Top 3 Reasons I Became a Stripper

Harmony (Dust) Grillo Blog, Life After The Sex Industry, Straight from Harmony's Heart, The Truth About the Sex Industry 1 Comment

I know a woman who started stripping to pay for chemotherapy. Another who began prostituting to pay for medicine for her children.  Teenagers who were convinced by pimps masquerading as boyfriends.  And I know a woman who showed up to an amateur night at a strip club, on a whim with her friends, thinking it would be adventurous and fun.  That one decision led her to a 10-year journey of stripping and escorting and multiple stints in jail. Everyone’s story is different.
The path that leads a woman to the sex industry varies from person to person. But, what I have found in the 15-years I have been working with women in the sex industry and victims of sexual exploitation is that the series of choices (or lack thereof), that lead a person into these situations is often an interplay of vulnerability and environmental factors.   For example, when you peel back the layers, you might find an individual, who has a history of sexual abuse, grew up in foster care, and/or is dealing with financial struggles. When you place that person in the context of a culture that promotes the sexualization and objectification of women, an environment where there is a demand for them to sell their bodies, where 79% of men under 30 and 76% of women watch porn once a month (According to data gathered by Covenant Eyes), it becomes easier to understand how she ended up there.



Although I would not have articulated this as a primary reason I started stripping, in retrospect, I can see the very strong connection between my history of sexual trauma and stripping.  The first night I walked into a strip club, the environment was completely new to me, and yet, there was something very familiar about it.  Childhood sexual abuse had essentially groomed me to be a “good” stripper.  It had made me comfortable with being sexualized and objectified, which are basic job requirements. It had also left me with a sense of powerlessness over my own body.  I had developed a subconscious belief that my body did not belong to me and existed for the pleasure of others.  Again, a job requirement.  My history of abuse also made me especially susceptible to the false sense of empowerment the sex industry offers.  I thought I would finally have the upper hand and be able to exploit for myself what had been exploited by others— my body.   As it turns out, the customers had the upper hand because they were the ones with the money in their pockets.

I am not alone in my experience. Up to 90% of women in the sex industry have a history of childhood sexual abuse.  Obviously, not everyone who is sexually abused ends up working in a strip club, but most women in the industry have this in their backgrounds.  This is not a coincidence.

In her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy makes a pretty powerful point:

“There is something sexually twisted about using a predominantly sexually traumatized group of people as our erotic role models”.


After having been abandoned by my mother one summer at thirteen and left to take care of my eight-year-old brother, my boyfriend bought us food and made me feel protected.  I had been stealing from the liquor store to feed us, but when he was around, I didn’t have to. I was so desperate for the attention and presence of a male in my life; I mistook his control for care and concern.

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?” This marked the beginning of him figuring out how to make money off of me.

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.

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. His vision of selling me finally came to pass.

After that, I developed the notion that my survival depended on him and no matter how bad it got, I stayed.  My experiences lead me to believe that all men were abusive and I didn’t think I deserved better anyways.  At the time, being with him seemed better and safer than being alone.

Leaving the sex industry is hard.  Leaving this relationship was harder.


For many women like me, money is what leads us there, keeps us there, and makes it so tempting to return, once we finally leave.  As I mentioned, at 19-years old, I was drowning in debt, working full-time, going to school full-time and in an abusive, exploitative relationship with a man who had been taking my money since I was fifteen.

Growing up, there were times when my mother had to get groceries from the homeless shelter on the corner because she couldn’t make ends meet.  When she couldn’t pay rent, we learned to lay on the floor underneath the window sill when the landlord came looking for her so he wouldn’t know we were home.  The threat of homelessness felt all too real.

When I moved out on my own, I basically lived off of Kool-Aid, top ramen and a box of oranges my grandmother sent me during citrus season.  The idea that I could make more money at the strip club in one night then I made in a month at my previous job was a huge draw.  The fact that I was giving most of my money away didn’t detract from the sense of security I felt.  Holding that money in my hand felt like assurance that I would not be hungry or homeless.

It is worth mentioning that there are plenty of women working in the sex industry living in poverty.  In fact, a study on women in porn found that 50% have lived in poverty in the past 12 months.  Often it is the potential to make money that keeps us trapped.  The idea that the next night will be better.  That some guy with gold-lined pockets will fall for us and become a regular.

Sure, I could walk out with a fist full of cash, but at what cost?  Each night, I sold a piece of myself until there felt like there was no more of “me” left. While the money can be good, the price is high.

When I finally left, I got a job working in a group home making slightly more than minimum wage.  I felt richer than I ever had before.  What I lacked in money during that season, I gained in a deep sense of wholeness, purpose, and freedom.

For a long time, I didn’t see a way out.  And I am not alone in that experience.  Research shows that 89% of women in the sex industry want to leave, but see no other means for survival.  In other words, they don’t see other options. Often, when someone like me “chooses” to work in the sex industry (when it is, in fact, a choice) that “choice” is actually a result of a lack of choices.

What is choice without options?

I share my story because I hope that it will help humanize the woman on the other end of the dollar.  When we see the humanity in someone, it becomes more difficult to judge them or to objectify them.  When we begin to uncover the reality of the pain and obstacles so many are facing, hopefully, we can move towards compassion and action.

Love, Harmony

The graphic below illustrates some of the most common factors that lead a person to work in the sex industry.











Comments 1

  1. Michael Huggins

    Years ago I became a genuine legitimate friend of a dancer. I’m ordering this book. I suspect what the author has to say is what my old friend and I had discussed.

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