Sexual Salvation

07.13.14

Meet The Former Call Girl Saving Hookers For Jesus

Annie Lobert, who spent 16 years as a prostitute in Las Vegas, is running a ministry that gets women out of the sex trade.

Annie Lobert is a former Vegas call girl of sixteen years who now runs a Christian ministry called Hookers for Jesus, which is aimed at helping women leave Sin City’s sex trade. I sat down with Annie in her sunny Nevada office this week to talk Christianity and sex, two topics she knows a lot about.

If, like me, you grew up with Southern church ladies sneering ‘there’s nothing so pure as a reformed whore’ in your ear, you might expect Annie to be the sort of person who’s donned a habit and stays tight-lipped about the past. But when I met Annie at the safe house she runs for women on their way out of the sex industry, she was just the opposite, a bombshell sporting platinum-and-pink hair and glittery hot pink nails with a seemingly endless candor about the sex industry.

For one, Annie says, the sex industry as we know it doesn’t arise in a vacuum, but is merely the dark side of our culture at large. “We’re taught to work until we’re happy,” Annie told The Daily Beast, citing the drive to perpetually acquire more as the fundamental delusion of the American dream.

“If you have money, why not?” she asks. “Why not buy sex?...Part of the American dream is to have many sex partners, right?...More will make you happy, cars, clothing, whatever.” According to Annie, the impulse to accrue material wealth is both what led her to enter the sex trade as a runaway teenager, and the animating principle of the industry itself.

But the conflation of love and money doesn’t stop at equating satisfaction with possessions. In March of 2014, a massive study of underground sex work by The Urban Institute reported that pimps typically target women for recruitment through the establishment of personal relationships, and Annie’s experience resonates grimly with that finding. She can show you the ridge of ill-healed broken rib her ex-boyfriend shattered the night she realized he was “a full-fledged pimp.”

“He came in the room after he beat the living hell out of me,” she recalls, “and he gave me bandages and ice for my wounds and said to me that he loved me, and that he needed this to happen so I could be his girl, so I could be his bitch.”

“He came in the room after he beat the living hell out of me,” she recalls, “and he gave me bandages and ice for my wounds and said to me that he loved me, and that he needed this to happen so I could be his girl, so I could be his bitch.”

Why not leave? It’s hard to say which bond is stronger: love or money. “I loved him,” she says. “I had fallen in love with the Beast, from Beauty and the Beast.”

But she also speaks of “debt bondage,” the fees and fines imposed on sex workers by those who employ them and the variety of ancillary services they have to pay for: cab drivers, club managers, party organizers. “[Sex] is sold because people think it’s a commodity,” Annie notes, and the commodification of sex is always tantamount to the commodification of people.

The slurring of relationships and transactions has effects ranging from the gruesome to the melancholy. “I had a lot of men that were in love with me as a prostitute,” Annie recalls with an air of resignation. But it was just business, and big business at that.

“Most of the violence in the sex trade comes from the pimps,” she says, and attributes the violence to the “millions and millions of dollars you can make off one high class escort in Vegas.” It’s the blur between eros and exchange that makes Annie think the sex trade won’t ever be hospitable to happy, healthy work, legal or not.

“Thirty minutes alone with a man is enough for him to annihilate you,” she remarks, knowingly.

Annie’s critique of the culture that produces the sex trade doesn’t stop at prostitution. “There are a lot of pimps out there,” she notes, the only point during our talk I see her look genuinely pissed off. “The exploiters, the ministers who sell the exploitation stories…” She never stops surveying the territory for someone trying to make a quick buck off trafficked women, but Hookers for Jesus is completely free.

Women can come to Annie for a homey bedroom in an air-conditioned, spacious safe house, healthy food, and vocational training, all free of charge. She tells me she’s looking for a way to get her girls cars, too, to navigate the wide open desert in their newfound freedom.

Are places like hers the answer to the sex trade? For Annie, it’s at the very least a demonstration of the right approach. “I do what I do now because I’m overflowing with gratitude,” she grins, “I’m so grateful.”

It might seem counter-intuitive for gratitude to produce a generalized altruism, but that’s only because gratitude is often framed in the idea of exchange: I’m grateful to x for giving me y. Breaking out of the mindset of transaction is as radically Christian as cultural cures come, and is remarkably unburdened by the shriek-y conservative rhetoric of shame and moral hygiene.

“I love sex now, because I’m with my husband. But does it fulfill me? No. My husband’s relationship with me does, his care for me, his concern,” Annie says. Sex is a part of all that, she adds, but only when it’s sex that can’t be dislocated and commodified.

It’s a shame that the morally panicked right-wing Christian brigade so often gets to call the shots when it comes to the Christian story on sex culture. As Annie aptly demonstrates, the Christian critique of contemporary sex ethics is broader than finger wagging at “bad girls,” and speaks to a culture soaked with commodification, submerged in the mindset of transaction.

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes about Christianity, ethics, and policy. She is currently working towards her PhD at Brown University.