The week leading up to Exxxotica in Dallas was distracting to say the least. Several of our women (and my dear friends) were experiencing relapses that I can only blame on the twisted manipulation of the sex industry. I began experiencing a lowness so heavy, it almost sent me running for the hills the night before the Expo.
But deep down, I knew I heard the Spirit drawing me to go to Exxxotica...even if just for the day. I now firmly believe that He sent me to the Dallas Convention Center to meet and connect with Anny Donewald, author of Dancing For the Devil and founder of Eve’s Angels.
At the time of the Expo, I had read some but not all of Anny’s book. But, to be honest, my pride kept me from engaging. I thought, “I’ve read these books before”...but little did I know the deep truths that I would sit with on those pages in the days after the Expo.
In the first chapters of the book, the reader quickly discovers not only that was Anny was a dancer, but also that she was sexually abused as a child. Reading her story meant remembering my own. 95% of women in the sex industry have been sexually abused as children (www.wearecherished.com). In fact, Anny asserts that, “With the amount of shame and secrecy that cloaks women in the sex industry, I firmly believe that these statistics are higher than what women will report.”
Heading into the convention (past the “pastoral” barrage of verbal assault “in the name of Jesus”...read more here), I searched for the familiar “Eve’s Angels” logo and booth. Past all the sex toys and pornographic videogames, I finally spotted it toward the back. Before long, I spotted what looked like Anny In the corner of the booth, furiously unwrapping bracelets with laser focus. I felt a sense of caution approaching her...we had been texting back and forth, but had never met face-to-face. She was the real deal: blunt and to the point, no frills and certainly no fluff.
“Anny?” I said, “I’m Emily Mills, we’ve been texting.” She looked up, gave me a short smile, and continued sorting her Eve’s Angels bracelets. She oozed tenacity. I pulled up a chair and took a seat. I dared not ask to help her with her bracelet sorting...she would clearly be the type to tell me to stop if I was bugging her, so I followed her lead and just start helping. Our hands stayed busy while our mouths started talking. Finally, she asked the question. “So Emily, why do YOU do this? You were a dancer? How long?”
It’s funny to describe what I feel when industry girls ask me this. I almost regret not having that same grit and testimony, the earned ability to relate to them on this level. Like refugees rebuilding their freedom after living in a war-torn country, nothing in the world compares to the bond of sisterhood that former dancers have with one another. Regardless of hometown, nationality, or club name, they all escaped, and they all get it.
“Nope, not a dancer.” I replied. And then I took a breath, knowing I needed to be totally transparent.
“Anny, I actually believe God sent me into the clubs not to save strippers but so that strippers could save me.”
Anny’s hands stopped. She looked up and locked into me.
I continued, “I was sexually abused as a child, and God has used women in the industry to draw me into healing. It’s been the craziest thing.”
“Yep. You get it. Let’s go outside to talk.”
I followed her lead.
Over the next six hours I spent with Anny, it became even more clear that she was a big part of why the enemy was trying to keep me away from Exxxotica. I needed to hear her out.
Not only has she been chewed up and spit out of the industry, she’s been “pimped out” by the church in many ways too. Unless you’ve endured severe trauma, you have no idea what re-telling your story is actually like. The act of verbally reliving trauma (also known as “sharing your testimony”) can conjure up the same feelings of exploitation and manipulation. Men paid to watch her dance; churches paid to hear her talk about it. This made me grieve for the Bride. What have we become? Who are we? What are we asking of survivors?
As soon as I got home, I picked up her book and didn’t put it down. I needed to hear Anny’s story. She is living with the shrapnel and scars and choosing to walk in the pain nonetheless. Her book “Dancing for the Devil” is the closest thing to walking into a club you can get. I have asked all of our leaders to read it, and I’m giving copies to the women in the industry...it is a true wake up call if I have ever heard one!
“Dancing For the Devil” reads like a novel you can’t put down. I stood in amazement at her courage as she page-by-page exposed the truth of the industry. While not explicit, “Dancing for the Devil” is graphic. So is the Gospel. When I read her account of life in the clubs, familiar scents wafted off the pages. She tells it ALL...even how she was trained to recruit on college campuses:
“On our nights off from dancing...we went on recruiting missions in Lansing or Kalamazoo….we’d mingle with the Sigma Nu boys while we sized up the Kappa Kappa Gammas as potential dancers. You can tell the girls that want to get high. They fantasize about dancing and living an alter ego lifestyle. It’s not the prettiest one, or the wildest one; it’s always the silent girl in the middle. I can spot her like an injured rabbit in an open field.”
Her keen insight and discernment that once benefitted the sex industry is now channeled for Kingdom work. And if we will listen to her, a prophet heralding some hard truth, we could see revival.
One thing I have learned: no matter where you come from, you had better know your story, and you better know it well. You must be well acquainted with your own depravity, your own suffering and brokenness to understand the cost of your freedom and the gravity of grace.
God doesn’t ask us to fix each other, but he does ask us to hold one another’s stories. And while all of our stories and wobbly roads look unique, the love of Jesus is the universal balm we all crave. Anny breaks out in hives around religion, and like any girl escaping the industry, she can spot a fake...but she knows the salve, she knows mercy, she loves Jesus, and He speaks loud and clear to her.
Will you listen?