By Karla Ward
Kim Paschall’s life as a prostitute was filled with horrors.”I’ve been pistol whipped. I’ve been thrown out of a moving car. I’ve been robbed. I’ve been raped. I’ve disappeared for two days and no one on the earth knew I was gone,” she said.Paschall said her pimp — also the father of her 2-year-old son — would “spit on me, would leave me places with no food, no money, no car. “He made me crave his attention and his love,” she said.
That was everyday life for Paschall, 28, until July 11, when she moved from Dallas to the Refuge for Women, a 50-acre farm in Central Kentucky that helps women find their way out of careers as strippers, prostitutes, escorts or working in the porn industry. The Refuge, which has been open for a year and a half, provides free room and board.Refuge founder Ked Frank has several success stories to tell, including that of a former strip club dancer from inner city Detroit who now works full-time at the Toyota plant in Georgetown.
There’s a former prostitute from Toledo, Ohio, who is now working with an organization that helps other young women in similar circumstances. And a former stripper from Indiana who went to the Refuge for Women straight from jail is on track to regain full custody of the children she lost and is working two jobs, neither in the adult entertainment industry.
The faith-based non-profit uses what it calls a “mentoring approach” to help the women learn life skills, deal with past traumas, overcome financial concerns and develop a plan for a new life. But underlying all that are the organization’s spiritual values.”The foundation of what we’ve built this ministry on is faith,” Frank said. Finding RefugeFrank said he unknowingly became prepared to form the Refuge for Women during the three years he and his wife spent working at an Ohio facility called The Refuge, which is for men struggling with substance abuse and other issues.
The couple previously had lived in Lexington from 2000 to 2003, and they moved back in 2006, when Frank took a job as pastoral care minister at Southland Christian Church. While working there, he learned about a local ministry in which women regularly take meals to the dancers at area strip clubs as an expression of God’s love for them.”I had never heard of anything like that before,” Frank said. “They started talking about a next step for girls that wanted to get out.”Then, Frank said, his best friend bought a 50-acre farm and “made the mistake of telling me one day that it had an old farmhouse.
“So he formed a non-profit organization, started raising money, and gutted and renovated the five-bedroom house. The location of the home is a closely kept secret because of concerns about the women’s safety. Meetings with outsiders are arranged at the organization’s offices on Waller Avenue.The farmhouse has room for eight women, but Frank wants to expand the organization’s capacity to help others.”There’s a hope in my heart that what we’re doing is just kind of getting started,” he said.Paschall said she’s just getting started in her own way.
“I’ve looked back,” she admitted. “I do have that rebellion in me. I do.”She said she feels some guilt about having lured other young women into the world of prostitution.”I ultimately feel responsible,” she said, “but I can’t dwell on it, because I know God’s going to bring redemption to it.”She said she’s already starting to see good results from her decision to leave her former life behind.She said one of the women she influenced to become a prostitute is considering coming to the Refuge, too.She is working on a business plan for a café she hopes to open some day. And Paschall said she has developed a close bond with the others at the farmhouse.
“We’re not used to that family closeness,” she said. “The Refuge becomes that family for us.”Making a changeWhile most of the women in the program are former strippers, Frank said escorts, prostitutes and workers in the porn industry have been through the program.The Refuge has served 25 women, including seven now in residence. The women have come from 10 states.The Refuge takes referrals from all over the country, having formed partnerships with 49 other organizations across the nation that are reaching out to women working in strip clubs.
“There’s not a lot of other places in the country that are doing this kind of work for this population of people,” he said of the residential nature of the program. Women at the Refuge stay at least three months, but they can stay for up to a year if they wish. The women must attend church weekly.”One of the first things we try to offer the ladies is a place to find some rest,” Frank said, noting that many come to the house exhausted from stress, non-stop working and a lifestyle of late nights, drinking and drugs.Many women at the Refuge had chemical dependency issues. Frank said they must go through detoxification before they arrive.After 90 days at the Refuge, the women are expected to begin working part-time jobs that will help them begin exploring new kinds of employment.
Frank says a local Christian-run temporary service helps provide those opportunities for the women, many of whom have criminal records.”It does help to have relationships with people that want to help,” Frank said.There is no fee to the women for the services they receive.Many of the women have left behind children to be cared for by others while they work to put their lives back together, although the Refuge does have some children staying there from time to time. Frank said one woman recently gave birth to a boy, who is now staying at the Refuge with her and a 4-year-old sibling. Another woman is pregnant and will deliver her baby soon.Paschall’s little boy is staying with a host family.
“Most of these girls, their biggest motivator for getting help is their kids,” Frank said. The organization has nine staff members, three of whom are full-time, who help facilitate group activities, hold Bible studies and help the women develop life skills.Frank said many people do not realize the devastation wreaked on the lives of women who get involved in such work.”People think they’re making all this money, they’re there by choice, it’s all in good fun,” Frank said.
“They have no idea the trauma that these girls suffer.”A whole new lifeJen Lasko of Uniontown, Ohio, said the Refuge “completely and totally saved my life.”Lasko grew up in a stable home, where her father was a fire chief. She was a cheerleader in high school, participated in 4-H, and enjoyed riding and showing horses.She said her journey into the adult entertainment industry began when she was 18 and dropped out of high school to be with an older boyfriend.”I started dancing at a topless club to pay the bills” while attending cosmetology school, she said, adding that the glittering outfits she wore “made me feel beautiful and powerful.
“But soon, Lasko, now 34, said a regular customer introduced her to a fully nude club.Over the years, she said, she had relationships with men who beat and raped her, she struggled with drugs and alcohol, and she attempted suicide twice.”Just being in the clubs, there’s so much drugs and violence,” Lasko said. “To get up there and do what you have to do in a sound mind, I wouldn’t have been able to do it sober. Sex had no value to me.”She said she might have been beaten black and blue at home, but when she was onstage she “felt almost powerful over men, no longer being the one controlled.”While Lasko stopped working at strip clubs some time ago and went through a detox program, she said she still carried the emotional baggage with her.”Even after being sober I had an emptiness inside me,” she said.
“I didn’t know I could ask God to forgive me. I didn’t know how to pray.”It doesn’t heal you when you walk out those doors.”With the help of her sister, she found the Refuge, and, Lasko said, a new hope.She came to the Refuge last summer and was baptized Oct. 2. When she leaves next year, she said she wants to start a ministry of her own, reaching out to women working in the clubs.”Now I have such a relationship with Christ,” she said. “It’s a whole new life. … Now I can look in the mirror and look at myself and be proud of the person I am.”