She was a child of the 80s, drawn to flashy cars and fairy-tale romance, discovering soon enough that there were ways for an attractive, young blond to escape the chains of a dead-end town and live a lifestyle she thought only existed only on TV.
As a high-class escort and exotic dancer, she lived a life of high rollers and luxury hotels, designer clothes and gourmet restaurants — a non-stop party night and day. But soon enough, the dream turned deadly.
Stripped and beaten by her pimp. Forced to turn tricks in a wig while receiving chemo for Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer. Selling herself for drugs. Multiple arrests. And then the overdose that nearly ended her life and ultimately led to the one thing Annie Lobert had always longed for: redemption and true love.
I sat down with the founder of Hookers for Jesus to talk about her history in prostitution, ministry, and her new bestselling memoir, Fallen: Out of the Sex Industry & Into the Arms of the Savior.
You suffered so much violence. I imagine the process of writing this book must have been very emotional.
It was extremely emotional. There were times when I thought to myself: have I really healed enough? I think we can’t help but question ourselves when we go through a traumatic event and then try to tell that story. When you speak about it you tend to move towards the here and now, but when you write it gets more explicit. And yeah, it does hurt more. You realize, Wow, I’m really messed up. Why did I do these things? Because I needed love? What are the deeper issues that led to my choices? But that’s what’s so great about remembering and honoring the past.
Honoring the past. What do you mean?
I never tell anyone to forget their past. I think we have to look back in a manner where the past is a lesson. We mine the wisdom from the past and use that as a bridge to reach out and help others. I believe God never wastes anything — even the nastiest details of our pain and trauma. So when we honor our past we bring it forward. We share those life lessons so others can get free and move towards honesty. I hate skeletons in the closet. Let ‘em out and let them dance. Kind of like Ezekiel’s valley. Let those dry bones live and let them tell their story.
It seems that you had a somewhat normal childhood. What are the reasons you started working in the sex industry?
I don’t know if I could consider it a normal childhood. Maybe on the outside we looked like The Brady Bunch, but my father was extremely abusive — verbally, mentally, and physically. Everyone thought things were normal in my house until they heard my dad yell at us. Honestly, I think I made my choices because I didn’t believe I was worthy and deserving of love. And when we don’t have an identity of value and purpose, the devil can come in and put fake identities on us.
You were a child of the 80s. Did the materialism of that era play into your decisions?
Absolutely. I saw my father do it. My dad would buy stuff to make himself feel better. He put all of his money into things. The 80s culture was definitely about prosperity. I believed that things would make you better. Movies and TV and magazines in that day really pushed that agenda
What were you like in high school?
Pretty shy. We lived in the country, so I couldn’t get rides into school to join activities. In our school, to be popular, you had to be in clubs and activities and sports and such. But in 10th grade I moved to a different school and decided to come out of my shell and try to be popular.
So you joined clubs and played sports.
(Laughs.) No, I organized kegger parties. But in my senior year I was part of the cool kids. I still hung out with nerd girls, too, though. I guess I played the middle. I loved high school. I still talk to my friends from high school.
They know your history?
Oh yeah. They’re all really proud of me and support what I’m doing now.
There’s a part in the book where you come home from work as a call girl and catch your pimp watching porn and it sickens you. Even in the most decadent of times you held on to an old-fashioned view of romance.
I still do. I still believe in love.
How can a sex worker be offended by pornography?
I was active as a call girl, yes. I felt like he didn’t have the right to cheat on me, because I was bringing home and surrendering everything. I felt it was absolutely unfair.
Porn is cheating?
Yes. Although I was turning tricks. I guess that was the model of hypocrisy? But I felt like he needed to be the man of my dreams, the one who would solve all my problems — even though he was my pimp. Crazy as that sounds, I had these ideals and I would not let them go. I think it was that hope inside of me that kept me alive. I just kept thinking someday, somehow . . .
You have to keep hope alive.
Only God could give me that hope, Jamie. When I met Jesus, I felt like the only woman in the world who got saved.
That’s a cool thing to say.
It’s true. As selfish as it sounds, I felt like I was the only one he loved. That’s how special God made me feel. And still does. To this day, Jamie. To this day.
So how did you get out?
I had a friend — who actually was an ex-trick that I had been engaged to . . .
Yeah, right? Anyway, we’d been together almost eight years. I helped raise his two children and he taught me a trade that got me out of the escort business. Taught me how to manage a business, how to work on cars. But even then, I was worshipping corporate business. I still wasn’t happy. Then our business failed. So I went back to . . . prostitution. Got addicted to drugs again, on cocaine. I ended up trafficking myself for drugs.
