After working as a stripper in Atlanta clubs for six years, Kasey McClure was able to get out of the industry with the support of her church and her husband.
A few years later, when her daughter, Sarah, was born, McClure decided to help women get out of the sex industry, and created the 4Sarah organization, named in honor of her daughter.
4Sarah works to help women in all aspects of the sex trade, from helping trafficked women get out, get an education and get on with their lives, to strip club and street outreach.
McClure and other members of her organization recently spoke to the Senoia Rotary Club about their mission.
“I was very impressed with the organization,” said Senoia Police Chief Jason Edens, who attended the meeting. “They are doing great things, and we won’t hesitate to reach out to them in the event we need some help in that area.”
McClure said that the crowd at the Rotary meeting was very responsive. “It’s nice to get plugged in, even in small towns. You think it’s not going to happen in my community – even though it can.”
For the first several years, 4Sarah only did outreach. McClure was able to leave her health care job in 2013 and go full time with the ministry. Now, the organization has its “assessment house” which offers women leaving the industry who are pregnant or have children a place to stay and heal, and is working on a phase 2 house, which will give the women a few more months to get on their feet.
The population McClure works with can be a hard one to reach sometimes.
“Like with the prison system, you see a revolving door,” McClure said. “People get caught up in that lifestyle and it’s a struggle for them to find their worth.”
While other organizations work to prevent sex trafficking, “our focus is the direct service to the women that are in it, that are living it, that are selling themselves, that are hooked in that lifestyle.”
There are many levels, from stripping to escorts, street prostitution and trafficking.
Trafficking can be subtle
Many of the women 4Sarah encounters became sexually active at 13 or 14, met a pimp by 15, and were soon involved in the sex industry.
Trafficking can take many different forms, according to McClure. Pimps and traffickers often prey on people with addictions, she said.
Many times, the descent into trafficking is quite subtle.
“What happens is they are basically smooth-talking these girls and loving them and making them think they are a boyfriend,” McClure said. Then, after a while, the “boyfriend” will ask the young woman if she can do him a favor by doing sex work for a client. And then he may ask her if she can bring some friends.
And before too long, she may be recruiting friends of friends. If she doesn’t want to, she may risk getting kicked out of the pimp’s home.
Breaking the brainwash
The women often develop Stockholm Syndrome.
That’s something McClure knows all too well. As a young girl, both she and her sister were molested by their father.
“At the end of the day, I still cared about my dad. Even though he was a piece of crap – you don’t want that person who victimized you to have suffering and harm,” she said.
“They are brainwashed – we’re trying to break that brainwash – to say ‘hey, they are out to hurt you and not to help you.’”
Breaking those ties to the pimp or trafficker can be a struggle. Especially because many of the women have children by the pimp – and they don’t want their child’s father going to jail. Sometimes, the other women being trafficked will turn against the one trying to get out.
Others are just so dominated and controlled by their pimp that they feel there is no way out.
“They’ll say ‘I’ve got to give this pimp my money or he’s going to kill me, or my dog, or my family,’” McClure said.
There are teens being trafficked, there are adult women who started out as runaways at 13 or 14 and fell into having “survival sex” for food or shelter. There are older women, in their 40s, who have lost custody of their children and are now selling themselves.
Other women and girls were in the foster care system and ran away to live on the streets, or aged out of foster care and had nowhere to go.
“It goes on more than people realize,” McClure said. And it covers many nationalities.
Through the years, more and more people are coming forward and sharing their stories, McClure said. “I feel like there is a lot of healing moving through that population. From there, they’ve got to find a safe place and a consistent place,” she said.
Helping women be good moms
The assessment house opened two years ago, and women can stay up to 120 days.
Staff take pregnant women to doctor’s appointments, help them get on their feet, hold baby showers and have faith that the women can succeed.
They work on a game plan for the future and help the women get other jobs.
“A lot of the girls instantly want to work,” McClure said recently.
The women really want to change their lives and really want to be good moms, McClure said. Oftentimes, becoming pregnant can be the catalyst that makes women want to change their lives for the better.
