Words by Kelly Powell | Photos by Jacqueline Stoesick
“How are you?”
This exchange, along with tight hugs and dramatic shouts, is the start to every conversation held in the Rahab house. The exterior is understated with a coat of pale yellow paint and a wooden, cross-shaped yard sign reading “He Is Risen!” The interior is composed of lime-green walls that are plastered with handmade artwork, and no door frame is left untouched by a motivational decal. Despite the worship music playing from an iHome that rests on top of the bookcase, the volume is mainly due to the various comments being made as women enter the living room—the noise increasing at a steady rate. Beyond the entrance, the kitchen hosts the rest of the visitors, the table displaying sizable bowls of fruit and Hawaiian sweet rolls. The women surrounding the snacks paint each other’s nails and drink coffee from mugs that vary in size, catching up with one another, each exchange as expressive as the next. This goes on for several minutes until the many voices in the room reduce to one.
I was a reckless, hopeless drug addict who had been trafficked and felt like she was nothing.
“OK ladies, it’s time to get started,” Angel Dague, a Bible study leader, says. “Let the truth of the Lord penetrate your heart and don’t buy into the lies.”
After this statement and a quick admonishment about talking during the meeting, she commences her lesson.
“God is the game changer,” Dague bellows.
This five-word sentence more or less summarizes Rahab Ministries, an Akron-based organization focused on the restoration of women who have experienced sex trafficking or exploitation. Their mission, as put by 10-year attendee Christina LaPointe-Jackson, is to be “a lighthouse in the darkness.” Through Bible studies, a strip club outreach program and street rescue initiatives, Rahab claims responsibility for changing the trajectory of women’s lives.
“This is the area I used to use in,” LaPointe-Jackson says of Akron. “This is the area I used to prostitute in. This is the area I lost myself in. I caught tricks. This is a known place for johns. People who are lost will find other people who are lost, but at Rahab, there’s hope, revolution, love and rehabilitation.”
Tricks and johns can otherwise be classified as clients of prostitutes. These terms are commonly used in the realm of trafficking and in the governmental system to describe those that take advantage of victims. LaPointe-Jackson describes Rahab Ministries as a contrast to the trafficking activity taking place in Akron and surrounding areas.
After 47 arrests, four prison stints, a bullet to the face and a risky facial reconstruction surgery, LaPointe-Jackson had no intention of pursuing a change in lifestyle. She first heard about Rahab through Becky Moreland, the organization’s founder, who reached out to her in the middle of what LaPointe-Jackson calls self-caused chaos, and she changed her mind.
“I was a reckless, hopeless drug addict who had been trafficked and felt like she was nothing,” LaPointe-Jackson says. “I had an inferiority complex my whole life. I had an ‘AHA’ moment, though. Now when I sit in this house, I’ll see a girl walking down the street, and I realize that used to be me. I want to come out of my body and help her.”
The women’s desires to reciprocate the treatment they have received is tangible. Four-month attendee Renee Smith felt sought out by the organization when she was chosen to attend a Rahab brunch, a break from her everyday routine at a community based correctional facility she once attended.
“The facility trusts these people so much,” Smith says. “It’s nice to know that someone does care. Once, they took us out to a Christmas dinner, and it was so elegant. They’ll bring us to salons—we get hair, nails and boosts of confidence, and it’s all in the name of God.”
Although Smith has been released from the facility, she feels that losing contact with Rahab has restructured her support system.
“If you need to see strong women, this is the place to go,” she says. “It’s an everyday place to go—normal, comforting, not like the church where sometimes they’ll bombard you. It’s home as soon as you pull up.”
More than once, “home” is uttered within the confines of the safe house. Most of the individuals who line the walls hail from correctional facilities. Attending events in the Rahab house is an intermission from a life of routine. It is described by regulars as a hub where women “don’t just go for coffee and snacks.” No matter if they’re searching or not, snacks are abundant, especially on Soup ’n’ Shop days, when anyone who enters is provided with lunch, nail treatments and a small Bible study to cap off the time. The low-ceilinged upper floor of the Rahab house bursts at the seams with attire, racks with blazers, dresses and blouses lining the perimeter of the room, and shoe boxes filling the gaps of the floor space underneath. If permission is granted from the women’s respective facility, they are granted freedom to peruse the walk-in closet.
“We live together as a family unit here, unlike the facilities divided by individual rooms and cells,” says Anna Graft, a junior public health major and Rahab volunteer. Graft is one of the safe house moms, a title that entails a matronly responsibility.
“I spend time loving them, correcting them, talking about life with them and making food with them,” Graft says. “I do things that a typical mom would do whenever they need me, but they treat me like a daughter in some realms.”
Although Graft came into this role with initial hesitation, feeling unqualified to step in, she now reveres it as her dream job. Safe house mom responsibilities are complemented by leading a team in strip club outreach, an ongoing process that volunteers describe as one of the hardest things they’ve ever done.
“The myth that dancers in strip clubs are making money for college or taking care of something temporarily is completely false,” Graft says. “The only time I’ve ever heard someone say they want to be there is on her first night. Strip clubs are not just a place where a girl goes and dances; almost all of the places we visit have rooms where sex is offered, which categorizes itself as prostitution.”
Internationally, there are a total of 36 million men, women and children trapped in some form of human trafficking. Whereas this statistic may seem far from home, Ohio was cited as having more than 1,000 reported cases of sex trafficking per year. The most common ages for individuals to be trafficked for the first time are between 12 and 14 years old.
Ok ladies, it’s time to get started. Let the truth of the Lord penetrate your heart and don’t buy into the lies.
The volunteers pile into one car, knowing the directions to their first venue, Lusty Adventures, by heart. Once the vehicle is parked a couple of blocks away, a college-aged volunteer pulls out her cell phone, finding a picture she had taken several weeks before of a full notebook page. The page holds details about all of the individuals they met during their last visit to Lusty Adventures, every bullet point recorded hastily in the car after the fact. After bowing their heads in prayer, the girls enter the strip club, making conversation with the bartender and inquiring about how many women are dancing on that particular night. After a few minutes, they return to the car. Gift bags that had previously taken up residence in the back seat are grabbed in bulk, their contents including gloves, Sweethearts conversation hearts, a protein bar, a nail file and a comb. These gifts, they feel, are the gateway to meaningful exchanges with the dancers.
“They come from a life where relationships are taken from them or cut off,” Graft says. “Our job is not only to build friendships but to tell them we are not leaving or forsaking them. We’re at the point where we can ask them how a job search is going or what they made for dinner because we know they love cooking.”
Near the end of a Friday afternoon Bible study, the women are asked to list material items they idolize. Initially, they must be called on to answer, but eventually, the room is filled with verbal recognition of items they feel obstruct their relationship with Jesus Christ.
“My vapor pen!”
At their previous Bible study session, women completed a exercise similar to this one—unashamedly vocalizing what they believe are Jesus Christ’s attributes and using adjectives that they see as greater than their addictions or strongholds.
“I was shot, fought and got arrested,” LaPointe-Jackson says. “What I thought was strength was strength in my weakness… We were guided by the wrong strength. As much dirt as I’ve done, I don’t deserve the grace God gives me. I’m not a piece of meat, and I don’t deserve to be talked to like I have no soul or no heart.”