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Shining a Light on the Sex Trade


Part Three: No One Ever Got in my Business

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – In part one of this series readers were introduced to  Teresa Richenberger, who left her East Texas home of Deadwood (near Carthage) at the age of 14, moved to Houston and fell into the dark world of the sex trade. Sex, drugs and alcohol quickly became a way of life for this East Texas teenager.

Part two of her story examined how after several failed attempts, Richenberger was able to escape the tentacles of that world and to come out on the other side – bruised and battered – but alive.

She recently opened a home in Kilgore for women and children coming out of the sex trafficking industry.

The home is known as Rahab’s Retreat & Ranch and according to their website the home “… is a voluntary, faith-based program serving victims of sex trafficking and women in the sex industry free of charge. Women who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused as well as those coming from jail will find a safe haven at Rahab’s Retreat & Ranch. We serve women of all socioeconomic backgrounds as well as women who have children. We also serve those who face a combination of life-controlling issues such as self-harm, drug and alcohol addictions, depression, unplanned pregnancy, homeless and broken women.”

The concluding part of this series examines why she decided to open her home to help those with a story similar to hers.

“Why did I want to help others?” Richenberger asked. “No one ever got in my business.”

Asked what she meant by that, Richenberger explained no one ever told her what she was doing was wrong.

“How many abortions did I have? What about Christmas and the holidays when I didn’t have anyone to share it with it? No one sat down and got in my business and said, ‘Teresa, what are you doing?’ No one talked to me about how important family was or about commitment or raising children. The real things of life – no one got in my business,” she said.

“The ones who did get in my business were the druggies, just like I was. They would tell me to go ahead and get that abortion. ‘What are you gonna do with a kid? It ain’t mine.’ So what I mean by that is no one got in my business,” Richenberger said.

As an example, Richenberger said to take a drive down I-45 towards Houston or Dallas and look at all the billboards advertising the sex trade.

“It’s cool to be a dancer,” she said sarcastically. “How many girls live that lifestyle and yet, we still l think it’s cool to exploit them? If we don’t get real, we will never get healed. Never. That’s one reason I’m in young girls’ business all the time. Think about some girl who tells you her car broke down. She’s hanging out with some guy and two days later her car is fixed. She’ll tell you he’s just a friend. If you sell yourself to get something, that’s prostitution.”

Richenberger said when she looks back at her life she was lucky she didn’t wind up dead.

“I wish someone had gotten in my business. I’ve known several young girls that OD’d and wound up dead. No one got in their business,” she said.

After years of a clean and sober life, Richenberger said she wanted to help those she could identify with and credited her faith and God’s hand in allowing her to open Rahab’s Retreat & Ranch.

“The only people we don’t take in are people on anti-psychotic drugs or if they are bi-polar. We don’t have that level of care. We don’t have a medical team on staff, full-time. We do have some people on staff who are licensed counselors but the medical side is a whole different set of licenses,” she said.

As the discussion continued, Richenberger was asked what could be done to help alleviate the problem of sex trafficking.

“One thing people need to do is wake up. Even though there are women out there, there also has to be a man out there willing to pay. These men are our neighbors, our friends and even family members. It’s easy to put your head in the sand – if you’re a part of it – and act like it doesn’t exist,” she said.

“It happens so much more than we think. It has to because if not, the sex industry and the sex trafficking wouldn’t be the billion dollar industry it is. It’s just your average man you wouldn’t think of. He may have a problem and may recognize it, but people still don’t want to think it goes on in their small town or the next small town because they’re the ones who go to that next small town,” Richenberger added.

“One of the problems is the ongoing demand. We can say we don’t like it and we don’t, but let’s be real. If the demand is there, the supply will follow,” she said.

Changing gears somewhat, Richenberger said while she truly wants to help women and children, for every success story there is also a heartbreak just around the corner.

“There was a young girl who lived near the New Jersey border and she was waiting to come down here. She was waiting on our home to open. I had never met her. She had been clean for six months and lived in a town called Cambridge, NJ. Just before we opened, she went out and OD’d. I mourned that young girl for two weeks. I sat and I cried. I couldn’t get this sorrow out of my heart. The one’s I do know – it just breaks my heart,” she said as a tear rolled down her cheek.

For those considering entering the sex trade, Richenberger had some advice.

“It’s not as glamorous as you might think it is. All these young girls who go into it get all hyped up, get new piercings, get tanned, get their hair done, get a new G-string and get some heels but it’s only glamorous for just a little bit. They don’t realize the change is coming. They won’t be able to stay in that lifestyle and be that cute little girl. They won’t be able to maintain that innocent look as they get harder and harder. The money is never as good as you might think it is. It never is,” she said.

“For the ones who are in it and want a way out, I would tell them they could come live at my home and let us help you. Let other girls who have been exactly where they are at love them – not judge them or think they are stupid – but just love them,” Richenberger said. “I would tell them if they’re in the industry, there is hope. You’re not lost. You’re not washed up. You are worthy, you’re worth loving and you are truly valuable.”

Rahab’s Retreat and Ranch may be contacted via their website at www.rahabsranchandretreat.com or by phone at 903-218-4985.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com