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From Exploitation to Exultation: Escaping the Sex Industry

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 21, 2022 3:04 am

From Exploitation to Exultation: Escaping the Sex Industry

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 21, 2022 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, as a young woman seemingly trapped in the commercial sex industry, Harmony Dust Grillo's struggle continued until a new friendship led to a change in her life.

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It's Dramos. You may know me from the recap on LA TV. Now I've got my own podcast, Life as a Gringo, coming to you every Tuesday and Thursday. We'll be talking real and unapologetic about all things life, Latin culture, and everything in between from someone who's never quite fit in.

Listen to Life as a Gringo on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. This is Our American Stories, and you're about to hear an incredible story of hope and redemption. Here's Madison to bring you the story.

You might think that it would be crazy that an intelligent, beautiful, and driven girl would enter the sex industry. It might make a little more sense if we heard a bit about her childhood. I was raised in a pretty violent neighborhood in a really chaotic home.

In the neighborhood I grew up in, Domino's wouldn't deliver a pizza after dark, and the police actually wouldn't even come to my house after dark. My mother and my stepdad had a very tumultuous relationship, so there was a lot of screaming and fighting and yelling. I also was sexually abused throughout my life by multiple people, both men and women, and raped. I wrote my first suicide note when I was eight years old. One of my first attempts was around 12.

I figured it was just a matter of finding the right method. One of my abusers was my mother's boyfriend. At that time I was 13, and I finally started standing up for myself a little bit more and getting a little feisty and hormonal, as teenagers do. I actually ran away from home to get away from the situation. My mom called me and said, OK, Harmony, you can come home.

It'll be fine. He's gone. He left. And I came home, and she actually followed him to Canada and left my brother and I with $20 and a book of food stamps. The food stamps and the $20 ran out very quickly, and I remember I would buy tortillas and butter because it was the cheapest thing that I could get in my neighborhood. But once the money was gone, I started stealing from the liquor store to support my brother and I. And I remember every time I did it, I felt really afraid that I was going to get caught, mostly because I was afraid of what would happen to my brother if I got arrested and where would he go. So I would actually have him stand outside on the corner and just told him, if anything happens, if anything goes wrong, you just run home as fast as you can.

And it was that summer that I became involved with an older boy in my neighborhood. He would come around and buy my brother and I food so that we didn't have to steal it. And he would make me feel protected in the neighborhood I was in and tell me, you know, I've got your back. I'll take care of you. I'm looking out for you.

I'll protect you. And really, that's all I ever wanted from a man was to feel protected and to feel provided for. And so he kind of filled that void that I had. And what ended up happening is I formed a very deep attachment to him. And I really developed this kind of idea that I couldn't survive without him.

And in some ways that summer, I really did need him to survive. But the relationship became physically and emotionally abusive. He was my exploiter and essentially my pimp. That relationship led me to working in the sex industry at the age of 19 as a stripper. And every night came home, gave him all my money. And he actually started using me to recruit other women from strip club to work for him as well.

And they were giving him their money. And I remember my first night showing up to the shift at the strip club. I walked up to the DJ booth and I'll never forget. He said, what's your name? And I said, Harmony. And he turned around and started writing my name, Harmony, in dry erase on the whiteboard behind him, because that's where they put the list of girls that were working that night. And seeing it in black and white like that really freaked me out.

And I remember saying, take it down, erase it. I'll be Monique. And really, from that moment, developed this persona that was Monique. And Monique wasn't a real person. And she was a lie. And really, it was a mask that helped me to deal and survive in that environment and separate what I was doing from who I am.

At least it felt that way. But she wasn't a real person. She just was a compilation of other people's fantasies.

Monique was whoever the customer wanted Monique to be. And the problem with that is that over time, I really began to lose sight of who Harmony was. There's just really this stripping of who you are and the boundaries that you get to have as a human being. But you know, it's one of the things I think creating an alter ego type thing that helps us as women who are in those situations, cope and survive. But it also perpetuates the lie because if a guy were to walk in the club and say, hey, do you like being here? Do you like what you do?

Monique would say, yes, of course, I make great money and I get exercise. And nobody cared about who Harmony was or my hopes and dreams and wants and needs and feelings because my job was to be what other people wanted me to be and to not have wants of my own. The thing is, is that a lot of women up to 90% of us have a history of childhood sexual abuse, those of us that end up in the commercial sex industry.

And that's not a coincidence. When a person is victimized, there's an experience of an extreme sense of powerlessness over your own body. And in that moment being victimized in those moments, you don't get to say what happens to you, you don't get to have boundaries or stand up for yourself because you're powerless in those situations. My history of sexual abuse taught me to be comfortable with not having boundaries with my body. And it also made me feel comfortable with being sexualized and objectified.

