The smoke, the loud music and the smell of perfumes trigger uncomfortable memories for Polly Wright.
But Wright 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, colorful earrings and handwritten notes with messages such as “I’m praying for you.”
The bags also contain tubes of lip gloss with contact information where dancers can receive help and support. A finger can cover the tiny print so a pimp or abusive boyfriend can’t see it.
“We are in there saying, ‘You are loved, valued and cherished, and you are not alone,’ ” said Wright, founder and executive director of We Are Cherished, a faith-based organization that regularly visits more than 50 adult entertainment venues throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Across the nation, dozens of similar ministries, such as Treasures in Los Angeles, Jewels in Salt Lake City 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 an X-rated industry that generates billions of dollars a year in profits.
“I use a term in this all the time: easy in, hard out,” said Sgt. Byron Fassett, who oversees the Dallas Police Department’s high-risk child victims and sex-trafficking unit. “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 just seven urban areas studied, underground commercial sex represents a nearly billion-dollar industry – from a massage parlor in Seattle, to a high-end escort service in Dallas, to a makeshift brothel in California, to a clandestine Internet site, as the Urban Institute’s Dank and Villarreal described it.
“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.
SOURCE: Charlotte Observer / Religion News Service – Bobby Ross Jr.