Lecture with former sex worker Harmony Dust draws students despite smaller turnout
On Tuesday night, Harmony Dust tells her testimony to the audience, sharing about years of neglect, abuse, and shame. | John Buchanan/THE CHIMES
Associated Students held a religious lecture Tuesday evening at the Fireplace Pavilion called “Hope and Redemption: The City, The Industry, and Jesus,” featuring former sex worker Harmony Dust. The talk covered the sex industry, sex trafficking, Dust’s ministry and testimony, and ways to get involved.
Senior psychology major and AS religious lectures coordinator Matt Fier spearheaded the lecture. He expected attendance to be roughly 100 to 150 students, however, between 65 and 70 students attended the event.
“The attendance was moderately good … I felt that [the talk] was effective,” sophomore communications major and Alpha West senator Rebecca Gallacher said.
The last AS panel, “Sexuality Matters: A Discussion on Homosexuality, Biola and Jesus,” drew more than 500 students, according to a recent Chimes article, far more than this lecture.
“It’s right around midterms, and I think we can, at times, have an over-saturation of topics,” Fier said.
Event draws students despite drop in attendance
Despite the drop in attendance, Fier expressed the benefits of the lecture.
“Harmony [Dust] was excellent, and certainly different, by far, from most of the teachings I’ve heard on the subject,” Fier said.
In an interview prior to the lecture, Fier said that discussions of sexual sin are taboo, which is why he felt Biolans needed to hear this topic.
“We like to shy away from them,” Fier said. He hopes that lectures like this will equip and empower students to not just be knowledgeable, but to be able to have an impact as well.
The lecture began with an overview of trafficking as a whole and its connection to the commercial sex industry.
“You can’t separate the issue of sex trafficking from the ... sex industry,” Dust said.
Falling into the industry
Dust grew up in a violent home and neighborhood in Venice. At the age of 15, Dust met an older male in her neighborhood who took her under his wing.
“He presented himself as a friend and protector,” Duse said. “But [he] had every intention of pimping me.” She began stripping at 19 years old.
She emphasized the importance of building relationships with women in the industry and seeing that each one has her own unique story.
“The story is important because it humanizes the woman on the other end of the dollar,” Dust said.
Reflecting on her own story, Dust said she is out of the industry because of a Christian friend who loved her and wanted to know her.
“I truly, genuinely felt loved by her, and it was through that friendship that I experienced the unconditional love of God,” she said.
This is why Dust started her ministry.
Organization is meant replicate unconditional love of God
“The method that we use is modeling what that friend did for me,” Dust said about her organization, Treasures. “It’s just showing women the unconditional love of God and meeting them where they’re at.”
Treasures shows women that they are loved, valued and purposed in God, according to Dust.
She mentioned ways in which the audience could be part of the daunting task of ending sex trafficking, one of which is not to participate in the demand for sex workers and pornography.
Fier also noted that men and women are unaware of the consequences of their actions.
“Men and women struggle with pornography because we don’t understand the sex industry,” Fier said. “It’s not just a free click on the web.” He expressed concern that viewing pornography directly affects the women in the industry.
A lecture needed on a campus that sugar-coats
Marissa Swodeck, a sophomore elementary education major, said that the talk made the issue more tangible.
“I knew a lot about human trafficking but I’ve never related porn with it as much, so it definitely put it more into perspective,” she said.
Swodeck expressed that this lecture was much needed for Biola, noting that Biolans often like to sugarcoat topics.
“I like the rawness of it, and just how real she was and how upfront she was about things,” she said.
Along with not participating in the demand, Dust also gave suggestions of ways to be a part of the solution, including to supporting and volunteering with existing organizations, by having what she described as a teachable heart while engaging those in the industry, and being a voice in one’s sphere of influence.
“I just encourage you to not underestimate what God can do with you just being willing and available and sensitive to his leading,” Dust said.