And those are pretty much job requirements. And there was a little bit of a void in me that sometimes the customers filled as well. Even in the relationship I had with the exploiter, it was all based on codependency and not having boundaries. And I stayed. I stayed because I didn't think I was worth more. And every negative thing he said about me actually just validated what I already believed to be true about myself. And I stayed also because that's all I ever saw modeled in relationships was abuse.

And so it was normal to me. And I honestly thought all men were like that. There were times I would even think about leaving him.

But I would think, what's the point? Because at least I know what sets him off. At least I know what makes him tick. And I can kind of manage and navigate this abusive situation.

But if I leave him, who knows who I'm going to end up with? I was in complete denial and was just so deceived and confused and hopeless and felt completely trapped. The big catalyst for change in my life began with a friendship. I met a girl and her friendship changed my life. She loved me unconditionally. She never judged me. I found out that she was a Christian. And I actually was surprised because I would have expected her to be maybe judgmental based on my experiences and the stories my mom told me about her being discriminated against by Christians growing up. And, you know, she grew up on army bases and was the only non-Christian family there.

And the other children weren't allowed to play with her. So I grew up just thinking Christians are judgmental and not safe people. So I was really surprised that this person was a Christian because she was so loving and kind. And I just felt like I couldn't lie to her. And so I was honest with her about the circumstances in my life.

I did tell her I was a stripper. And to my surprise, that didn't push her away. But also, I appreciated that her friendship with me was not contingent on me going to church with her.

She would take me to coffee and to ice cream and really just showed genuine care for me as a human being. And it's because of that that I finally did feel safe enough and comfortable enough to go to church with her. And church was the last place I wanted to go.

I thought if there is a God and I am not convinced there is, I didn't think he would want anything to do with someone like me. But I eventually took her up on her offer after months and months and months. And went to church. And I just sensed that I was home. And I really felt like I didn't know much, but I knew that I wanted to be back there when the doors were open. Although Harmony was experiencing new beginnings, the real change in her life did not occur overnight. I was still working at the strip club.

I was still in the abusive relationship. And one thing I appreciate about that friend is that she never said, OK, listen, now that you're in church, you need to stop cussing, get off the pole, break up with a boyfriend, put on some clothes, like, here are the things you need to do to be a Christian. She just really gave space for the Holy Spirit to do a work in my heart that eventually led to change in my life. And I really needed that because if she had started to try to control my behavior, then I really think it would have pushed me away.

But she understood that Christianity and faith in Jesus is not about behavior modification. It's about heart transformation. And that leads to life change.

When we come back, more of this remarkable story, Harmony Dust Agrillo's story, here on Our American Stories. is giving you the chance to win custom swag and amazing prizes by joining their Pass the Ball challenge. Just grab a specially marked bag of Lay's Cheetos or Doritos, scan the QR code and look for the Golden World Soccer Ball. Be part of history by adding your picture to the Golden Ball. Explore the ever growing soccer community, find friends on the ball and receive a one of a kind collectible NFT. Then pass the ball to fellow soccer fans and play daily games for a chance to score custom swag like limited edition jerseys, duffel bags, scarves and balls. Visit Frito Lay or scan the QR code on specially marked bags of Lay's Cheetos or Doritos to pass the ball. And you can win amazing Frito Lay prizes. No purchase necessary.

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The youth pastor had no idea what he was getting into. I just said, hey, can you come help me get my car back from my boyfriend? And he was like, oh, sure.

And we pull up and, you know, it's not a good neighborhood. And the youth pastor is kind of looking around like, what is going on? And my ex boyfriend is like, what are you doing here? I said, I'm here to get my car back. And he grabbed me and he said, no, you're not. And he threw me against the car. And then he said, I'm going to go upstairs and I'm gonna get my gat and I'm gonna kill you with gat, meaning his gun. And he's going to kill me.

And to me, this whole interaction was very normal. The youth pastor was freaking out. So I'm standing there like, I need to get my car back.

And the youth pastor is like, we need to go. And so finally convinced me to get in the car and leave. And he called the police. And I'll never forget, there was a female officer and she said, here, I want you to take this. And she was handing me a domestic violence brochure. And I said, I don't need that. And she was like, I want you to take this.

And I said, I don't need that. And she set it down on my coffee table. And I remember when she left, I picked that brochure up and I had been in a seven year long abusive relationship. But it wasn't until that moment that I really realized that it was an abusive relationship because I was in such a deep level of denial. You know, you see the billboards of domestic violence victims and they all have black eyes. And I'm like, he never hits me in the face and I've never had a black eye.

And therefore, this is not domestic violence. But it wasn't until that moment that I really realized and I just lived in denial all of those years about it. I didn't see him as my exploiter.

