My father was mentally ill and abusive. My mom was the type of woman that was only interested in making my father “well again” and was not involved with my sister or I. Life at home was spent walking on eggshells to not upset my dad. If he got upset the repercussions could last for days. He was mainly verbally abusive, but there were times when physical abuse was involved with my mother and sexual abuse with me. I hated home.
Despite what was happening at home, I graduated high school with highest honors and went on to junior college. I dated a few guys but eventually started exclusively dating a guy named Joel who was a little older than me. Joel was studying to be a pilot. He was all American apple pie. He told me about Jesus and took me to Bible study. Everybody loved Joel. He was tall, blond, good-looking and polite. He had one secret though–he was addicted to porn.
Joel and I dated for a couple of years and eventually got married when I was 21. I married Joel because I thought it was the “right” thing to do. Everyone liked him, and he was Christian. Everything had to work out, right? After marrying, we moved a lot. Joel couldn’t hold down a job, which I later found out was due to his porn addiction. He was leaving work and going to porn shops (the days before the internet). I was working full time and losing heart. I was tired of moving and tired of Joel’s addiction. I finally told him we needed to get help or I would leave. He agreed to get help, so we went to our church pastor for counseling. Life would never be the same…
We went to our church for help. We met with Gary, the head pastor. He asked me questions about my family growing up. I told him all about how my dad had been abusive and how my mom was very passive. Gary began to make me feel like someone cared. He began to take me under his wing. He told me he would make me his secretary at the church and that he thought Joel was too far gone to help and that I should divorce him. He helped me find a place to live with one of the church members. It all happened rather quickly, but Gary gained my trust. He made me feel like I was part of his family. He was married with 4 children, and he would have me come stay at his house on weekends, and I felt like I was one of his kids. (He was 20 years my senior.)
He was still seeing me for counseling when he told me he was in love with me. He said that his marriage was over, and it was okay. I fell for it. I fell hard and fast because I had a hole in my heart. I wanted to be loved. He fulfilled the need for a father and the need for a lover all in one. Things escalated fast.
I grew increasingly worried about him being married. He told me that he and his wife had an open relationship and that she was having an affair anyway. She was strangely accepting of me being in their home even though Gary said she knew what was going on.
I was so naive. Growing up I was always a good girl. Always. I was the quiet kid in class that got straight A’s. I did what I was told at all times.
So, here I was, newly divorced, working for Gary at the church, having an affair with his wife’s knowledge. I was in church every Saturday, faithfully listening to Gary’s sermons. I began to shut down spiritually, as I couldn’t listen to him and separate out what we were doing.
Things were getting weirder and more uncomfortable with Gary. He was encouraging me to watch porn with him and asked me to go with him to a swing club that he was a member of. I was so gone. Spiritually dead. Emotionally dead. I had no one to turn to. I agreed.
I went to the swing club and was mortified by what I saw. That night changed me forever. As we were walking around, he stopped to talk to one of the men there. Before I knew it, the man had grabbed me and was raping me. I cried. Gary watched. I died. I was no longer Courtney. Something just switched off that night.
It is said that, after rape, some women tend to become very defensive sexually and start wearing baggy clothes, etc. not to gain attention from men, or that women become the opposite and seek out sexual attention to gain power over the situation. In my case I sought sexual attention. Gary had made fun of most of my conservative clothes, so he bought me skimpy tight skirts and tops. Heels at all times. Lots of makeup. Bleach blond hair. I became a walking Barbie doll.
I continued to go with Gary to “meetings” he would set up with other men. It became very abusive. He would essentially pimp me out to other men. Then, after the man left, Gary would call me names, hit me and rape me to teach me who I “belonged to.” It became a very sick way of life. I hated myself and thought I loved Gary. It got to the point where I just didn’t even care anymore. Besides, he told me, “I will kill you if you ever leave me!” I was a dead person. I just did what I was told.
I don’t know how to explain why I stayed other than my upbringing and Stockholm syndrome. I bonded with my “captor.”
One night he brought me to an escort agency. I didn’t really have a clue what an escort was, and no one really explained it further than, “you get a call, go see a man, take an agency fee, dance nude for the man, get a tip and leave.” Given what I had become used to, this sounded easy. Gary was “kind” enough to tell me he would be my driver/bodyguard, taking a percentage of my money.
I went into my first call, and the guy asked for sex, and I didn’t have a boundary left and just had sex with the guy without giving it a thought. No tip. Nothing. I just let it happen. When I came out of the call and told Gary what had happened, he raped me and hit me and told me I was a stupid whore.
