Samantha Summers-Rivas is the founder of a faith-based nonprofit that serves victims of trafficking and their families. As a born again Christian with her own trafficking story, she is perfectly suited and extremely effective at helping others in the industry.
Her Las Vegas-based organization is called Rubies LV. As Samantha explains, “We know that not only does sexual exploitation and trafficking affect the victim, but it also sends a ripple effect throughout the family.”
This is a unique service and perspective that Rubies LV offers. As a foster parent, Samantha has a special interest in helping children who are caught up in the foster care system.
The numbers are staggering. In the city of Las Vegas alone, there are 3,600 children in traditional foster care, and there are another 38,000 children in what is called fictive kin foster care. These kids have been placed in homes with a family friend or family member.
Samantha’s personal story is not an easy one. Her father was an authority figure. As a veteran, he was good at providing security and protection, but he struggled to offer the validation and softness that she, and most girls, crave from their dad. At 16, he passed away, leaving Samantha unsupervised while her mother worked 10-12 hour days to provide for the family. This was a perfect opportunity for any teen to sow some wild oats. She started experimenting with drugs and engaging in promiscuous behavior.
She had a longing to feel loved and accepted. Without a father figure in her life, she started looking for validation in the wrong places. She engaged with sexual partners of both sexes in an attempt to seek approval and affection.
When she turned 18, Samantha noticed a neighbor working as a stripper who was able to buy herself a car and save cash to buy a house. She was a woman making a living wage, and it got Samantha thinking.
She rationalized that she could earn enough money to go to college, buy a house, do something with herself and become self-sufficient. In her mind, she felt like since she was already giving sex away, she might as well get paid.
While dancing on stage at a strip club doesn’t sound like selling actual sex, it’s what happens behind the scenes that makes significant money for women in the industry. So it became obvious fairly quickly that there was another level to this business that ultimately led to sex trafficking. As Samantha explains, “Everything is intertwined. People think like, oh, this has nothing to do with this or nothing to do with that. But they do. They overlap. And that’s a common misconception.”
This is why when people try to justify watching porn or dropping in at a strip club, they have to set aside the bigger picture of what’s really going on. Strip clubs and pornography are a large part of sex trafficking. They are companion industries, and when people choose to patronize these services, they are adding to the problem.
Samantha elaborates on the many bad situations she witnessed during her time working in a strip club. She explains how customers are bombarded with sex from the moment they walk in the door. There are nude women on stage, porn is playing on giant screens, and explicit music is blaring that validates and glamorizes the life.
She watched girls being hit with chairs, having their noses broken and pimps bringing their “bottom” (the female recruiter) into the club to look for new girls. In an eye-opening moment after a co-worker pointed out that she was already “hoe-in’” on stage, Samantha realized that she might as well make some real money.
The first time lasted five minutes, but Samantha was already numb. The shock wore off quickly because of the desensitization she had experienced.
When Samantha looks back on the experience, she has to fight the urge to ask, “Why didn’t anybody come into the club and talk to me?” Where were the nonprofits when she needed help getting out of the industry? What women in the sex industry don’t need is a Christian with a sign outside telling them they will burn in hell. They need the love, compassion and hope that Jesus offers. They need someone to care about them, and to show it. But without anyone there to help lead these lost girls to restoration, they often struggle to see a way out.
Once free, Samantha started an organization that does just that.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this conversation with Samantha next week…