[Disclaimer: this may be a sensitive topic to some readers]
From Antwerp's [BE] Grote Markt it's a 6-minute walk to a comforting and quiet cafe called Koffieklap (according to Google Maps). And, it's not from any major cafe chains, e.g. Starbucks. It's local and the only one in Antwerp. So you can say, it's one of a kind. But the establishment meets more than the eye. Koffieklap is a form of support to a project called Cherut (a non-profit organization) that helps women. The word's meaning is 'freedom to choose'. Cherut is an organization, I quote:
"offer a wide range of assistance to offer opportunities to women who want to leave prostitution or a situation of exploitation."
The cafe has been in business for about 6 years. It initially was a community center, a coffee bar, for the area. Once a month, the locals would discuss what's going on in the community, what needed to be changed, or who needed help. 'Een klapje gaan doen' or 'een kletje' means to have a chat and a cup of coffee in Antwerp. So, the center was where they would have a 'koffie klap'. Ha! Get it? Now the name makes sense.
All staff members at Koffieklap are volunteers. They have a team on the street that gives out free coffee cards for women who would come in to just have a coffee. They also sponsor girls who would want to get away from being exploited. To help them, they offer HORECA training skills; barista skills. The heart behind the offer is to give them a real practical step.
The majority of these women are coming from a background of trauma, so it takes a long time for them to trust anyone. So the cafe is approachable and they know they can come in for a coffee. "In here, they are to be seen as human, and not just property," says the owner. Koffieklap ensures the girls that they know that there are people here that want to help them. They also have a team of social workers and therapists as well.
The inspiration to open Koffieklap is to help as many girls in that occupation as they can. It
started helping one woman, then trying to expand to help more if possible. Some have a background in psychology, so they have an understanding of the surviving trauma that these girls go through. People who work in the sex industry are not there by choice. Or the 'choices' the women are given are very limited that still leads them to stay in that field of work. For instance, a girl whose mother became ill and they couldn't afford her medication. A 'fancy and flashy' couple offered her a job and groomed her by saying she 'could also have all of this if she worked for them'. When she left with them in a foreign country, they put her to work as a sex worker. She obviously refused to do it. Then the couple gave her the following choices: work for them or they'll go back to her home and get her sister to do her work. So is that really a choice? Sadly to say that this is based on a true story. And I bet that there are many other similar stories. That's kind of how they are being manipulated; a lot of emotional abuse and turmoil.
"I think that the heart of Koffieklap is: for a woman to be seen as more as just property. Something more than just a 'walking vagina," expressed the owner. "We are people that have feelings. It's a radical idea that we have rights and feelings, but are also just to be used or abused. Or for someone else's benefit. In here, no one is staring at them, or where they have to perform. They come in and we can meet them as people. It's a safe environment."
Until now, it could appear that I am only talking about women who live in Antwerp. But is this cafe also for other women outside of Antwerp? The answer is yes; it's for anybody. In some cases where they have been in contact with some women for a while, who end up, unfortunately, moving back to their country to their abuser.
I mostly hear or read, like a FAQ: "Why not go to the authorities for help?" True, the police can help. However, if the case is where a person comes from a place where they either don't have legal documents have been neglected, or not have had the support of the police, they won't see them as allies. They automatically become a source they can't rely on or are the enemy. Now don't get me wrong, the police can help sometimes. If you're an undocumented immigrant seeking help, in some cases they do review the case and process it. Yet, the women are frightened and at risk of getting abused more. It's never a black and white situation, it's always grey.
The name, location, and what Koffieklap does spreads mainly through the mouths of the girls in that profession. So, from woman to woman. Another way of knowing is through links and organizations of the Netherlands. So far, they have been lucky not to have had the experience of aggressive attacks from pimps or other individuals. Koffieklaps isn't a big organization, yet they are quiet and known, and here to help.
My student home is located near a lot of cafe's, shops, restaurants, laundry, etc. Yet, this one caught my eye really quickly. Throughout my semester, I only got coffee here or at school. One day I decided to relax at this place. I don't remember exactly how they approached me, but we ended up talking about the establishment and its purpose. The place had such a homey atmosphere and talking to two of the staff members added a sense of comfort to the place (plus-point to personal interaction). While drinking a good cappuccino, our conversation inspired me to write this blog and share it. Sadly, at the moment it's closed (I bet it's because of Ms. Rona). However, when it opens up, and you want to relax in a comfy place near the city center, I highly recommend visiting the cafe. Below you can find the address, their social media, and also the link to their main project.
Adress: Klapdorp 41, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium [temporary closed]