“I didn’t know a lot about Christians, but I was pretty sure they didn’t like strippers,” says Harmony Dust.
Her mother was a cocaine addict and her stepfather was a drug dealer in Venice, California. They had a very violent relationship, she says on an I am Second video.
Harmony was also sexually abused throughout her life by multiple people starting at the age of 5 and was raped as a teen.
She began to write suicide notes and thinking about how’d she’d kill herself. She also attempted suicide.
When she was 13, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. Her mother did nothing to prevent it, even though she was aware of what was going on.
“Not because she was horrible or bad but because she taught me what she learned when she was a young girl being abused,” Harmony says. “And that it’s my fault. If you didn’t wear tank tops or shorts that wouldn’t be happening. You should know that’s how men are.”
Her mother left with her boyfriend to Canada for three months and left Harmony and her brother with $20 and a book of food stamps to fend for themselves. Harmony stole from liquor stores so she could feed herself and her brother.
That summer Harmony became involved with an older boy from her neighborhood. “I looked at him and saw this knight in shining armor,” she says. “I no idea his intention was to exploit me.”
When her boyfriend proposed she make money for them both by stripping, she was opposed to the idea. Because he kept pressuring her, she reached out to her psychology professor as someone she could trust.
She thought the psychology professor would give her solid advice. Instead, he steered her toward the unsavory path: “I don’t see any problem with it,” he said.
“By the way,” he asked casually as she was leaving, “which club were you thinking of stripping for?”
Unthinkingly, she told him the truth and the lecherous prof showed up to watch her.
Even with these turn of events, she didn’t realize that her boyfriend was nothing more than a pimp exploiting her.
But once she got into the sex industry, she could never get out. Using the name “Monique” and a fake backstory, she would “hustle” to be the best and make as much money as possible. Sometimes clients crossed boundaries. She defended herself with a stiletto, smashing their heads.
Outside of the club, modesty was her dress code: baggy clothing and sunglasses.
In her outside life, Harmony signed up for a ballet class because she loved to dance. That’s where she made a new friend, someone who had boundaries and self respect, someone who treated Harmony with love and didn’t judge her. This girl was a Christian and invited her to church.
Finally, she got very emotional, started crying one night at the club, and quit.
“I just knew that it was time to go,” she says. She informed her manager and emptied her locker of clothes, which she sold. “I didn’t want an easy way to go back.”
“When I drove off that night, I felt so free,” she remembers.
Leaving the club was easy. What was harder was leaving her boyfriend.
To expose sex exploitation and trafficking, she wrote her story in a book, Scars & Stilettos: The Transformation of an Exotic Dancer and started a group, “Treasures,” to help women get out of the industry. She says 89% of women in the sex industry want to leave but stay because the don’t see any other options.
The group also wants to encourage men to stop patronizing the sex industry because if the demand drops, there will be less need for women to be exploited. Men are trapped by the industry too, she says.
One of the big factors to overcome is shame.
Shannon McIntyre studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.