I remember the first time I was going to share my story in a church setting. Just as the congregation was getting ready to trickle in, a woman looked at me and said, "Are you sure you want to do this? People will never look at you the same again."

I started to panic. Was I making the right choice? Maybe she was right? Maybe a story like mine was fine to share in the strip clubs, but not with the general public, and certainly not in the church.

A friend assured me, "Who cares what they think? If they have a problem with your story, that is between them and God." She reminded me that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11). She told me that God was going to use my story to set other people free. It was only a few years prior that I had been set free—from my sin, from an abusive relationship, from a life as a stripper—as a result of someone bravely sharing their story.

Though I had been attending church and learning about Jesus, I found myself stuck in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend who essentially became my pimp. Every night, I came home from work at the strip club and gave him all of my money. He validated the negative things I believed about myself, so no matter how destructive the relationship became, I stayed.

One night, I heard a man share his testimony a Christian hip-hop concert. He told us that he had been living on the streets, a homeless drug addict, and Jesus changed his life. The man quoted John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

I had never heard someone publicly talk about their troubled past with such confidence and transparency. Up until that point, I was pretty convinced—as the enemy would have it—that I was the only one in the church dealing with brokenness. It is this sort of lie that keeps us bound and silent. That night, I began to think God could love and restore a girl like me. I decided to connect my life to the true Vine, Jesus, and from that resolution and his relentless love, I gained the strength to leave my abusive ex and stripping behind.

In the years since then, and since my first nervous night sharing my testimony at church, God went on to use my story to create the ministry of Treasures, an outreach and support group for women in the sex industry. I met many women who were, like me, ashamed of their stories. "My Story Matters" quickly became a Treasures motto.

Over the past decade, the issues of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation have gained public attention. You've probably heard about trafficking at your church or read about it on Christian websites. Whereas survivors used to have to break through barriers silence, shame, and stigma to have their voices heard, nowadays, there seems to be a spotlight waiting for anyone who will come forward with a story of victimhood.

I recently spent two hours recounting my history of trauma, abuse, and working as a stripper for a documentary. The director was wrapping the interview and asked if there was anything else I would like to cover. "Well, we didn't talk about Treasures and the work I do today… or what has happened in my life since I left the sex industry," I told him. He paused and pondered this for a moment. "That's okay. I think we've got what we need."

I'm concerned with so much attention being given to the "victimhood" part of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking stories, survivors continue to be defined by their pasts. And if survivors begin to see their value solely through the lens of their "victimhood" and people's desire to hear their stories, what happens when the spotlight moves on to a new cause? What happens when we aren't invited to share our stories anymore?

I still believe that story matters. I still believe it brings freedom. I believe it humanizes the woman on the other end of the dollar. It is a powerful tool in bringing awareness, education, and hope.

I believe these things because I know my story goes on beyond the pain and victimhood in my past to reveal my new identity in Jesus, my Savior. I am not defined by what I have done, but what he has done. The same goes for all of us as Christians.

My story matters, but it does not define me.

Harmony Dust is the founder and executive director of Treasures, an outreach and support group for women in the commercial sex industry. She has been featured in various media sources, including Glamour Magazine, The Dr. Drew Show, and The Tyra Banks Show. Her memior Scars & Stilettos was published by Lion Hudson.

A version of this essay originally appeared in a Treasures newsletter. To subscribe, click here.