Battling Sex Trafficking

M. was only 17 and supporting her heroin addiction by selling her body. After she had overdosed a fourth time, she woke up in a hospital room, to see only her sister and a volunteer from Eve’s Angels (EA), a Christian non-profit dedicated to helping women get out of the sex industry. M. realized then she had to make a change or die. Eve’s Angels found a “foster family” to help M. and an EA volunteers worked with her everyday to get her off drugs, finish her education and develop goals. Two years later she is living on her own and stable. “It takes time,” says M., who is now working for EA.

EA was founded in 2009 by Anny Donewald, who had worked as a stripper and then a prostitute. After a spiritual awakening, Donewald was able to get out of the industry and founded a ministry dedicated to helping others do the same. EA now operates in seven Midwestern cities. EA volunteers pray about what strip club yo visit, but they also look for clubs that are more likely to have a higher trafficking rate or more underage workers. So how does EA navigate  past the giant bouncers, outwit tough-guy owners, dodge pimp mind control and get through the haze of trauma and addiction to the dancers?

Homemade cookies. “We go into the clubs and bring gift bags with homemade baked goods and pray with them,” says M.   Even the management at the various clubs is usually supportive, letting EA volunteers in without paying for parking or admission because, “we bring the bouncers and the owners cookies… Who doesn’t want a homemade cookie? We want to show the owners that they aren’t our enemies. We’re not here to judge the owners or the dancers, we want them to know that they are loved and we’re here to walk alongside them.  We’ve prayed with the bouncers too, when they’ve asked us to do that.”

Cookies alone, however, won’t cut it. There are so many social, psychological and economic factors that keep women trapped in the sex industry. M. had an EA volunteer “walk alongside her” for two years, ensuring her emotional needs were met in addition to the more traditional care she was receiving from her foster family. EA daily encourages each recovering woman to attend rehab, AA meetings, Bible studies, group meetings and job interviews.

EA has started a program called A.R.M.E.D. (Association of Real Men Ending the Demand) to engage men in ending sex trafficking. The program asks men “to pledge to never sell, purchase, contribute and/or aid in any way, the criminal act of trafficking and/or purchasing sex from any man, woman or child.”

M. has found peace in religion, work, and her new lifestyle. Still though, she gets frustrated by the seeming indifference of mainstream society toward strippers, prostitutes and other sex workers. “These are daughters; these are sisters; these are aunts; these are moms,” she said. “You don’t have to have a messed up childhood to get into the sex industry. It can be anybody; this isn’t just an (issue of) inner city poverty.  The founder of the organization grew up in a well off middle class white family, went to a private school, and still became a stripper and a prostitute. I think people don’t think it will happen to them or their children so they ignore the problem. It’s not just an inner city problem. It’s a people problem.”

Learn more at Phreddy Wischusen’s The Michigan Citizen article: Battling sex trafficking with homemade cookies.

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