Ex-prostitutes giving hope to others on streets

Posted at 11:55 PM, May 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-31 10:08:24-04

Outreach teams from the Victory Outreach Church of Phoenix will be fanning out throughout Phoenix this week, hitting up the hot zones known for prostitutes.

The women many refer to as "women of the night" are called "twilight treasures" by this group. Outreach is part of a worldwide project called Operation Code Red.

The teams consist of volunteers and many former prostitutes who have turned their lives around. Victory Outreach offers the girls a place to stay for a year, addiction counseling, job counseling, work and life skills, coping skills, and any other help they needed to help get back on their feet.

All 22 beds run by the Victory Outreach in Women's Recovery homes are filled. Patsy Garcia with Victory Outreach says there is a desperate need for more housing and support within the community. They run a home for Spanish women as well.

Volunteers said they talk to the women, offer support and let them know there is a place they can turn to for help. They also hand each woman a personal invitation to a special event with no strings attached. The event called "Beautiful You" is a place where they can get a free lunch, new outfit, and one salon treatment of their choice. This includes anything from a haircut, a facial, massage, or manicure/pedicure. They're also offering free health exams to women and free beauty gift bags.

Garcia hopes women will show up, regardless of whether they're ready to get off the streets or not. Last year, Garcia said 160 women showed up. Twenty of them decided to join the program and reform their lives.

Each success story is very personal for some of the volunteers who have walked in those shoes.

Teresa Flores worked as a prostitute for many years.  

"I was molested as a young girl, at age 5," said Flores. She says she got addicted to drugs, leading to a downward spiral. Flores said she was so ashamed of herself that taking the step to sell her body meant nothing to her at the time. It was just another way to get her hands on drugs. Flores said many of the girls she encountered were addicts of either drugs or money.

"You can make hundreds. Five hundred to a thousand dollars a day. Me personally, I was a drug addict and I was basically going from bag to bag," said Flores. She did not save any of the money.  She said she spent it all on drugs.

Prison saved her life. That is where she found God and started on a path to live a life that pleased Him instead of herself.

Lizeth Cervantes, another Victory Outreach volunteer, was still healing from her scars on the street. Just four months into the program, she was still very emotional. Like Flores, her downward spiral also started when a trusted family member abused her.

"I was raped by my grandfather when I was seven. Every time I used to see him drinking, I would get scared," said Cervantes.

She ran away from home several times and joined a gang to try to get the feeling of being part of a family.

Cervantes said she was "beat into" the gang and got addicted to drugs. She also got pregnant and had a child at the age of 14. Her boyfriend was very abusive, and Cervantes said he would punch and kick her in the stomach while she was pregnant. She ran away from home again.

Cervantes said she then met a woman who befriended her and provided her with drugs. The relationship quickly changed when the woman started demanding money from the drugs, and forced Cervantes to have sex with men in exchange for drugs. When Cervantes refused, she said she was locked up in a room, and not given her drugs.

She was held hostage by her addiction, and by this woman, but she finally escaped and asked her family for help. Cervantes said her life turned around when her children were taken away from her because of drugs.

"This social worker basically told me you need to get your life together otherwise your children are going to be adopted out to this family in California. I didn't want to lose my children.  So she gave me a number, I called them up, they came and picked me up and since then my life has changed," said Cervantes.

Her children are now being cared for by her mother.

As Flores and Cervantes walk the streets again for a second time, this time they're on a mission. They want to let prostitutes they encounter know that they too could change their lives. Instead of women of the night, they can become women with self-respect.

"It's hard, I know. You get used to this life. They are scared, afraid. I was afraid of change. I know some of the girls, they get used to it. They just get numb. You get used to that life. There is an emptiness you keep trying to fill. But men or drugs are not going to fill that emptiness," said Cervantes.

She said it may take more than one visit, but she hopes many of the women will eventually be ready to accept help.   

Flores is determined as well. In her four years with Victory Outreach, she has already helped transform the lives of several women.

"I was told by my mother, you can't save the world but you can reach them one person at a time." 

If you'd like to help you can contact Victory Outreach here.