When Rachelle Starr was 21 years old, she pleaded with God to use her. She had grown up in a pastor’s home, and her husband now worked in a church. It was important to Starr that she find her own way to serve God.
Rachelle Starr / Courtesy photo
That’s when she noticed an adult entertainment theatre in Southern Indiana that she drove by every day on her way to work. She says she felt God calling her to serve the women inside.
That led to an 18-month fast as Starr prayed about how to minister to exploited and trafficked women.
In 2008, she and several friends went into the theatre and asked the manager if they could bring the women home-cooked meals. To Starr’s surprise, he agreed.
They continued bringing meals to the theatre, and by the next year they were serving 500 meals a week to women in 10 clubs across Louisville, Kentucky.
In 2009, at the encouragement of her church, Starr founded Scarlet Hope as a 501(c)(3). Since then, the ministry has served more than 1 million meals to women, she said.
According to a 2003 study by psychologist Melissa Farley, 89% of women in the adult entertainment industry want to escape it but don’t feel capable of doing so. Scarlet Hope works to provide resources to help women do just that, while also helping them transform their lives and follow Christ.
“We get a front row seat to watch Jesus change people’s lives,” Starr said. “It feels overwhelming that God would choose me to lead something like this. But that God would choose to allow us to see that transformation in people’s lives…we all thank God for that.”
Soon after the ministry was established in 2009, one of Scarlet Hope’s first volunteers moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she saw the same needs. Soon, Scarlet Hope was established in a second location.
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Now, Scarlet Hope has locations in 10 cities across the country. “That’s the mission we are on,” Starr said. “That every woman in the adult entertainment industry in America, and maybe beyond, will hear the Gospel.”
Scarlet Hope works through a three-step model. First, volunteers and staff bring meals, desserts, and gifts to women in the industry. Second, they invite the women into community through Bible studies and counseling services. Third, as the women get plugged in, staff disciple them.
The discipleship program includes career development, church involvement, and individual mentorship. Women are placed into jobs, either provided by Scarlet Hope or other local organizations.
In their 2022-23 fiscal year, the organization provided outreach to 22,000 women, invited 2,500 into community, and saw 48 transformed through discipleship. Starr says each of the 48 women became Christians, started a new job or education, and got involved in a church.
While Scarlet Hope has continued to grow, COVID-19 caused struggles for the nonprofit, Starr said. According to its 2021 990, Scarlet Hope’s contributions and grants dropped $264,000 from the year prior.
Starr largely attributes the drop to Scarlet Hope’s bakery closing for 9 months during the pandemic. The bakery normally raised additional funds for the organization while employing women in the discipleship program.
But the pandemic also saw increased need as many women in the industry lost their jobs. Scarlet Hope opened a food bank to help, and employed former bakery workers there instead.
Starr is wowed as she looks back on the impact Scarlet Hope has made in the past 15 years.
She recalls the transformation of one woman who came to the organization after a volunteer saw her on a street corner in the pouring rain.
The woman was hesitant to go to Scarlet Hope, so the volunteer gave her Starr’s number. She eventually called and told Starr she wanted a new life. Through the help provided by Scarlet Hope, she overcame a drug addiction, left an abusive partner, and came to faith in Christ.
She then worked at Scarlet Hope for several years before moving on to a job in the area.
“It’s just absolutely beautiful because she’s found meaning and she’s found purpose, a woman we found on the street selling herself and addicted to drugs,” Starr said. “She’s a very strong believer and loves the Lord and tells everybody about him.”