I recently saw a sticker that read, “Dear God, please protect me from your followers.” That sentence rang true for me this past week, once I began a series that involved investigating XXX Church and organizations who are lumped together with them.
When interviewing a gentleman who is closely affiliated within the adult entertainment community, he shared the following reply when asked if he thought XXX Church and organizations like it were ministries or businesses: “You think there is a difference Vanessa? That’s all ministry is – it’s a business and a cut throat one at that.” This statement kept me interested in all faith-based organizations who focus on sex workers, adult performers and strippers. I wanted to see if any of these organizations wanted more than attention and money while making themselves look like saints helping sinners or, if there are indeed organizations who do actual good.
During the process of research, I have been accused of being directed by others who have their own agenda, that I am working on a ‘smear campaign’, that there is ‘no story here’ – or that my blog was to small for anyone to care what I thought. What is interesting is the manner in which some organizations founders dealt with being asked uncomfortable questions and the type of answers they provided. You’ll read more about that in the final installation.
So we can all be on the same page, here is how I moved forward from the initial reading of Jessica Drake’s blog:
- I contacted Jessica Drake and interviewed her and emailed with her.
- I contacted Pastor Craig Gross of XXX Church interviewed him and emailed with him.
- Anything you will read is all first person accounts, no second-hand information was accepted.
- Sources were secured from searching social media and 48 hours of initial research before my initial post. Since then, I have conducted interviews with people who have provided first hand insight with the organizations I will be covering, I did research over a 48 hour period and likely logged about 25 hours of research and interviews
- All of the organizations I will share about were asked the same questions, including being asked to reveal their financial records, IRS filings, etc.
You will read in the following weeks my take aways from the conversations, interviews, research and the attitudes of response by those who lead these organizations or ministries.
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First up was Treasures, a Faith-based non-profit in LA, run by Harmony Dust. It is widely recognized that Treasures was the first organization to reach out to women in strip clubs. Harmony Dust has a best-selling book, Scars and Stiletto’s, she is a frequent speaker at faith-based events and a single mother. Treasures does outreach and offers a support group to women in the sex industry (strippers, porn actresses or sex workers). Dust has a more personal reason for starting her organization:
“I myself am an ex stripper and my boyfriend became my pimp. After I went through healing and recovery, I wished I would have had something like Treasures at the time I was dancing. It would of benefited me, so that is why I started it.” Treasures has a care team for the women they serve as well as therapist-led support groups and workshops. Treasures helps these women by building a relationship with them and doing day-to-day life with them. Treasures team consists mainly of volunteers. I wanted to know what screening process, if any, goes into choosing them.
“We have a really intense system set up for choosing our volunteers. In a way, we are constantly sifting people out of our volunteer program. We kind of make it hard for them because we want to make sure people are really committed. We have an application that they have to mail in, once they fill out an application, then they have to go through a training.” says Dust.
“Once they pass the initial screening and are chosen to volunteer, then they have to sign confidentiality documents to ensure the privacy of the women they are helping.” Dust acknowledges that no matter how much training you give a person, you never know if they will say or do something detrimental to your organization. If they do, then you, “have to deal with them and also take steps to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.”
Running a non-profit costs money, so I’m always curious about where it comes from. Treasures funding comes mainly from donations and it sells things like dvd’s and training curriculums, but the majority comes from donations. When I asked Dust if she receives a salary she said, “I do have the honor of receiving pay for a job I would do for free. We have also hired two additional staff, one part-time and one full-time. Other than that, we are entirely volunteer driven.”
I discovered Treasures, because I noticed they used to partner with XXX Church. When I asked Dust why she no longer works with Pastor Gross and his organization she said, “That’s not something I really care to speak to, just generally, we didn’t want to renew our contract with them. We just felt that we were headed in different directions.” Dust wouldn’t answer any questions that were critical of Gross, or offered no comment. There’s the old saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
The next organization I interviewed was, Abeni. Based in Fullerton, California, Abeni was founded in 2009 by Meg Munoz. Munoz was a sex worker with a pimp. She created Abeni, “…because I wanted to offer the kind of care I wish I’d had when I was in the industry.” While Munoz is a person of Faith and created a faith-based organization, she has a unique approach to how she runs it: “We choose to exist as a group of people who love God but serve as a non-religious organization for a few reasons. Love with prerequisites isn’t love at all. We saw the impact that the rescue industry mentality was having on those who went to them. There’s more to us than our religious leanings or lack thereof. We’re holistic beings and spirituality is only one component of that. But making it the only focus can have damaging and detrimental results, as we’re seeing.”
One thing I love about Abeni’s website, is that there are no pictures of anyone on her site. Not of Munoz, her volunteers or the people that they help. When I asked Munoz how she finds her volunteers she said: “We actually don’t accept volunteers. We go through a lengthy get-to-know-you phase that can last anywhere from 6-12 months. Relationship is a core value for us so it makes sense that we would take time and get to know anyone who’s interested in coming on. This process involves spending time talking, reading, training, follow-up meetings after training, then moving forward from there. We know that not everyone understands the industry, so in order to protect and honor the people who come to us, we’re very picky. Some people think it’s too much to ask and limits us, but it’s served us and those we care for well so far.”
What all of this told me is that Munoz and Abeni really want to help people, without putting them on display – that was refreshing. Abeni doesn’t sell anything and relies solely on donations to fund the organization. Munoz does not even pay herself a salary from the money her organization receives. When I asked Munoz if she has ever partnered with XXX Church or Craig Gross she said, “No.” When asked why: “Our purpose, goals, philosophy, approach, and beliefs don’t align.” I asked her if she would send people looking for help getting out of the industry to XXX Church and she simply said, “No.”
Next is, The Pink Cross Foundation, founded by the controversial Shelley Lubben. When I emailed a list of questions to Lubben after her husband Garrett agreed to an interview, I received this reply: “Vanessa, Seriously? Not interested in your smear campaign.” What Lubben and Pastor Gross have in common, is not liking anyone to question the motives or integrity of their ministries. (But, at least Pastor Gross answered my questions.)
Lubben was once a performer in the porn industry and also had a problem with drinking and drugs. Once she got out, she made it her mission to take on the porn industry by exposing it for the awful, demonic place that she feels it is. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone with anything positive to say about this organization. Sadly, beyond accusations of Lubben’s continued drinking, alleged problem with abusing pills, having Ron Jeremy sign her breasts and stories from people in the industry who claim she raised money for them and then pocketed it herself…I have heard all that I need to.
Next week, I’ll be covering The Cupcake Girls, solaceSF and organizations/ministries who refused to be interviewed. After that, more on XXX Church at length. Jessica Drake has more to say on this topic and so does Nina Hartley. I found no shortage of people wanting to give an opinion or first hand information (good and bad) on this topic. Thank you to Harmony Dust, Meg Munoz and those I have interviewed so far for taking the time to talk to me.