On the real, let's love.

She didn’t see it coming. A night out with friends and a little teenage rebellion seemed fun— a party, drinking, experimenting, and boys. 

No one plans on being raped, especially when you’re with your friends, partying under the same roof in Suburbia, Texas.  A hospital visit and a few months later in a recovery program for the sexual trauma she had endured and her mind still struggled to integrate back “home”. She couldn’t function in “normal life”. The shame, the what-if’s, the guilt, and the desire to do that one night over left her feeling totally worthless. What was left of her dignity became the subject of small talk and whispers in her school halls. A subconscious power to become what the darkness had made of her, took over. She began living reckless; sleeping around, using drugs and alcohol at parties until finally just the right, wrong person noticed— a recruiter. He was a student himself at her high school, just waiting to turn the former all-star good girl over to one of the most dangerous pimps on the scene. She could be worth a lot out there— so young, so middle class.

This is one of millions of the examples of women who end up in the commercial sex trade— sexual assault primes girls and boys. The violence generates enough low self-esteem, and  just the right amount of suppressed rage, flagging them for recruitment. Feelings of shame and worthlessness are trodden down with drugs, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sets in creating river beds in the brain, and here comes survival mode— uniquely lived out by every victim.

Gender violence, the sexual abuse of women and children, is a common thread woven throughout poverty and the sex industry. The two populations are inherently linked together. All over the world, women and children know that selling themselves is always an option if they become poor or destitute. And all over the world, there are people willing to buy, recruit, and pimp out women and children, thus contributing to global poverty. 

One of the common misconceptions we hear from citizens, church members, and even law enforcement is that many women in the industry “are in love with the life” and therefore, aren’t worth investing in. The reality is, it is only UNTIL we invest in them and allocate our time, talent, money, and influence to those within this trade that we will begin to demystify our fascination with the commercial sex industry, and begin to see one another as human.

Whether a person says they want out, or chooses to remain in, it should make no difference in our understanding of truth. The truth is: the commercial sex industry is an industry with harmful effects. Whether someone enters the trade by force, fraud or coercion (trafficking), illegally through prostitution as an escort, at a massage parlor, or on the street; or they enter willingly and legally through a strip club, the reality of the industry is the same. ALL sexually exploited persons within the sex industry are in the highest risk category for HIV/AIDS. Roughly 80% of those JSL reaches in Texas are mothers, upwards of 90% have experienced childhood sexual abuse, 69% have been diagnosed with PTSD, most are abusing drugs or alcohol to perform at work, and most are assaulted at work. 

So why do we need your help to “Paint The Door Red”? Why are we renovating a building? Why do we need 27 more people to donate $1500? Because 89% say they want out but have no means of survival and I’m tired of handing out gift bags and the love of Jesus without anything to back it up. So, after 13 years of knowing women in the industry, I finally had enough of outsourcing jobs that my friends may or may not be able to keep, with an employer who may or may not understand the complexities of the sex trade. I was ready to create jobs, not only for women in the sex trade, but those vulnerable to it. I want trafficking victims in safe houses to learn what their passion is and to train them in creative jobs, thereby giving them a skill/a trade, reducing recidivism to the industry. I longed for a place of belonging. Belonging is the only place we begin to understand love, forgiveness, and are even capable of self evaluation.

I wish you could have seen their eyes when we walked through the building, a building they have prayed for, a building they said they needed. This is our vision because it’s their vision, and theirs is ours. “You are some of the most brave and resilient people I have ever met in my life, this is YOUR space.” Hot and holy tears watered my eyes. The women shared product ideas for Lovely, our retail storefront at 1500 Columbus. We heard of businesses they desired to start, entrepreneurs in our midst!  And after, we sat and cried together, we hugged hard— totally overwhelmed by this gift. 

And so they wait for 1500 to open. We all wait for the final gifts of generosity to be provided so we can awaken hope and empower change in the form of counseling through The Advocacy Center of Waco (who will have an off-site office at 1500), a Rising Strong Group led by Sally Schmid of Enrichment Counseling and Training Solutions, a fitness facility, personalized job training, alliance partners, resume building, and job creation. The need is great. Whether you see it or not, the sex industry is currently recruiting on high school and college campuses with a unique strategy that would blow your mind. We know this because we are dealing directly with the victims...who sometimes become recruiters. Stop the cycle. “Paint the Door Red” with us and let’s LOVE like we mean it. 

Emily Mills