I learned quickly how to talk men out of money without having sex. Gary put a one-way wire on me, so he could hear everything in my calls. He would “punish” me if I didn’t make as much money as he thought I should.
Gary pushed me to pose for men’s magazines. I went to several photo shoots and was printed in a well-known men’s magazine. This allowed the agency to book me for more money. I quickly became an escort that was in high demand and had a bunch of return clients. After a while the agency asked me if I would be willing to stay at one hotel, and they could just send the men to me. I was okay with it because I hated going into unknown houses and hotels. There were several times when my life had been in danger and I wasn’t sure how to leave the place I was in, so having my own hotel room seemed like a good idea. So, I became a regular at a well-known hotel in Newport Beach.
One day, a guy came in… just like any other man, telling me about his day at work, cleaning carpets… how he was so tired, blah, blah, blah. Another day. Another man. I really didn’t care. He wanted a massage. Fine. Soon he got up to use the restroom, and slam! The door to the hotel room burst open. In rushed five police officers with guns pointed at me. I was naked. I was confused. They handcuffed me and searched the room. They found my notebook with names and numbers and dollar amounts along with my stash of thousands of dollars in the closet. They took my cell phone. They asked for the keys to my car. They searched my BMW, only to find psychology schoolbooks and papers.
They took me down to the police station and fingerprinted and booked me. When I finally made bail, I called my agency and told them what had happened. They told me to drive in my money for the day. I had just been arrested, had guns brandished at me, and they expected me to act like nothing was wrong.
My next call was to Gary. I told him what had happened, and he said he couldn’t come be with me, which is what I thought I needed. I sat alone in my apartment, staring at the papers from my arrest, wondering what I was going to do next. I cried. I couldn’t sleep that night.
After my arrest I was afraid to go back to escorting and ended up working at a strip club in Inglewood.
One of the good things about the club was that it was further from Gary. I still called him several times a night, but it wasn’t the same as having the leash on me at all times.
During my time in the club, I got to know the manager, Jonathan. We were both train wrecks. Jonathan was a drug user and drinker, and he had been in the strip-club industry for 16 years. We started dating. A match made in heaven.
As I got to know Jonathan, I tried hard to tell him about my past and about Gary. It was so hard; the words just wouldn’t come out. I would tell him bits and pieces, and he never judged me. He was the first man I opened up to because I felt that he would understand, being in the industry. Jonathan ended up protecting me from Gary, and helped me cut ties with him once and for all.
It’s a long story, but the owners of the club Jonathan and I were working at were going through a murder investigation. Jonathan was also being investigated, and we would have unmarked police cars outside our townhouse, and the home phone was tapped. Like I said, long story, but the owners were indicted on murder charges and put in prison. Jonathan decided it was time to leave the clubs.
The industry was taking its toll on me. I was increasingly aggressive with men that touched me, and I was becoming an alcoholic and prescription drug (Vicodin) abuser. God was protecting me in so many ways. I drove home drunk most nights at the end. I still have a scar from a curling iron dropping on my leg in the dressing room. I was too blitzed to notice, and someone else had to pull it off my leg. I was deteriorating fast.
I think once Jonathan started to really care about me, a small part of myself starting caring about myself again too. I knew I had to leave.
Jonathan got sober and went to a work-rehab program and learned about computers and got a straight job. I finally quit dancing for good. We got married.
I don’t remember how long we had been married, but there came a point when I felt like I needed to get back to God. I remember being so terrified to tell Jonathan that I was Christian, (he’s Jewish,) thinking he would ridicule me. I finally told him, and he didn’t ridicule me at all. When The Passion of the Christ came out, Jonathan went with me to see it and accepted Christ as his Lord as well.
I knew I needed God. I felt it. I loved God and was so close to Him before Gary. When I did finally accept God back into my life, I went to a church for counseling, and all I could do was sit and cry… a deep, deep cry. I was just utterly heartbroken over what I had done and what I had been through, and I didn’t think God would want me back.
We’ve been out of the industry almost a decade now and have a beautiful son. Jonathan is doing awesome at work, and I get to stay home with our son. God is working in our lives in amazing ways. I still have a hard time getting to church after what I went through with Gary, but I know in time it will get easier.
Without God I wouldn’t be alive, and I wouldn’t have any hope. He is my reason for getting up in the morning and believing in a new life and a new day. I know he protected me through all of this and loves me immensely.
“Treasures has helped me get individual counseling and has provided mentoring through their care team. Harmony and the Treasures team have made such an impact on my life. I just really appreciate Treasures for being there for me and letting me know I am not alone.”
*Names and identifying info changed to protect confidentiality.