For exotic dancer Harmony Dust it was never a question of if she would kill herself, but when. At 19, her life was out of control. She was on the brink of bankruptcy, living with an abusive boyfriend, and had $35,000 in credit card debt. By day she was a college student working part-time as an assistant preschool teacher. At night she morphed into "Monique," a stripper who would pole dance naked, inches from men's leering faces.
A typical day started at 7 a.m. with a full class load followed by work at the preschool. By 7 p.m. she was at a strip club near the Los Angeles International Airport, dancing until midnight in six-inch stilettos that left her feet blistered and bloody.
When she got home she turned over her money to her boyfriend, Derrick, who spent his days watching TV, playing video games, and shooting hoops. She was paying for their apartment, but Derrick had impregnated another woman and moved her in. They slept in the bedroom, while Harmony slept on the living room sofa. In her fractured mental and emotional state, she tolerated the exploitation.
"I was suicidal and barely hanging on by a thread," she recalls. "I was in such pain with a deep sense of denial, and was severely disconnected from my own life. I was just a bystander watching my life on a movie screen."
Emotionally and sexually abused and exploited
Even before she started stripping in 1996, Harmony had already emotionally disassociated to cope. Her earliest memories were of watching porn at the age of three with her father. By age five she had been sexually abused by both men and women. At 14, her first boyfriend raped her in a school stairwell, then continued to rape her for months.1