Scarlet Hope Gives Second Chance to Exploited, Trafficked Women
Being called a “church lady,” Rachelle Starr says, isn’t among the perks of ministering to women in the adult entertainment industry or a prostitute on the street.
But if showing up in places like club or massage parlor helps someone find hope in Jesus Christ and escape to a new life, she would say it’s well worth it.
“Unfortunately, Christians — ‘Church Ladies’ — don’t have the best reputation of being loving and nonjudgmental,” explained the founder and executive director of Scarlet Hope in a first-person article for Christianity Today. “Sometimes I think it’s because of a misunderstanding or a personal conviction, but mainly I think it’s because Christians are too often known for the things they’re against rather than the things they’re for.”
In 2008, Starr founded Scarlet Hope and through that ministry has been reaching out to women in adult entertainment businesses through building relationships, providing weekly meals, job opportunities, and showing them Christ’s love in a variety of other ways. Based in Louisville, Ky., the ministry has also expanded to Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Nashville, Tenn.
Scarlet Hope was recognized in 2019 as a Hope Awards Southeast winner by WORLD Magazine. WORLD reported that readers that year nominated 200 small, Christian groups that offer “challenging, personal, and spiritual help.”
“Scarlet Hope exists to help restore the lives of women in the adult entertainment industry,” the ministry says on its website. “We do this by sharing the hope and love of Jesus, leading them through discipleship, providing career development in our social enterprise, and equipping a network of churches, ministries, and individuals to reach and empower women in their own communities.”
Scarlet’s Bakery is one of the ways the ministry seeks to give women in the adult entertainment industry another way to help provide for their families. The bakery, Louisville’s WDRB reported in 2018, works as an 18-month career development program for “exploited and trafficked women learning baking skills to rebuild their lives.”
The baker proudly declares on its website, “We don’t hire people to bake cupcakes. We bake cupcakes to hire people.”
“When somebody purchases a cookie from us, it’s giving someone a job,” Starr told WDRB. “Our bottom line is that we hire women to have second chance opportunities. So it’s not just about making good desserts, it’s about being that chance.“
Scarlet Hope volunteers also reach out to prostitutes by handing out roses, business cards and gift bags with hygiene products that include shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, WORLD reported. The ministry also texts phone numbers prostitutes place in online ads and tells them Jesus loves them. Some reportedly respond “rudely” while others ask for help.
According to statistics on the adult entertainment industry that Starr shared with Christianity Today in 2016: 69% of women in the sex industry experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, 85% of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children, and 89% of women working in the industry say they want to escape but have no other means for survival.
A question Starr often hears from the women she ministers to is “Why are you doing this?,” she wrote in her first-person article.
Starr explained to one skeptical dancer that she was giving her pedicure “because this is exactly what Jesus would do.”
She continued, “I’m doing this because I want you to know that you are loved, not just by me, but by the God of the Universe. You are loved. You are valuable. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how off track you think your life has gotten, because you can’t do anything to make God stop loving you.”
The woman responded, “I’ve never known love like that.”
That this simple act of kindness, Starr wrote, represented something “much bigger” to the woman. “It wasn’t my own love that this woman was experiencing,” she said. “For the first time in her life, this woman was experiencing the love of Jesus Christ, True Love.”
Starr never got to finish this woman’s pedicure, she wrote. “That night, this veteran dancer of fifteen years cleaned out her locker and left the strip club, never to return.”
It’s one of these stories that Starr says she clings to when this ministry gets hard. “And this ministry is often hard,” Starr wrote.
“I don’t always get to see women freed from the industry, and oftentimes it takes years and years before a woman is ready to change her life,” she noted. “But every now and then, God gives us a clear and beautiful picture of his powerful and transformative grace. In these moments, we praise Him, and in the moments when we can’t see how He’s moving, we trust in his sovereignty and goodness. Either way, I know what he’s asked me to do; he’s asked me to love and serve like Jesus.”