Christian ministries help women escape sex industrycomment (0)
June 5, 2014
The smoke, the loud music and the smell of perfumes trigger uncomfortable memories for Polly Wright.
But she ignores those reminders of her past as she and a troupe of women make their way to the strip club’s dressing room to deliver gift bags filled with fingernail polish, earrings and handwritten notes with messages such as “I’m praying for you.”
“We are in there saying, ‘You are loved, valued and cherished, and you are not alone,’” said Wright, founder and executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, branch of We Are Cherished, a faith-based organization that regularly visits more than 50 adult entertainment venues throughout the area.
A way out
Across the nation, dozens of similar ministries, such as Treasures in Los Angeles, Calif., Jewels in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Beauty From Ashes in Fort Myers, Fla., provide emotional support and a potential way out for prostitutes and other sex workers.
Such organizations often partner with law enforcement authorities to identify and help the tens of thousands of women and teens who feel trapped in the sex industry.
Sgt. Byron Fassett, who oversees the Dallas Police Department’s high-risk child victims and sex trafficking unit, said, “They don’t want to be doing this. They want out. They just don’t know how to get out. And that takes mentoring. It takes somebody to sit there and help them and try to show them that path.”
While topless bars typically are legal businesses, a recent study commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department found “an underground commercial sex economy in America that is diverse, organized and lucrative, extending far beyond the typical street corner,” researcher Meredith Dank and colleague Kate Villarreal wrote in a blog post.
In Dallas-Fort Worth alone, illicit sex is a $99 million-a-year industry, the Washington-based Urban Institute policy research group found.
In just seven urban areas studied, underground commercial sex represents a nearly billion-dollar industry. The national study was the first to estimate the monetary value of the sex economy in U.S. cities and address its deep complexity, reported Dank, one of the researchers who interviewed 260 pimps, traffickers, sex workers, child pornographers and law enforcement officials.
“We need more resources and mandates for law enforcement and service providers not only to find, arrest and convict traffickers but also to provide services for those who want to leave the life but have few alternatives,” Dank and Villarreal wrote.
In the heart of Dallas, New Friends New Life occupies a suite in a high-rise office tower.
In 2013, the ministry provided access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health services and spiritual support to more than 700 formerly trafficked girls and sexually exploited women and their children, executive director Katie Pedigo said.
The organization grew out of a grassroots ministry that started 16 years ago when a woman in the sex industry became involved in a women’s Bible study at Preston Road Church of Christ, Dallas.
Pedigo said of sex trafficking and exploitation, “It’s happening to American girls on every street corner, every bus stop, every mall in our city, and we need to open our eyes and we need to know it’s happening so we can fix it and get it out of the shadows.”
First Baptist Church, Colleyville, Texas, provides a 3,000-square-foot house that serves as headquarters for We Are Cherished.
Every week, up to 25 women meet at what they call The Cherished House to enjoy a home-cooked meal and support one another.
Wright, a former stripper who now runs the ministry, speaks from experience after a long, rocky road of excessive drinking, drug use and “sex-for-anything-but-love,” until she converted to Christianity after marrying her husband, Rodney, 18 years ago.
It was her mother-in-law, Troyce Wright, a Southern Baptist, who showed her unconditional love. Polly Wright recounted her experiences in the book “Cherished: Shattered Innocence, Restored Hope.”
Wright traveled to Los Angeles to study the Treasures ministry, founded by former dancer Harmony Dust, author of “Scars and Stilettos.”
And even for Polly Wright, the road to a better life is a lifelong journey.
“It’s still hard. It’s still a journey. God is still refining me. And I pray that He’ll always be refining me because in that, I get strengthened in His name.”