“We’re just giving them that opportunity and that stability and just being that consistency in their lives. They lack a lot of that,” she said.
The women she works with often lack people in their lives who check in on them.
“A lot of people judge them and cast stones,” she said. “We try to help where we can and be a good, positive influence in their lives to encourage them.”
Outreach teams put together gift bags for workers at the strip clubs and street prostitutes. They found that the men at the clubs appreciate gifts too, so they started adding bags for them.
If the women don’t want services or help from 4Sarah, volunteers often ask if they can pray with the women.
“It lets them know – hey, we are thinking about you,” McClure said.
The women will often ask the 4Sarah volunteers to pray for their safety and their protection. “Because they are scared out there,” McClure said. “We try not to be preachy, but we do get prayer requests, and we are faith-based.”
Sometimes the women will want to give the volunteers money to pay for the items in the goody bags. “We’re like, no, this is for you, it’s just a gift for you. And they’re like – oh my God, no one has ever done that,” she said. “It’s just giving them that opportunity to not feel judged, to know there is someone that has been on the other side.”
Money is often an issue for women and girls getting out of the industry. McClure recalled regularly making $1,000 a night while stripping. One night, she made $10,000. But that was years ago, before the internet, and it’s harder for women to make a lot of money.
“I’m happier now than I was dancing, making $1,000 every other day,” McClure said. “You feel better about yourself. You don’t feel like trash. You feel like people respect you more,” she said.
A process that can take time
Leaving the sex industry is a process. “We try not to have the savior complex,” McClure said. “We try to be a resource for them and try to encourage them. At the end of the day, it’s their life.”
4Sarah helps the women realize that they can make it on their own and they don’t need a pimp to exploit them and take care of them.
“We’re just trying to create some confidence in themselves,” she said. In the sex industry, “all you see is toxic men.”
“There are married men or men with girlfriends who go to strip clubs and buy prostitutes. It’s such a toxic environment,” McClure said. “It makes you think all married men are cheats and liars. You have a hard time trusting people and realizing that there are good people that don’t want to use you for sex; they genuinely care about you.”
4Sarah also has a scholarship program for women leaving the industry. And they help women get GEDs or their high school diplomas.
There are some women, particularly in strip clubs, who just see what they do as a job, as a business, and can handle doing it and not let it impact their lives and their well-being.
But “that is one probably out of 10,” McClure said. “The rest are in abusive relationships, they’re on drugs, they don’t like who they are,” she said.
McClure followed her sister to the strip clubs, and now her sister has followed in her footsteps, starting a 4Sarah chapter in their hometown of Mobile, Alabama.
January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month and 4Sarah is using the month to remember Jesse Banks, a sex trafficking survivor leader who started a 4Sarah chapter in Florida, but passed away in December. With gift bags for a street outreach in Florida are Tarika Dunn, Banks, Carly Jones and Phyllis Heidemann.
Many ways to help
There are many ways to support the mission of 4Sarah.
The organization, of course, always needs financial support to keep things running.
But a big need is job opportunities for the women leaving the sex industries. “We need people who will give the training opportunities, to give them a chance to make a living,” McClure said. Some of the women have criminal backgrounds. “They’re starting at the bottom. That is why some of them get stuck where they are,” she said. They may think – why even bother when I have this on my record.”
The organization also needs a few vehicles for the women, who need access to transportation.
Volunteers are needed to be on the care teams that help mentor the girls and young women and to help out at the assessment house. Volunteers serve on the scholarship committee, and there are always plenty of volunteers eager to serve on the outreach teams.
The organization can also use items for the outreach bags, as well as baby shower gifts.
4Sarah is based in Conyers but serves the entire metro area. Volunteers must be trained, and while in-person training is the best, there is also a virtual option.
For more information about 4Sarah, visit 4Sarah.net , email 4Sarahinc@bellsouth.net , call 470-362-8808 or visit the 4Sarah page on Facebook.