He left the state when I was 5 years old and I saw him about a dozen times throughout my childhood after that. After that, I was sexually abused by multiple people throughout my life, both men and women. The abuse left me filled with shame and anger towards myself. I thought that something was inherently wrong with me that kept attracting that kind of attention.
When I was 13, my mom’s boyfriend moved in with us. She met him in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting after he fled Canada in order to escape statutory rape charges for having sex with a minor.
He made sexual advances towards me in front of my mother and even went so far as to tell her he was in love with me. I told my mom that her boyfriend kept coming in my room at night and asked her to stop him. She explained that if I wore long pants and stopped practicing my dance routines in the living room, this wouldn’t be happening.
Through all of this I learned from her that it was my responsibility to try to control other people’s sexual responses towards me.
Fed up, I finally ran away from home the first of many times. Realizing I was serious about wanting her boyfriend gone, my mother asked him to leave. When he decided to head back to Canada, she followed him there, leaving me at 13 alone with my 8-year-old brother for three months to fend for ourselves. She left us with $20 and a book of food stamps.
After the money and food stamps ran out, I started stealing from the liquor store to feed my brother and I. I would have my little brother wait outside on the corner so he wouldn’t’ get in trouble if I got caught.
It was that summer that I lost my virginity to the first boy who told me he loved me. We broke up a couple of months later but he seemed to think he still deserved “boyfriend privileges”. He raped me more than 30 times over the course of the next year. I always found a way to blame myself for his behavior. The idea of seeing myself as a victim was too painful. As long as I subscribed to the belief that it was “all my fault”, I never had to be a victim.
The summer my mom left, I also began a friendship with another boy from my neighborhood. When he was around, I didn’t have to worry about stealing because he would buy us food. Wise to the streets with several older siblings in “the life”, he made me feel protected in our gang-ridden neighborhood. “Anybody messes with you, I got your back”, he would tell me.
I never intended to begin a relationship with him, I never saw him in that way. Then one night, I wagered my body in a game of cards. I lost. We had sex.
My mom eventually came back from Canada. As the boy from my neighborhood and I grew closer he also became more abusive and controlling. I was so desperate for the attention and presence of a male in my life; I mistook his control for care and concern. I was so filled with self-loathing; his name-calling and hurtful words only validated what I already believed to be true about myself. The more abusive he became, the more I became attached to him. He told me that nobody else would ever put up with me anyway, and I believed him.
One day we were on Lincoln Blvd in Venice when he looked at me and said, “I could sell you if I wanted to”. I didn’t understand what he was talking about until he looked at the next person walking by and said, “Anybody got a nickel?” As if this is the money he could make off of selling me. This marked the beginning of him figuring out how to make money off of me.
It started with borrowing here and there and sometimes stealing it from me. And even though he was abusive and thieving, he was present and he never raped me. This was more than I could say for any other male in my life.
I came to believe that I needed him. That I would die without him. He had convinced me of this.
At 15, I was giving him whatever money I made from my job at the beach. By 17, I was fully supporting him by stealing from the cash register at work. At 18, his mother had a stroke and we moved in with her to take care of her. Financial pressure built as her medical bills piled up and my boyfriend’s spending habits continued to escalate.
By the time I was 19 years old, I was over $35,000 in debt. I was losing control. I looked for a second job, but none of them would make ends meet. My boyfriend began pressuring me to commit crimes in order to pay our bills as I had done in the past. His rationale was that I would be less likely to get caught then he would. I was reluctant to do this since I was legally an adult and afraid of ending up with a permanent record.
Young, naïve, hopeless, and seeing no other options, I began stripping. It seemed a better alternative to theft, fraud and the risk of going to jail. My boyfriend told me that I would only have to work for a couple of months in order to pay off some bills. Then I could return to a “normal” life. Instead, I found myself trapped in the lifestyle.
In essence, my boyfriend became my pimp. Every night, I came home and gave him all of my money. I had convinced myself that I didn’t deserve it anyway, and I figured that the more dependent on me he was, the less likely he would be to leave me. His vision of selling me finally came to pass.
The idea of having a normal life seemed further and further away. At first, I led a double life; I was a quiet, conservative college student by day, and someone else’s fantasy by night. Gradually, I began to lose sight of who I was, and became lost in make-up, stilettos, and the glare of stage lights. I felt fragmented and compartmentalized.
Fear of rejection and judgment kept me isolated from the outside world, until all of the people I had contact with were other strippers, customers, and my abusive boyfriend. The isolation made it easier for him to control me. He dictated my every move. And it seemed like anything could set him off. Not enough ice in his Mountain Dew. Too much ice in his Mountain Dew. Cold French fries. If the house wasn’t clean enough. If I made too much noise while I cleaned it.
My life unraveled like an episode of Jerry Springer. My boyfriend started sleeping with my co-workers and getting them to give him their money too. At the time, we didn’t seem to notice we were being pimped.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, he got another girl pregnant. One day I went into our bedroom closet and found another woman’s clothing. That is how I found out that he moved his pregnant girlfriend into our home. In my brokenness, there seemed to be no limit to what I would tolerate.
The emptiness I felt inside seemed infinite, and my self-image continued to decline. Over the course of the next 3 years, being a stripper became my identity. My already tainted view of men seemed permanently damaged. I developed the notion that all men were inherently perverted and sick. I began to use stripping as a way to take back control of my sexuality. I finally felt like I had the upper hand. I learned to exploit for myself, the very thing that men had already exploited…my body.
My view of the world was tarnished. I couldn’t go anywhere without thinking that people saw me in a sexual way. I felt reduced to an object, and in “real life,” I tried to hide behind baggy clothes and glasses. All of my efforts and energy were put into trying to make my abusive, dysfunctional relationship work.
I thought that my life and existence was hopeless and that the relationship was the only salvageable thing left. In my search for one good and pure thing, I clung onto my boyfriend with all of my strength and sacrificed my dignity to keep him in my life. All of my adoration, love and worship were focused on a person who was too selfish to ever really love me.
In retrospect, I can see that God’s heart was deeply pained by my brokenness. He wanted nothing more than to extend his hand to me and show me my beauty and worth—to help me see the value I never saw in myself.
I began attending Church, and like a gentleman, God pursued me with his infinite love until he captured my heart. Hearing the pastor talk about the idea that I was created with a purpose stirred something in me. I remember the night that I was standing in the middle of the strip club and it really hit me, “I have been created with a purpose”. I looked around the strip club and thought, “This can’t be it”.
The more I learned about God and who He created me to be, the more impossible it because to live in a way that contradicted it. I discovered that the pain of staying the same is far greater than the pain of change.
As God did a work in my heart, I began making different choices in my life. I quit dancing, left the abusive boyfriend and began a journey of walking with God and allowing Him to heal me. It hasn’t always been easy, but God is good and has been with me every step of the way.
In 2003, after several years of recovery, I founded Treasures, an outreach and support group for women in the sex industry. As the only organization of its kind based in the adult industry capital of the world (San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County) and one of the few survivor-led organizations in the country, our mission is to reach, restore and equip women in order to help them live healthy, flourishing lives.
Through our outreach training program, we are committed to train, equip and mobilize other churches and leaders to develop sex industry outreaches in their communities.
God took the hollow and empty pit inside me that had been carved out by a lifetime of disappointment and despair, and He filled it with hope, love, and purpose. He is taking the pain and brokenness of my past and using it to show others the way to freedom!
Check out my memoir, Scars and Stilettos for the full story.MORE ABOUT HARMONY