Love’s Arm, a Chattanooga-based nonprofit that advocates for survivors of sex trafficking, prostitution, and drug addiction, has been conducting strip club outreach since 2017. National surveys indicate 69 percent of women who work in strip clubs experience drug addiction and 54 percent work in prostitution. COVID-19 has put Love’s Arm’s strip club ministry on pause but as restrictions lift, outreach leaders have begun bringing their message of hope and healing with their vast network of resources to local Chattanooga clubs.
Love’s Arm volunteer Frances Maxwell has led the Love’s Arm strip club outreach since its inception in April 2017. She brings her own experience and understanding to the ministry as a former stripper to this often misunderstood and falsely glamorized industry. In and out of the strip club industry herself for decades, Ms. Maxwell says the women she worked with and now minister to, most of them single mothers, suffer from addiction and are often being exploited by abusive boyfriends and pimps.
“Most of the women don’t choose this,” Ms. Maxwell said. “They have children to take care of and come from abusive childhoods themselves. They have low self-esteem from abusive relationships. Most of them sell themselves for sex, even in the VIP rooms, and don’t believe there is any way out of this lifestyle.”
And that is exactly why Love’s Arm, with Ms. Maxwell leading the mission, finds the clubs fertile ground for the work they do of bringing healing resources and a message of hope to survivors.
"Ministering in the strip clubs is a different animal than street outreach,” Ms. Maxwell said. “They know we are with Love’s Arm. We let them know about our contacts and resources, but our approach has to be much softer and more trust-building since club owners are reticent to allow Christian organizations with an overt bible-thumping agenda in their doors.”
Ms. Maxwell has known strippers that died of drug overdoses, live in desperation, and she feels that if their ministry helps one woman get out of the lifestyle and find redemption in Christ, then her own work and personal experiences haven’t been in vain. “Our approach with these women is one of friendship building and reminding them the Lord loves them unconditionally. When they are ready to exit that lifestyle, I want Love’s Arm to be first in their mind as a loving, safe place to contact.”