We want to introduce a special woman who is a survivor of violence and abuse, and who was trapped in the sex industry for years – until she finally made it out. Harmony Grillo’s story gives hope to other women working in the sex industry. Since her liberation, she has pursued a college degree, published a book, and started am organization called Treasures that supports victims of human trafficking and the sex industry.
SURVIVOR OF A DIFFICULT CHILDHOOD
In a video on her homepage, Harmony talks about her difficult childhood growing up in a rough area in the American state of California. Her mother and stepfather raised her in an environment full of drugs and violence, and her stepfather abused her for the first time when she was thirteen years old. Her mother knew about it, but since the same thing had happened to her as a child, she didn’t know how to help young Harmony. On the contrary, her mother blamed her for dressing too provocatively. Men just can’t control themselves, she explained to her daughter.
One summer, Harmony met an older boy who provided her with food, as her mother had left her and her little brother home alone for the summer. This apparent act of charity developed into a dependent relationship. When she was 19, her boyfriend got her to start working at a strip club. Seeking help, she turned to her psychology teacher at the time, whom she trusted completely. He down played it and said it was just a job. A little while later, he paid her a visit at the club where she was dancing….
A FEELING OF POWERLESSNESS
Harmony didn’t realize then that her boyfriend had become her pimp. After each shift, she handed him the money she earned as a matter of course. She didn’t feel she deserved it anyway, she explains.
As a stripper, customers weren’t allowed to touch her, and yet of course, many kept trying. She tried to protect her boundaries with violence, even hitting them when someone tried to cross them. Whenever the police came into play, she was the one who got into trouble. The officers didn’t realize that it had actually been the customers who had behaved in an assaultive manner.
As someone who loves to dance, Harmony got the idea to enroll in ballet classes through an acquaintance and it was there that she met a young woman who changed her life. She was confident, knew her limits and lived freely, without a care in the world. An intimate friendship developed between her and Harmony. Harmony also began attending church regularly through this new, beautiful friendship. After attending church, she made her way to the strip club, but gradually started to question her work and searched for meaning in her life. One night, while performing on stage, she came to a defining realization: she had to get away – away from this business and away from this life she was trapped in. That same night she cleaned out her dressing room, left the club, and never returned.
The even more difficult task for Harmony was to break away from her boyfriend, who had been in complete control of her life for years. In the end, she was able to leave this relationship and now faced an uncertain, yet promising future.
A NEW START
She turned her back on the sex industry at 22, and two years later graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Psychology from the prestigious UCLA. This was followed by a master’s in Social Welfare. Years later, she wrote her memoir in her book titled “ Scars and Stilettos“.
Harmony also founded an organization called Treasures. Treasures views itself as a kind of self-help group that supports those affected by sex trafficking and the sex industry to find the strength and courage to leave the environment. 89 percent of women who work as sex workers do not do it voluntarily, but they see no alternative. Around 70 percent of all trafficked women end up in the sex industry.
OUTREACH, CARE AND TRAINING
Contacting, support and training – these are the three steps that Treasures focuses on to help those affected. The organization sends informational material to brothels, strip clubs etc. to reach the women. The homepage emphasizes that the service is free and confidential for those affected, and no help is forced on anyone. Many women who work in the sex industry don’t even know what their options are and believe there is absolutely no way out. Treasures shows them that there are alternatives and that it is possible to make the exit, if only with a lot of support. Even though Harmony Grillo’s organization is based on Christian values, anyone can take advantage of the support, no matter what their religious or spiritual beliefs are.
OFFERS AND RESOURCES
The special thing about Treasures is that many women who have worked in the sex industry themselves are active there. Accordingly, they can identify with those seeking help and understand their daily worries and fears best.
Harmony Grillo has also released a video series on YouTube through Treasures. In the videos, former sex workers talk about their experiences and their past, giving encouragement to other victims and reminding them that they are not alone.
You can also sign up for various trainings through Treasures, though they are not free of charge. These trainings are for volunteers, family members, organizations, and anyone who wants to learn how to help people exit the commercial sex industry.
Treasures also publishes blog articles on very interesting topics around sex work in general, as well as texts to help (ex-)sex workers through their pain. These texts are also written by women who have worked in the sex industry themselves.
EVERY WOMAN IS A TREASURE
Harmony Grillo is a role model for those who want to take their fate into their own hands and have a good life despite a difficult past. Every woman deserves to live a life free from violence and domination by others. Many women in the sex industry believe they are exactly where they belong because they have never experienced love and appreciation. Healthy self-worth is the best protection against an exploitative and toxic relationship. Organizations like Treasures and Hope for the Future are so important because they show victims alternatives and give them the strength and resources to reshape their lives the way they want.