By Kelsey McKain
We sat next to each other and caught up while we ate. “How’s your son?” I asked. “Oh, he’s good. He’s starting school next week. He’ll be in second grade this year!” We talked about how much he had grown and how surprised I was that he was already starting school. She asked about me, about my recent work trip, and how my husband is doing.
We chatted for about 15 minutes about life, what’s new, and how we can pray for each other. Then she was called up to dance.
We were sitting in a strip club. I was serving there with Scarlet Hope.
Scarlet Hope is an organization headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, that shares the love of Christ with women in the adult entertainment industry. Scarlet Hope longs to see women in the industry know that they are loved, that there is hope in Jesus, and that he has a future planned for them.
When you’re working with Scarlet Hope, it’s easy to forget you’re in a strip club. You often feel like you’re just talking to friends, sharing life, helping each other through hard times. But then something reminds you of where you are—a patron interrupts, a dance starts, a girl cries with you because she’s so tired of this life. And that’s when you remember why you’re there.
Showing Them Jesus
Women in the sex industry are often looked at as unfortunate but necessary evils of the world. “Yes, it’s sad they do that,” people say, “but they choose it so don’t feel bad for them. No one’s making them.”
What I’ve learned from my time serving with Scarlet Hope is that’s simply not true. About 85 percent of women in the adult entertainment industry were sexually abused as children. The average age of entry into prostitution is 13. Many of these women have never known another life and are stuck in a cycle that won’t let them out.
Scarlet Hope wants to break that cycle.
The goal of Scarlet Hope is not to get women out of the industry (although that is often a happy consequence), but rather to show them what it looks like to be treated with respect, to be loved, and to be valued—to show Jesus to them and to help them meet and develop a relationship with him.
Scarlet Hope began as an outreach program in local strip clubs. Louisville is home to more than 5,000 women working in more than 25 strip clubs; but no one was doing anything to reach them. Scarlet Hope volunteers began bringing hot meals into the clubs as a way to serve and get to know the women. They soon found this was often the only home-cooked meal these women would get all week. Now, every Thursday, dozens of volunteers take meals to strip clubs all over Louisville where they spend hours laughing, talking, and praying with the dancers.
Thursday Outreach is still an integral part of Scarlet Hope, but as the outreach has grown, volunteers realized the needs of these women stretch far beyond one meal a week. Women who want to take the next step in their relationship with Christ are encouraged to attend Club Zero, a weekly program that includes dinner, childcare, support groups, Bible studies, and even art therapy.
While the women are engaged in these activities, their kids are learning about Jesus in a program called Hope for Kids. These children have been living in the same cycle as their parents; Scarlet Hope wants to give them a chance at a new path. It also gives the children and their parents a way to connect and encourage one another in their new lives.
As these women are learning about Christ and being discipled, they often start to desire long-lasting change in their lives. Many women want to leave the industry but don’t feel like they can. Some of them have never worked a regular, daytime job before and lack the skills needed to do so. Many are struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Others simply don’t know what else they’d do.
To meet this need, Scarlet Hope began offering a new program called Day of Hope. Through Day of Hope, women meet once a week to continue their discipleship and development with a program that helps them nurture their relationship with Christ, set long-term goals, and learn God-given skills and talents that will open the doors for them to have sustainable jobs outside the industry.
Expanding the Ministry
One of the goals of Scarlet Hope from the outset was to provide a place where women could not only learn real-life skills, but also put them into practice. Last December that dream was finally realized with the opening of Scarlet’s Bakery. So far, Scarlet’s Bakery has hired eight women from the adult entertainment industry to help bake, serve, and run the business.
While working there, the women have access to all of Scarlet Hope’s programs and staff and are consistently coached and attend classes to further their education and skill set. Scarlet’s Bakery has not only been a helpful tool to serve these women, it’s also become one of Louisville’s favorite bakeries!
Scarlet Hope has been serving the women of Louisville for years, but recently has also expanded its ministry. This summer it launched Scarlet Hope Cincinnati, its first franchise, to reach the women working in the sex industry in Greater Cincinnati.
Opening Their Eyes
Many have asked, “How many women have left the industry because of Scarlet Hope?” From what we’ve seen, that’s a hard number to pinpoint. Many women go in and out of the clubs over several years before they leave for good, and some may leave because of Scarlet Hope’s ministry but are not directly involved in its programs.
While there’s no way to know for sure how many women Scarlet Hope has helped, I’ll leave you with this letter sent to Scarlet Hope from a dancer volunteers hadn’t seen in years:
It’s now three years [since I’ve been in the club] and I am happily married with a new baby. I am gainfully employed at a job I love and try to live with Christ to the best of my ability. I have never been happier and I owe it all to God . . . who was brought to me by the wonderful ladies of Scarlet Hope. THANK YOU, ladies, for helping Jesus open my eyes and for all that you do! Without your help, I can’t imagine where I’d be.
Kelsey McKain is director of communications for Team Expansion in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked with Scarlet Hope for two years (www.scarlethope.org).