I didn't see him as a pimp. I saw him as the love of my life, crazy enough. Basically, all of that left me with this very strong desire to feel a sense of safety that I never had. And so my life did change. And it was from that place of just revelation. And so I remember for weeks on end, I'm hearing the pastor talk about the fact that I was created with a purpose. And I remember being in the strip club one night and looking around and realizing if I was truly created with a purpose, this cannot be it. So it was from that kind of place that I was able to walk away from the industry and walk away from the boyfriend and just really began on this healing journey. Part of that journey was facing her past.

Harmony encountered many troubled people while working at the strip club. But along the way, she happened to meet one man who was different, a man in his 80s who seemed to be just as lonely as she was. He was super sweet, very respectful and gentlemanly man. In fact, he would pay for table dances and that sort of thing. But honestly, that's not why he was there. He was there really mostly for conversation.

In fact, sometimes when I would dance, I watched him avert his eyes and he just was more interested in resuming whatever conversation we had. And he was a widow. His wife died and they had been married almost 50 years and he missed her terribly. And he would come into the club. It started out one night a week, two nights a week.

By the end, it was like three or four nights a week and spend a few hundred dollars each time just for my company. And I remember thinking if I had met him under different circumstances, he was such a sweet and kind man that what would it look like if he and my grandmother could offer each other companionship? When I finally quit stripping, he was really the only person that I felt, not that I owed an explanation to, but I didn't want to just disappear. I wanted to let him know what was happening and that I was leaving because I know that our relationship, however odd and strange it was, was a big part of his life. And I called his house.

Someone else answered the phone. I ended up finding out that he was in the hospital, that in that period of time that I quit, he just so happened to have a heart attack. And so I decided to go and visit him in the hospital to say a proper goodbye.

I kind of felt like it was the right thing to do. He was not well. I could tell he was not well. And, you know, I sat with him and I told him that I was leaving the industry and he was like, good for you, sweetie. And he was really supportive and kind. And I didn't know what I could give him, but I just offered to pray with him. And at the end of the day, he wanted to have a relationship with Jesus. So I was able to pray with him that day and say an official goodbye. And it's not like I experienced that a lot with the men where I experienced them as just really kind people.

But with him, it was different. Eventually I got to a point where I realized that all the pain that I had gone through, that there could be purpose in it and that it wasn't just about me. And I found myself sitting across the street from the strip club where I used to work and was praying for the women and then realized, OK, it's great to pray, but I have to do something because there are women in there that are feeling as trapped as I did. And so I started writing handwritten notes to give to them to put on their cars because I knew where they parked. The very first note that I left on the car of a woman at the strip club where I used to work said something to the effect of, hi, my name is Harmony. I used to work here, too.

And I just want to let you know that you're not alone and there's a place for you. And then it was really in that moment that the whole vision of Treasures was birthed. Treasures is an outreach group that supports women who are working in the sex industry, that meets these women where they are and helps to provide them with a way out if they wanted. This effort is led by women who were previously in the same situation.

So that's what I've been doing for the past 15 years. It's just amazing because all of that is a result of me being willing to let God use my story and the pain from my past to reach and help other people. Over the years, Harmony has written a lot of cards. One response came from a woman who had had many doors shut in her face. She asked Harmony for guidance and where she should turn next. I encouraged her to connect with the local church because that was a really positive experience for me and I naively hoped and thought that it would be the same for her to get some community wrapped around her. And she showed up at the church and she, you know, went to the altar to get prayer and it happened to be the pastor's wife. And she told the pastor's wife, you know, I'm a single mom. I've been working as a prostitute. She had been trafficked but was now an adult who was working on her own as a prostitute. And the pastor's wife said, I really wish you weren't telling me this.

This is making me very uncomfortable. And she was really giving the benefit of the doubt to the church. So she actually went to the church with her child the next week. And when she showed up to check her child into children's ministry, they said you and your child are not welcome here.

If the pastor's wife or anyone in that congregation truly understood the kind of situation that led her into those circumstances, they could have responded with compassion and maybe been more helpful. And so I'm really passionate about training and educating and equipping people so that they can respond in ways that are helpful and loving and kind. And we have seen some incredible stories. And I really am at a place in my life where I never want to go through all the things that I've been through again, ever, ever. I never want to be abused again. I never want to experience all that trauma again.

But what I can confidently say is that I wouldn't trade any of it for the person that I've become in the process. All things really can work together for good if we let them, if we're willing to surrender to that process. So I got to a point where I realized that all the pain that I had gone through, that there could be purpose in it. And great job to Madison for bringing us that story. And to learn more about what Harmony and her team do at Treasures, visit All the pain I'd gone through, there was a purpose in it, she said. It isn't all about me. A beautiful story about love, redemption, about God and faith.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-21 04:47:54 / 2022-11-21 04:58:03 / 10

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