By HTP Editorial
Jessika Fuhrmaneck is a writer, professional public speaker and actor who has been a dedicated advocate for the support and recovery of women who have been exploited in the commercial sex trade. She is a member of the Writing and Speaking team for Treasures, a survivor-led organization founded by Harmony (Dust) Grillo and Two Wings, both of which work to restore and empower sex trade victims. More recently, she has joined the Discipleship Team of Love Nashville, which offers mentoring to women in the sex trade.
Q & A
You describe yourself first and foremost as a storyteller. Why?
When people ask me what I do, I often say “I’m a storyteller.” I started working in Entertainment at the age of 4. I sang, danced, acted, and modeled. All to share a vision or story with others that might inspire them to laugh or cry. A story, if done properly, should help us to tap in to emotions, and often that tap leads to an action step.
In my teen years and throughout my 20s I experienced a lot of misuse and abuse when I began to work in adult entertainment. Part of the reason I worked as a stripper was to be able to pay the bills and cover the costs of wardrobe, and head shots, and makeup, as well as raising a son. Now that I am in a position to reach out and help other hurting people I share my story, as well as help others share their stories, of triumphing over darkness.
In one way or another I have spent my life storytelling, and it is the core of all that I do. I hope to continue to be able to use my story as a way to inspire others to reach out and help those who are struggling within the commercial sex industry as well as trafficking victims and survivors.
How did you become involved with Treasures and Two Wings, and how do you collaborate with these organizations?
14 years ago a small group of women came in to my strip club one night and gave each dancer a small gift bag that contained a word of encouragement and some lip gloss. After 3 years of receiving this type of outreach I finally decided I had more value than selling myself for cash, so one night I left the club, and I have never looked back. A few years after that I met Harmony (Dust) Grillo at a local church we were both attending. She invited me to share my story and I have been doing so ever since.
Treasures Ministry introduced me to Two Wings who then offered me a place in their Qualified Academy program for survivors of the sex trade and trafficking. This program helped me to understand my particular skill set and discover what I would like to study in school, and what might be a good day job for me. Thanks to their mentorship I am now gearing up to begin the process of obtaining my M.S.W. so that I can better serve the population I work with, as well as experience more financial stability.
I am now a member of the Treasures Speakers Bureau which allows me to share my story through video productions, live events, tv shows, and articles. I am also a member of the Treasures writing team, as well as a contributing writer to the Two Wings blog. My work involves helping other survivors to share their stories, as well as writing some of the Outreach Blog recaps that our donors receive on a monthly basis.
Before I moved to Nashville, I was also a leader on the Treasures Outreach Team which allowed me to go to the same club I used to work at in Hollywood, and give gifts to the women working there now. That particular assignment has been very close to my heart. It is a powerful thing to be able to come full circle and step back in to a place that once represented pain, and have an opportunity to lend a hand to others who may be struggling.
With respect to your work at Love Nashville, what are some of the challenges in reaching and mentoring women in the sex trade? What are some of the successes?
At Love Nashville, I work with the Discipleship Team to coordinate a weekly small group study, as well as attend Equine Therapy sessions offered to the women we serve. I would say the biggest struggle I have encountered so far, is just waiting patiently for a response. We can offer services but not everyone is ready to receive what is being offered. I remember when Harmony first offered me the opportunity to share my story I declined for several years. I wasn’t ready to go to a support group. I wasn’t ready to hear myself recount the things that had happened, or accept what people might think of the choices I had made in my life.
Patience is the key to success when working with survivors of sexual abuse. Pushing or pulling will not make the women we serve open up. It is best to allow them to move forward in the time frame that feels right for them. By letting people choose healing on their own, they own it. It belongs to them and they are invested in succeeding.
Our greatest success I would say is our weekly support group. For some of the women attending this is the only place where they will be able to speak freely about what is happening in their lives. When I was working in the industry I wouldn’t have dared tell anyone where I worked. I expected to be judged, and I certainly didn’t expect to receive sympathy for the hardships I was experiencing. I think sometimes there is a mindset that women working in the commercial sex industry deserve some of the bad things that happen to them. No one deserves to be raped, or have their children taken from them by bullying co-parents. Everyone deserves to be treated with honor, value, and love. Our support group is a safe place where the women can share openly about anything and everything that is going on. Knowing that we are loved, accepted, and supported is the first step to rebuilding our understanding of our worth and value.
When I see a woman begin to accept help, start therapy, or show up regularly to group I know that we are succeeding. My goal is not to convert anyone or get them to change their lifestyle. My goal is for them to know that they are never ever alone on their journey.
The Hidden Tears Project is a media production company focused on raising awareness about human trafficking, sexual abuse and gender inequality. Have you seen any signs in your work which suggest that media is indeed gaining some ground in raising consciousness about these issues? In your opinion, what more needs to be done?
I have seen great strides in mainstream media as well as social media over the last 5 years. When Treasures started almost 15 years ago it felt like no one knew what human trafficking was, or how big of a problem it was. Now, when people ask me what I do, almost every one is aware of human trafficking, and often they would like to help in any way they can.
Right now, the biggest problem I see is a lack of awareness about the effects of the commercial sex industry and how closely it is tied to human trafficking. Campaigns like #FightTheNewDrug and #PornKillsLove have done an exceptional job of bringing awareness to everyday people that our choices and habits have real consequences on the women in our societies. I have heard so many stories of how women were trafficked in and out of strip clubs, and how porn is used to ‘train’ child sex slaves. I personally know some ex-porn stars, and the effects of working in this industry can often be quite harmful. The majority of pornographic films enact violence towards the women working in the films.
Some would like to believe that if they are consuming a legal version of the sex industry that no one is being hurt. That the women working have chosen to be there. But that is often not the reality. One could have said that I chose to work as a stripper. However, I was sexually abused from age 2 by several men, and then by boyfriends, and eventually encouraged by my husband to work at a club in Hollywood. I was groomed for sexual misuse at an early age, and then became a single mother with no formal education. At that point was it really a choice to begin working in the adult entertainment industry?
Whenever we consume any form of sex that involves any kind of monetary compensation we are contributing to the problem, and in some cases directly to human trafficking. I guarantee you not all women working at strip clubs are18, because I had teenage friends who worked there using fake I.D.s.
I would love to see more media about the realities of the adult entertainment industry as it pertains to abuse of minors, how it perpetuates abuse of victims who have a history of being assaulted, and its frequent connections to trafficking. It’s time to take the blinders off.