. And then they found the cancer in her mouth.

Before stepping back, Green believes she'll live to see a change in the place which serves as the "destination country" for sex traffickers across Europe.

"In the first six months . . . we would just walk, pray and sit in a cafe, have a coffee and watch what's going on. On the way, we would smile at people. But we just didn't exist to them," Green said.

Now, she sees a few upturned mouths when she walks past the "beautiful, clever" but aloof German prostitutes. On the other side of the city, the Eastern European girls who are "straight up bought and sold" welcome her - they're also slowly asking her for help.

Last year, a prostitute whose passport was stolen when she arrived in Berlin followed Green and her team to a cafe. She wanted out. Green kept her in a safe house while a policeman bribed her female pimp for the travel document. In two days she was on a bus back to Romania.

"We never used to see people leaving or changing. But as time goes by and they realise you're serious about what you're doing, they begin to trust you. So now there are many people leaving. There's a movement of many women coming out of prostitution," she said.

Green thought she had seen it all. She has been an international advocate against sex trafficking for 17 years but has recently heard of a new type of bait being laid to lure women.

"It's just getting worse and worse, it's getting clever now. There used to be a lot of violence and drugs. Girls used to be kept in a vegetable state, but it doesn't always happen that way now - it's much less dramatic," she said.

"Girls are still being abducted, but the lover boy phenomenon is sweeping Europe."

It's an easy way to trick gullible, downtrodden women.

A "beautiful boy" - the kind your mother would love - sweeps one of the girls off their feet and convinces her to move to a new country with him.

At the last minute, he'll tell her he can't go but to go ahead without him because a close friend of his will meet her when she gets off the train. He'll follow her there soon.

"They're gullible and when they get there, their passports are stolen and they're straight on the street."

It's hard work trying to help the girls, but as a trained social worker, Green tries not to get so emotionally involved as to let the sad stories squeeze the life out of her.

"It's impossible [not to feel something] . . . but there's a level where you learn how far in terms of personal involvement you can go for your own wellbeing."

Learning how to dissociate from the harsh reality these woman live through came with practice - but it's what got Green interested in the trade to start with.

On her first trip to Thailand, an exploratory mission in 1986, Green stayed at a guest house owned by two siblings she befriended. But things seemed strange.

Every few days a new maid would turn up at the house. And then she'd vanish. She later found out the girls were being sold by the house owners.

At the same time, Green befriended an academic who was leading a group of students that was visiting the families of prostitutes killed in a brothel fire, where the burnt bodies of women were found chained to beds.

"It broke my heart, I was powerless," she said.

Green returned to New Zealand, but was back in Thailand a few months later.

She met a Thai woman in Pudong who helped her get Rahab on its feet. They would go to bars where the girls earned their keep by pole dancing, serving drinks and sleeping with foreign men.

"That's how we started, just talking to the women and asking how we could help and spread awareness, particularly around sex tourism because the men come [to Thailand] and they think they're being good to the women. But at what cost?

"Simple sex is probably a relief for these women because there's so much violence involved."

Rahab now operates out of a hairdressing salon, where the women can go for free and take their minds off what happens in the outside world. The braver ones help to make jewellery for money instead.

She hasn't changed the face of the sex industry in Thailand, but she's made a difference. Enough to take a step back and focus her efforts on the trafficking trade in Berlin.

Green hopes Alabaster Jar will continue making progress without her when she steps aside. And she hopes the women on the corners won't forget her.

"They're very broken people, really. They call me Angel."

Sunday Star Times