For more information about Beautiful Feet Ministries or to volunteer, visit www.ssrevolution.com/#!beautiful-feet/c97v.
When most people think of human trafficking or the sex industry, they think it happens in urban cities such as Atlanta or Chicago or in third-world countries.
The general population also thinks it knows what human trafficking is and looks like. But they would be wrong.
“That’s not the only place where these things happen,” Jenn Robson said. “It’s not black and white like that, and it’s happening in Gainesville, too.
“It’s here too, it just looks different. It’s very gray in reality.”
Robson, however, doesn’t focus on the trafficking part or buying or selling of people for sexual purposes. Instead she focuses on the women involved in the sex industry in other ways through her organization, Beautiful Feet Ministries.
Founded in 2012, Robson reaches out to strippers and women who sell themselves online and offers them resources, the gospel and even food.
Every other Friday, Robson and her volunteers meet in the parking lot of an undisclosed strip club. (She doesn’t share the businesses’ names out of respect for the women.) Then she and her two to four volunteers pray for safety and peace for the women and for them to see God.
Taking the gospel to these women is what inspired the ministries name, Beautiful Feet. It comes from Romans 10:15: “And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.’”
Volunteer Deb Esposito has been going almost every week since she first started a year ago.
“I hope other people see the need for (the ministry) in our community,” Esposito said. “It’s just in our backyard.”
Esposito herself has a background in the sex industry and is a recovering addict.
“I can relate to them like some other people can’t,” she said. “It’s been unbelievably freeing.”
She said her own background helps her reach out to women who may not ordinarily accept help.
Armed with supplies and food prepared ahead of time, Esposito, Robson and a couple of other volunteers walk into the strip club to see the women.
Another ministry within the organization prepares the food. In the past they have provided shrimp and grits, baked ziti and casseroles.
“It’s all homemade,” Esposito said.
The volunteers serve the women the meal, offering them everything from utensils and plates to Clorox wipes and other resources, such as children’s clothes. Robson said sharing a meal with them stimulates conversations.
“It’s like seeing a friend after a week,” Robson said, adding she asks them about their week. “The idea is to build relationships with the women. Most of them don’t trust us, because they’ve been abused in some way in the past.”
Usually new girls are on the scene. Robson and her volunteers make sure to introduce themselves. Some are more receptive than others, she said.
“The turnaround rate is really high, so you might see a girl and never see her again,” Robson said.
Robson and her volunteers usually head to the dressing rooms and stay longer if the club isn’t busy.
“We respect that it’s a business, and sometimes we have to leave early,” Robson said.
The women call these volunteers “church ladies.” They number less than 10 volunteers, but are a regular, steadfast crew. Which is how Robson wants it.
“You don’t want people to bring their own junk, because these women have a lot of junk already,” Robson said.
She screens each volunteer, who must attend a training session to ensure they don’t bring their baggage to the table when helping the women. Once approved, the volunteers attend monthly training sessions to understand their role and be given their assignments. They will also be educated about the sex industry, learning terms and definitions and preparing for the visuals surrounding the industry.
While at the strip clubs, the “church ladies” offer up something that is the most valuable to them.
“Most importantly, we offer prayer,” Esposito said. “I truly believe in the power of prayer, and I didn’t always.”
On holidays, they bring gift bags to the women.
“Sometimes, people just need to know you love them,” Esposito said. “It gives people hope.”
But Beautiful Feet’s involvement does not stop at the club’s doors. Every other Tuesday, another group of women host a cyber outreach program at the SS Revolutions headquarters in Gainesville. It’s geared toward women who sell themselves online.
Volunteers call and talk to the women, offering them a hotline number in case they want out of the sex industry. They also offer to pray for them and call a week later to check on them, Robson said.
“A lot of them think we are cops at first,” she said.
Robson explained most of these women are involved in drugs and sell themselves to feed their addictions. She said they think their pimps are their boyfriends because they stay home with the children while they are out stripping. They usually think their boyfriends or husbands are good fathers to their children.
Robson’s current goal is to help these women in the best way she can, by providing them an outlet to get out and by praying for them.
For more information about Beautiful Feet Ministries, visit http://www.ssrevolution.com/#!beautiful-feet/c97v.