“I was ‘Baby Miss Alabama’ and ‘Dixie Sweetheart,’ and won 48 trophies in beauty pageants by the age of eight. Some of the trophies were six feet tall. I dreamed of being a dancer or an actress, not a stripper. My father started molesting me when I was five years old and I blocked out most of the memories, the good and the horrific. Photographs of me smiling in pretty dresses are the only reminders of the beauty contests during that time.
My parents divorced when I was five. The molesting started then and my father sexually abused my younger brother and sister and me during his visitations. My mother refused to believe us. The abuse went on for six years. Did my father think of the hell he would put me through for the rest of my life? This is not a victimless crime. I became addicted to drugs by the seventh grade trying to numb the pain.
My father also raped my mother and our 18-year-old neighbor. It was a crime without punishment or rehabilitation for my father. He must have had many more victims in Mobile because a man who abuses his own children will abuse someone else’s. Pedophiles and predators get away with this because no one speaks up. Shame and humiliation silence victims. I didn’t share my story until two years ago because I thought no one would understand. I was filled with anger towards my parents and rage at the world and labeled a bad kid and because I often ran away from home. I was a mean teenager who “raised hell” at school and adolescent centers but no one asked why or tried to find out what was going on with me. I had no one to trust and no one who cared about me. I was on my own at 16 and pregnant with her first child.
I was married to an abusive husband for two years. He beat me several times a week and kicked me in my pregnant belly. After he was gone, I used a fake I.D. to dance at strip clubs in Mobile. Raised as a sex object, stripping seemed the only way to support two children and care for my younger brother and sister. I moved to Atlanta to dance at the Gold Club, the best strip club in Atlanta. My sister, Kasey, followed. I made approximately $1,000 a night, three nights a week. $11,000 one really good night. Money was easily spent on kids, clothes, drugs in the club and rent. I was young and dumb thinking I was on top of the world making good money, but ultimately it was destroying me. I didn’t do prostitution or perform sex acts, but those and sex trafficking went on at all strip clubs. I was drugged and sexually assaulted by a Gold Club customer before a bouncer stepped in. All of the girls did shots and drugs just to get through the night. This is life for dancers in the clubs and that life gets to you, no matter how strong you are.
Girls I knew committed suicide. Others like me survived, but the scars on our wrists are reminders of failed attempts to end our lives. I tried to kill myself nine times. Deep down, I wanted to end the pain, not my life. Driving my car into a tree at 60 miles an hour was the last time I tried to die. Walking away from that crash I realized God had a better plan for me.
My sister stopped dancing when she became pregnant with her first child, Sarah. She created a nonprofit, 4Sarah, to help women out of the sex industry and sex trafficking. Leaving the money of strip clubs was harder for me until the last time I tried suicide. I got clean, quit dancing, and changed careers to tax preparation. I now have my own business preparing taxes. Kasey’s prayers were answered. But it took a lot of time and healing because of the trauma and my mental health disorders. I am now the Alabama Outreach Director at 4Sarah, and we expanding services and intervention programs from Atlanta into Mobile. We visit strip clubs and walk the streets, talking with dancers and prostitutes about surviving childhood sexual abuse, drugs and the sex trade. It starts with childhood sexual abuse. So many people around us are going through hell. We must give them hope and help them survive.”
This is Rachel’s story from “The Secrets Inside.” Part two in the series “Sexual Slavery in South Alabama.” It is in the Lagniappe this week or you can read it online at www.lagniappemobile.com.