Right back to it.
I think when we haven’t been truly healed, we end up resorting back to what we thought might fix us before. Addiction took me to the very end of myself. I felt like dying, like I was at the point of suicide because everything I had tried just wasn’t working anymore. Sixteen years. I was so tired. And that’s when I overdosed on cocaine.
Then what happened?
I had a vision of myself in the coffin, the people who came to my funeral, staring at me. Dead, emaciated from doing drugs. And they shook their heads and said, “She was just a prostitute.” That scared me straight, Jamie. I jumped out of that coffin and said, “I will not let it end like this.”
That was the lowest point.
It was. I felt so scared and alone. There was no presence of God in that place. No rescue. I was sure that’s the way my life would play out. Nothing I ever did was going to work and I’m going to die alone and go to hell. So I cried out to Jesus, save me from myself.
The EMTs came and shot drugs into my heart and I lived. In that hospital bed, I felt a peace I had never felt before. I don’t know why I got a second chance, but I did. I knew I had to straighten out my life. And I knew that was going to take some time.
How do you make peace with such a past?
I had to walk it out. Baby steps. The guilt. Shame. Regret. But I had to determine to go forward and never back. Sometimes you have to prove it. Sometimes you have to be that example for others to believe.
How did Hookers for Jesus come to be?
A couple of years after I overdosed, I started reaching out to girls on the Strip by myself. Just going through the bars, riding the elevators. The places I knew the girls would be turning tricks. Telling them my name was Annie, but I used to be called Fallen and that God loves you — that you are valuable and you don’t have to live this way. At first I would just give them my card and let them know they could call me anytime. Then I started giving out gift bags. Girls began to respond and many started to come to church with me.
They listened because you had walked in their shoes.
Yeah, they knew. A lot of these girls had nowhere to run. The rules of the game are this: if you leave a pimp, you leave with nothing. You are property. So I was putting the girls in hotels and bringing them to my house. Let them sleep on my couch. Or I would sleep on the couch and give them my bed. Over time I built up a team to go out and help me with outreach. Then the church I was part of offered me one their intern homes. In 2008 I moved in and that became the first Destiny House. Then we started taking in the girls who had been rescued from sex trafficking.
That’s still going?
Yes it is. But our first house closed in 2011 after it was compromised by pimps.
I’m sorry, what?
The house was compromised by pimps. That’s just the reality of it. It’s a dangerous thing that we do. When you have a safe house, you have to be really cautious not to give up the location. Many girls have been beaten and murdered by pimps.
What happens at Destiny House?
Girls go through the program for a year, getting their life back together. They can get vocational training, trauma counseling, health care. We provide a peaceful place for spiritual, physical, and emotional healing. Mostly we let them know that no matter what they’ve done, no matter where they’ve been or how dirty they feel that there’s no judgment. They do not have to wear that scarlet letter forever.
It’s a tough road, Jamie. We have two dichotomies of judgment. There’s the church judgment — the women who are worried that their husbands are going to look at the sex industry girls who are coming to church now — and then we have the world saying, “Oh, you’re an ex-whore. You’re a tramp and a drug addict and you’ve probably got AIDS.” That’s the way people think of a woman who sold herself. We have such a stigma against prostitutes instead of loving them the way Jesus clearly taught. I just don’t get it. People judge me because I’m a former sex worker who runs a non-profit. Many Christians won’t even give to us.
You get hostility from the Christians?
Oh sure. A lot. But you know what? There are also a lot of Christians who are wonderful. For the amount that are against us, there are an equal amount who are for us. No matter what, I’m bringing the message. Can a call girl be clean? I say yes.
Thank God Jesus still runs with a rough crowd.
That’s what really got to me, Jamie. That part where they drag the woman caught in adultery before Jesus and he says: if you think you’re so perfect, if you think you’ve got it so together — then cast the first stone. I dare you. And they all got up and walked away. That’s what I want to portray in this story of my life. We’re all the same. Jesus said it himself. The prostitutes and tax collectors will make it to the Kingdom before you. We are all the same.
You did it. You changed your legacy.
I’m just loved by God’s grace.
Amen. Me too.
Listen, I want to thank you guys for taking a risk by interviewing a girl a lot of people would consider trash. I’m just honored. It really means a lot.
Images courtesy of Annie Lobert.