INDIANAPOLIS – Once a month Sarah Daniel and a group of volunteers visit local strip clubs with gift bags in hand.
Each bag contains a card with contact information for finding further assistance.
Daniel, a graduate of Knightstown Community High School and Indiana Wesleyan University, attended Brandywine Community Church in Greenfield as a teenager. Today, she is CEO of Unconditional, an organization that provides support and encouragement to women in the adult entertainment industry.
Ahead of next month’s Stiletto Stories, Unconditional’s annual vision party, she made time for an email interview with The Daily Reporter.
How did you become aware of the opportunity to build relationships with women in the sex industry? What impressed you on this subject?
I grew up as a pastor’s child in a small town and was very sheltered. It created a perfect storm for my already pretentious attitude to turn into a very self-righteous jerk.
When I was in college, God really started working on me. I started volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, and had several children that I worked with and whose mothers worked in the industry. At first, I was very critical of them. And then God showed me that these moms are just these kids who have grown up. How am I going to sit here and judge them, but love their children?
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I was able to attend an outreach program in south-central Los Angeles that reached out to street sex workers. They followed the same path every week, just building relationships with the people who worked there. At midnight they would have a church service in the 7 Eleven parking lot with pizza and whoever wanted to join.
I have seen people feel comfortable and known in a way that they never would have felt upon entering a church. I fell in love with the idea of showing people love where they are. It also showed me the deep pain the church has caused so many people with judgment and harshness instead of compassion and love. It’s hard to unlearn, but slowly God has shown me to see people the way he does.
Growing up in the church, I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have never been a sex worker. But I know what it’s like to be suspicious of Christians, to question God, and to know pain.
The women I have met in clubs have become my closest friends and some of the people who inspire me the most every day. We are all so much more alike than we think.
Have you noticed any common stereotypes or misconceptions people have about the industry and those who work in it?
The most common misconception is that people think they don’t know anyone in the industry. They sure do, but often these people in their lives don’t feel safe giving out this information. In my experience, people also tend to overglomer or demonize the industry, when the truth is in the middle. A strip club can save someone’s life, while ruining their life.
For example, the vast majority of women in our programs have been emotionally and financially independent since they were minors. Undressing was the only way for them to survive. This saved them from homelessness or ending up in a more dangerous part of the industry. However, it ruined their lives by exposing them to more trauma, or a distorted self-image, addiction, etc.
Our motto here is that it’s complicated. There are no easy answers… Each person is impacted differently by the industry.
Another misconception is that everyone who works in the industry is trafficked, with a pimp controlling them. This is simply not the case.
There is a stereotype that all women who work in the industry are drugged, or stupid, obsessed with sex, and many more. Almost every TV show at some point makes a joke about strippers, and it usually has to do with these stereotypes.
Women are in the industry for hundreds of unique reasons… the lack of affordable child care to work 40 hours per day per week; need money quickly; Health care costs; provide for the needs of children or siblings; to escape domestic violence; to escape sex trafficking; or they were trafficked as minors and it was their transitional job to get out of this situation; no options after leaving the foster home; and so many others.
Not everyone is trying to quit their job. There are pros and cons to dancing, and it is imperative to never think that you know more about someone’s life, why they made the choices they made and what their dreams than they do. They are the experts in their stories. We’re just here to offer support in whatever capacity they want. As soon as I make a guess about what someone needs, I contribute to stereotypes.
What are the different ways that women connect?
Women connect with us by meeting us at the club, seeing our information online, but most often through a friend. Word of mouth from fellow dancers is powerful as it has built a strong trust in the dancing community which makes women feel safe coming to see us.
Women can get support through several programs, including:
-Compass: case management and resource navigation, including access to our food, clothing and pantries.
-The Bridge: a holistic housing assistance program that includes financial assistance, mentoring and classes
-Club 180: our weekly support groups
-What’s Next: our weekly career and life skills development course
-Mom Squad: direct home support to help clean, cook and learn new parenting skills
-Assist to Survivors: Emergency financial support for industry survivors.
Most of all, we offer unconditional friendship and support. Everything we do is based on relationships and building community. Our mission is to encourage, empower and equip women in the adult entertainment and sex industries. Real, genuine relationships are our secret sauce that makes all of these programs work!