When her boyfriend promised her a vacation in Washington, Jenny Rice dreamed of fancy hotels and sightseeing at national monuments.
The only sightseeing Rice did here was from the corners of 14th Street NW.
One day after Rice (not her real name) arrived here, her boyfriend of five months turned her over to three pimps who lived with five prostitutes in the suburbs.
For the following two weeks, Rice lived a nightmare that only ended when she sought refuge at a Lutheran church down the street.
The Rev. John Steinbruck, the pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church, has spent a decade trying to minister to the prostitutes who frequent his neighborhood around Thomas Circle NW.
Until Rice came to his church, none of them had sought his help in giving up prostitution. "I'm simply not good for their business," he said.
In fact, it was another prostitute who led Rice to Steinbruck. Within hours, he had the 25-year-old mother on a bus back to North Carolina.
After witnessing pimps beating prostitutes and seeing their "subhuman working conditions," Steinbruck said he supports legalized prostitution. "It's better than watching them die.
"If anybody needs a union, they do," he said. "They work 10 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, including holidays and even Christmas eve," he said.
"It kills me to see them standing out there in those abbreviated outfits in the freezing cold and rain. I see the new ones come and watch them drain."
When Steinbruck notices an "old timer" is missing from her usual spot, he wonders if she has left the city or has been murdered.
Sometimes he hears that a missing woman has left town, but usually, he's kept wondering about the women's fates.
Steinbruck gets indignant when religious groups canvass the 14th Street area condemning the prostitutes over loudspeakers on trucks. At the same time, he wonders how "uncondemning" he can be and yet not appear to support their work. So while church employes allow the women to use the church drinking fountain and bathroom facilities, they won't let the women in to change into their "working" clothes.
Other pastors at Thomas Circle area churches, such as the Rev. Earl M. Caudill, pastor of National City Christian Church, directly across the street from Luther Place, say they have also tried to help the prostitutes, but without success.
Steinbruck recalled a night when he struck up a conversation with a prostitute as they watched a burning building. After discovering the woman attended business school during the day, Steinbruck offered her an office job at the church. "She just laughed and said, 'Reverend, can you pay me $80,000 a year?'" he recalled.
Some of the prostitutes Steinbruck has gotten to know were brought up in church-going families and one attended a Baptist college.
Another worked at a $19,000-a-year professional job at a national religious headquarters before turning to the streets to support her $250-a-day heroin habit. "I am well aware of God every day," said the woman. "I compare my job with that of an athlete or an actress," she said. "I feel what God cares about is my heart and soul."
Until he met Rice, Steinbruck wanted to establish a shelter for prostitutes who wanted to quit the business, but needed protection from pimps and some moral support.
But now, he said, he doesn't think women are going to come pouring into a shelter. Instead, he feels he c an help them more effectively in an "ad hoc ministry to the prostitutes."
With the onset of colder wheather, Steinbruck and his congregation have turned their attention to another group of women. Each night, 25 to 30 homeless women eat and sleep in Luther Place church facilities. Volunteers from his church and other groups serve them meals and stay with them until morning.