Oh where do I begin with this nauseating program? First of all, I want to put it out there that I have no issue with religious people so long as their “word” is not forced or imposed on others in a brainwashing manner. I have no issue with people and their belief systems, no matter what they are, so long as they do not harm or make a person’s life more miserable than they were in the first place. I have mentioned Annie Lobert before — a couple of years ago — when she first made news in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about her ministry. In retrospect, I think I spoke a little too highly of her mission having now watched the show.
This show is new on the Investigation Discovery Channel — Hookers: Saved on the Strip. It follows Annie Lobert and her ministry of Hookers for Jesus, with Destiny House, and the The Church at South Las Vegas, in a reality show format. Since only one episode has aired so far, it has mostly focused on the story of “Regina” and her process of attempting to get out of the industry through Annie’s ministry. This is where things start getting under my skin. Regina obviously has a head on her shoulders and could get out of the industry on her own. She could easily be educated or trained to be in a good job. From the start, though, she is frustrated because of being told by HELP of Southern Nevada (a non-profit community program) that she is pretty much only good for a minimum wage job at best in retail or the restaurant service industry. This degrading awakening that Annie seems to support, of course, only further frustrates Regina because she could not even cover her car note and insurance with that level of income. Her job search goes on for over a month before Annie ever gets the clue that maybe Regina should see a lawyer to seal her records to help with job placement. This should have been step ONE. Why disappoint someone and drag them through more emotional strain when they are already dealing with the inner turmoil of completely changing their life around and THEN realize “oh yea if we had done this one step first you might have saved yourself some heartache, embarrassment, and time?” Later on in the show, Regina says she has been in their “program” for seven months now (?!?!?!) and things were coming to a boil and she wants out, of course… still with no job. Tempers start to flare and Annie brings up the love of Jesus and somehow this is going to make it all better. Seriously??
Annie continues to further degrade Regina by taking her to some of the most ghetto apartments that I can only imagine being on Twain between Paradise and Maryland Parkway (if you know Las Vegas you know what a crap area that is) as if to show her THIS is what you are worth now, Regina. This rundown complex, living by yourself, with your minimum wage job (that you still haven’t found) and living paycheck to paycheck with no real training or education. But don’t worry you have the love of God, still! What a real swift kick in the emotional pants.
Here are some steps that could have been taken to avoid more suffering for these poor girls trying to change their lives:
1) Get the girls away from their pimps (this seems to be one step they are doing correctly)
2) Take the girl to a lawyer who can help with their police records. If they really want to change their lives and move on, I don’t think a judge would refuse the sealing of their records since they are usually a string of misdemeanors, anyway.
3) Help the girl find something profitable they are interested in and educate them in that area. Regina doesn’t have any real interests, she says on the show, so help her find something that would be of interest to her. No one wants to be stuck doing something they hate in the first place and failure would just be reinforced in their minds.
4) Help the girl find a real well-paying job. Not a $9 an hour, not even full time job. Don’t make her feel like a cheap whore that got thrown out on the street because that’s all you feel like she is worth. No one wants that and these girls probably already felt that way when they were with their pimp. Make them feel good about their prospects and their future if you really want your program to succeed.
Of course none of these steps are really easy but they seem like some simple and practical guidelines. When you throw religion and the “will of God” into the mix of someone already trying to make major changes in their life, things become more confusing and frustrating, and drastically raise the guilt and shame levels, which is completely unnecessary. Why would this God want them to suffer by living in a ghetto apartment, barely scraping by, or not even getting a job? That would only make someone wonder “if this God and his love is so great then why do I feel like I’m suffering?” Or is that actually the point? I smell tired old misogyny (yes, I realize Annie is a woman, but these are very old, man-inspired attitudes towards women and control of their choices) and hatred of sex workers — even legal stripping — it’s all sin, isn’t it, Annie? Eyerolls…
One thing that Regina pointed out that Annie completely disagreed with was her idea of returning to stripping in the mean time. Annie thinks stripping is to prostitution like weed allegedly is to drugs: a “gateway” from one to the other (her words on the show.) Though this is somewhat true in my own case it isn’t for the vast majority of the strippers out there. I think that if Regina really wants to change her ways from the sex industry then she would keep strictly to stripping and would be okay with the money she was making. This could definitely provide the income she needed while going back to school and getting a real education in something she could make a career of, instead of working a degrading, dead end retail job until the end of time. At the very end of the show, though, they finally have Regina talk to an agent that might be able to help her get a job in leasing sales — apparently seven months after she entered the “program,” if they edited the show in a truthful fashion.
When I was watching the show, Annie’s actions and ministry brought me back to a philosophy class I took in college. In the readings on his Groundwork of the Metaphysic(s) of Morals by Immanuel Kant, and his cases of duty that he explains in the book, people are only inclined to donate their time or money to others because it is pleasurable in some way to them and makes them feel good. In the class it made me realize in some ways that people do charity work only to make them feel better about themselves. And how sometimes this type of behavior is selfish. I get this feeling from Annie. Call me harsh or cynical, but in the end, I get the sense that her main focus is only getting the girls out of the business to earn herself extra Jesus points, and she’s not really seeing the huge picture of what these girls REALLY need to change their lives — pragmatic professional help. Preaching the word of God and blaming it all on the devil on a stripper pole is not a way to solve the real problems of their lives and start over.
In the end, I want to see Regina succeed and I know Annie wants to see that as well, but what would really help is bringing more professionals into the program and less of leaving it up to God to fix. Adding the aid of attorneys, psychologists, professional career counselors, professional recruiters, and above all professional education and training would be the ideal situation and program to have. If going to church to have others support you and your journey to recovery is what you need then by all means include that too but it shouldn’t be the primary focus forced on these women to succeed. It’s a far, far, larger task to accomplish than simply leaving it up to God.