The St Kilda Gatehouse is a not-for-profit Christian organisation which works alongside those involved in street-based sex work or affected by commercial sexual exploitation as a result of hardship. Its aim is to be a ‘safe haven off the streets’.
Gatehouse CEO, Sally Tonkin, recently spoke at a Christian business people’s breakfast in the Melbourne CBD on the topic, ‘She’s someone’. It was a powerful, life affirming message, challenging the popular mantra ‘She’s someone’s daughter/sister/wife/mother’.
The women the St Kilda Gatehouse works alongside are engaged in dangerous illegal activity. The staff and volunteers seek to walk in Jesus’ shoes. Jesus looked through the prostitute, the woman at the well, the tax collector, into the soul of the person. The Gatehouse seeks to be a place where individuals feel valued and important. Each person is a ‘someone’, not ‘someone’s…’
Ms Tonkin quoted Hugh Mackay’s book, What Makes Us Tick?: The Ten Desires That Drive Us (2010). While the author did not list any of the 10 desires in any particular order, Ms Tonkin believes that of all 10 there is one desire that stands above all the rest, the desire to be taken seriously.
The women who seek refuge at the St Kilda Gatehouse have been discarded, abused, hurt, betrayed, assaulted, rejected. They are human beings who have been treated like garbage. Ms Tonkin has learned that the most powerful and most humbling service her staff and volunteers can offer these women is a genuine ear; to take each and every one of these women seriously, because they are someone.
Hugh Mackay explains it is not about being serious. “It is all about the desire to be acknowledged as the unique individual each of us knows ourselves to be – the desire to be noticed, appreciated, valued, accepted … perhaps even remembered.”
Is it little wonder that many asylum seekers attempt suicide. We are stripping them of their humanity. Our news reports turn people’s pain into snappy headlines. Or Indigenous Australians, who still struggle to ensure their stories are heard. We are also seeing the power of taking someone seriously, as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has heard story after story of survivors of abuse, each of them detailing the abuse they experienced, sometimes 30-40 years ago, as if it was only yesterday. Their stories are finally acknowledged and remembered.
The challenge for me, each and every day, is to remember that each person is ‘someone’, created in the image of God, and I have a part to play in honouring their story.