She was beaten, raped, kidnapped, suffocated and had guns put in her mouth while working the Las Vegas strip as a â€œhigh- classâ€ prostitute for 11 years.
Now reformed ex-hooker Annie Lobert, 45, is helping to get prostitutes off the streets and into a better life through her international Christian ministry, Hookers for Jesus.
Lobert, who held workshops at His Church in Pinetown this weekend, also wants to come back and help local women â€“ and educate South African men that women who sell their bodies donâ€™t enjoy it.
â€œ(That prostitutes enjoy selling their bodies) is the furthest thing from the truth. I know from my own experience. I lied to every man I slept with. I faked every orgasm, I lied and said I enjoyed what I did. Iâ€™ll be honest with you, the money is the only thing I enjoyed in the beginning,â€ she said.
â€œBut after a while, selling your body is like selling your soul. The guilt and shame and segregation that come with it are not worth the price that you charged for it. I think itâ€™s very important to get the message that itâ€™s not okay to buy another human being.
â€œThe men who buy women need to actually understand that women who sell their bodies donâ€™t enjoy it. We do it as a duty because we have to. And every single man we sleep with takes a piece of our souls. And when you see a prostitute, just remember that she could be your daughter, your sister, your mother. She could be your niece or granddaughter. If a customer who buys girls could realise how damaging it is to a woman and to her body, he might not do it any more.â€
Guided by the mantra â€œhook, help and healâ€, Hookers for Jesus aims to provide transitional support and help to women seeking to leave the sex industry.
Of her organisationâ€™s name, she said, â€œIâ€™d been called a hooker by police and by my friends, and I was a whore, a prostitute. I remembered that Jesus called his four disciples fishermen. He said I will make you fishers of men, which in spiritual terms meant he would teach them how to fish for souls. And part of fishing for souls is the gospel. Instead of selling my body to men to make money, I was going to be a fisher of people.
â€œOur mission is to hook, help and heal. We hook ladies from prostitution, bring them through a healing process through deliverance, get them the counselling they need, the real emotional and physical help they need.â€
Lobertâ€™s Durban visit came about after she met Pam de Menezes and Christie Desfontaine, members of popular band The Arrows.
â€œI took them on an outreach through the Las Vegas strip, where everyone gambles and there are girls selling their bodies. I showed them the girls. They were blown away and said, â€˜You should come to Durbanâ€™. So this conference came up and I wasnâ€™t going to miss it.â€
Although Lobert didnâ€™t get a chance to see the local sex trade up close, she is hoping to come back soon and spend more time interacting with local women on the streets. â€œI love this country. Iâ€™ve only been here a couple of days. I see the people who live here, Iâ€™ve tasted the food. Iâ€™d love to come over a little longer. I really feel thereâ€™s a deep hurt in South Africa that only God can heal.â€
Having been to â€œhellâ€ and back, Lobert now wants to use her own life story to win over other lost souls.
â€œIt comes to a point where youâ€™re so tired of being sick and tired, where you canâ€™t move a muscle out of bed. I started overdosing cocaine. I basically hit the wall. But I just couldnâ€™t sell my body any more. I was so unhappy, I didnâ€™t want to get out of bed and live any more.
â€œAnd I knew that if Iâ€™d continued I would be killing myself, because it hurt so much. Itâ€™s being at the very bottom in darkness. Itâ€™s like being stuck in a cage and thereâ€™s no light. Youâ€™re lost and you canâ€™t find a way out. You know that if you donâ€™t, youâ€™ll die. Thatâ€™s the point that I got to in life.â€
Hookers for Life has had numerous success stories.
Seeing a woman quit prostitution and understand â€œhow much God loves herâ€ gives her the most satisfaction.
â€œIn Las Vegas thereâ€™ve been so many women that have come and gone through our ministry. Iâ€™ve also had a lot of positive feedback from people who have hated girls like us, people that judged us.
â€œIâ€™ve had Muslims write to me and theyâ€™re like, â€˜We love what youâ€™re doingâ€™. Iâ€™ve had Buddhists e-mail me. And people from India, Hindusâ€¦ They say youâ€™re giving these women a second chance and a support structure speaks volumes. Itâ€™s amazing to me.â€