ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–The plot of the 1990 comedy film “Pretty Woman” epitomizes every prostitute’s dream: Being hired by a millionaire businessman from out of town as his “date” for a series of business functions; falling in love; and being whisked away to a new life in the lap of luxury.
Tammy Dahl bought into the dream of just such a “happy ending” for a while. She allowed herself to be bought — until the price on her soul became too high.
Dahl, a former exotic dancer in Orlando, Fla., used to measure her worth in terms of how much money and how much attention she received from men. Part of the lure of working in the so-called “gentlemen’s clubs” was the promise of fast money and a feeling of power.
“Girls are trapped in this industry because of the money,” said Dahl, who began dancing as a way to pay her bills. She now heads Out of Exile, a nondenominational ministry that seeks to help women out of the adult entertainment industry and educate churches on how to witness to them.
Lynn Latham, church and community ministries director for Greater Orlando Baptist Association, is advisory board chairman for Dahl’s Out of Exile ministry. Latham invited Dahl to share her testimony during this spring’s Celebration of Missions in Lakeland, along with other women delivered from prostitution, drugs and other violations of the law through the life-changing power of Christ. Celebration of Missions is the annual meeting of Florida Woman’s Missionary Union.
As part of Crossover Orlando, an outreach effort that will precede the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14, Latham is coordinating prayerwalks to reach out to women on the streets of Orlando — particularly along the city’s “Orange Blossom Trail.” Crossover activities will take place Saturday, June 10, and at other times before and during the convention meeting.
Dahl teaches a seminar to churches, titled “Dispelling the Myths of the Exotic Dancer,” using material developed by Lisanne McMurray of LightDancers Ministry.
The stereotypical view of strip clubs — seedy dives frequented by dirty old men — doesn’t always correspond with reality, Dahl pointed out. As an exotic dancer at high-priced gentlemen’s clubs, Dahl lived in an intoxicating underworld of money, sex and drugs offered to her by wealthy professionals with plenty of money to spend.
Eventually the excitement dimmed. During the time Dahl was working as a dancer, her best friend committed suicide. It left Dahl also contemplating suicide as a way out of her problems.
Then she found out she was pregnant. She considered having an abortion, but a co-worker at a bank where Dahl had found work convinced her that terminating her pregnancy would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Dahl recalled that “she told me, ‘Don’t have an abortion; I did when I was 16 and it’s something I live with every day of my life.'”
Dahl’s mother also urged her to keep the baby. “She said to me, ‘Tammy, you were the biggest blessing in my life, and this child will be your biggest blessing.'”
Dahl decided to have the baby, and a friend convinced his parents to allow her to stay with them until she could get back on her feet financially. After having her daughter, who is now 5 years old, Dahl found an apartment for exactly the price she could afford and received a raise for the specific amount she needed to pay for child care.
Those provisions helped Dahl see God’s hand turning her away from her life as an exotic dancer and toward a new life in him, including helping other women see their value to God.
Dahl still goes to the strip clubs, but now she goes to witness to the dancers. She recently presented dancers with a gold dollar coin wrapped in a napkin, on which she had written: “God loves you. You are far more precious than gold. With love, an ex-dancer.”
After examining the coins — which picture an eagle on one side and Sacagawea, a guide for explorers Lewis and Clark, on the other — Dahl began writing: “Remember, as you look at this coin, the strength you have as a woman and the ability you have to soar like an eagle.”
After receiving those messages, one by one the dancers came to talk to Dahl, some hugging her and thanking her for the kind word. The note led one dancer to share she was pregnant and didn’t know what to do. Dahl was able to pray with her and offer encouragement as someone who understands.
Dahl’s involvement in exotic dancing and prostitution started after a failed attempt to seek guidance from a church when her live-in boyfriend had left her alone and penniless.
“They gave me money for a month but wanted something to show for it. I was still trying to make ends meet. I needed more help and I needed more than just the money,” Dahl said. The church declined to give further help, she said, and didn’t offer spiritual counseling.
Hoping to help others avoid such instances, Dahl speaks to churches about how to reach out to women in trouble. She cautions that well-intentioned gifts of money to help them on their way will not solve the girls’ problems — only an understanding and acceptance of God’s love will do that.
“I want to dive into the Bible now,” Dahl said. “I just can’t get enough of it. It shows me that God cared about me all along, and other girls deserve to know that too.”