Sweet Nothings: A Crusade to Help Sex Workers Crumbles

Sweet Nothings: A Crusade to Help Sex Workers Crumbles

Craig Gross is accustomed to unusual phone calls. As the founder of XXX Church, a Christian nonprofit headquartered in Southern California that fights porn addiction, "people call for the strangest reasons," he says.

But in early 2008, a particular voicemail caught his attention: A San Francisco woman called to say she loved Gross' ministry work to the sex industry and wanted to mail him a donation. Gross found it strange, given that donation instructions were posted on the XXX Church website, but he called back and provided his address.

"The next day I get this elaborate arrangement, this edible fruit basket, and a check to our nonprofit for a thousand dollars," Gross recalls.

Adult entertainer Hollie Stevens, best known for her clown porn, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
Courtesy of Gordon of Girls & Corpses Magazine
Adult entertainer Hollie Stevens, best known for her clown porn, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
Lasky often received donations from Sephora.
Mike Hendrickson
Lasky often received donations from Sephora.

On his next trip to San Francisco, Gross made an effort to meet his mysterious donor. Her name was Laura Robles, and her passion for helping sex workers didn't stop at an extravagant donation. "What I did know about Laura was that she did have a heart for these women," Gross remembers. He attended her wedding in August 2008, and saw similar potential for ministry in her new husband, Stephen Lasky. "They were helpful, passionate about what we did, excited — they became friends to the point of wanting to help out any way they could," he says.

The Laskys were eager to get involved in Gross' work and became members of XXX Church's advisory board. "Some people refer to it as ministry because that's their baseline. Some people just say social justice. For me, because I'm a person of faith, it's always ministry because it's part of my faith to serve," Laura says.

But the couple soon split away to form their own San Francisco-based organization, Solace SF. "I thought, 'Why should I have to travel to Vegas [where XXX Church was operating at the time] when I'm living in the mothership?'" she says.

Solace SF's goal was to provide support services to sex workers and human trafficking victims, and for about five years, that's allegedly what the organization did.

As the founder and executive director of Solace SF, Laura became the caretaker of a dying porn star, as well as a sometimes-controversial protector of sex workers in crisis. Her signature method of outreach — gifts of cupcakes and makeup handed out in strip clubs and at events — may have seemed an unusual way to connect, but her enthusiasm was undeniable and made her well-known among local sex workers.

But in February, Solace SF suddenly collapsed. Laura's fellow board members — including her husband — decided to shutter the organization following what they described in a press release as "a full audit of all activities in the organization (community support, personnel, and documentation)." The board scrubbed Solace SF's website and social media pages, and issued a press release apologizing for the "confusion and betrayal" they claimed Laura had wrought. Board chair Danny Bias told SF Weekly that a trail of broken relationships triggered the board's audit; he said he was uncertain of the true extent of Solace SF's work.

When the board severed ties with Laura Lasky, she filed for divorce and left her organization, her causes, and her home in San Francisco behind (she asked SF Weekly not to reveal her current location). In her wake, she leaves questions — about the legitimacy of her organization, about the money that flowed through it, and about the kinds of services local sex workers require. Her exile revealed a passion project contaminated by secrecy, and the contradictions of a person driven to do good for others.

According to Lasky, Solace SF traces its roots to Halloween 2008, when she and a few friends decided to visit San Francisco's strip clubs, bearing cupcakes and goodie bags filled with makeup. The idea to fuel outreach missions with sugar was borrowed from Lasky's experience at XXX Church. Gross' organization had started bringing cupcakes into strip clubs in Las Vegas, and Lasky attended some of those early outreach visits. "It's a brilliant thing Craig came up with, a brilliant, sweet introduction," Lasky says of the cupcake deliveries.

Over the course of several phone calls and emails with SF Weekly, Lasky recounted her experience ministering to sex workers and shed light on her motivations — and her departure. Her speech is sprinkled with flattering adjectives — everyone she interacts with is "brilliant," "amazing," or "wonderful" — and she's cautious not to speak ill of her critics. She frequently reiterates that she merely wanted those she came in contact with to feel loved.

When Lasky began her own outreach visits, she added gift bags of makeup to the recipe, often donated by Sephora, an international beauty company headquartered in San Francisco, where her estranged husband, Stephen, works as vice president of merchandise strategy and business development.

In San Francisco, Lasky found a community of empowered sex workers, but she thought their resources were limited. "I felt like something needed to be offered that was respectful to the choices of sex workers, something nonjudgmental and from a place of wanting to set people up for success and support," she writes.

The concept was deeply rooted in her Christian faith. "I hope [my faith] offers a reflection of something that is available to everyone — unconditional love and support without judgment."

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18 comments
robertrhine
robertrhine

There will always be people who defend crooks, such as yourself Gram. Maybe it's your own past that makes you feel the need to take the side of evil. But Gram... I mean,... really... the jig is up. Laura Lasky has fled into the wind. Her husband dumped her and her co-workers were deceived and betrayed. Lausa Lasky's fraud has been very publicly exposed. Solace SF has folded. Time to let GO. Laura Lasky is a rotten egg. Maybe you skimmed but did not read the article published in the SF Weekly. Put on your glasses and read it again. If Laura Lasky is still your friend, I suggest you get new friends. The ship has sank on Solace SF and you are the only one trying to throw this con woman a life-line. You probably think OJ is innocent too and the Easter Bunny is real. Lasky's "charity" organization is DEAD... OVER... KAPUT. Laura Lasky will no longer be able to prey on the needy and pad her pockets. Hurray! Now, all let's move on and let the FBI and IRS sort out the rest.

gramponante
gramponante

As an acquaintance of Hollie's, I remember two conversations — one long before she was diagnosed and another in the summer of 2011 — in which she said she did not want contact with her family. I can imagine how hard that is to hear for a family seeking reconciliation, but those were the wishes she expressed to me and no doubt to others to whom she was closer. For Hollie, SolaceSF's work was indeed a solace and a help to her. She had a big support network of which Laura was a large part.


Independent of her work with Hollie, I watched Laura brighten the lives and comfort the hearts of a lot of people, both on the ground in San Francisco and up in the air at hotel suites in Vegas during the Adult Entertainment Expo.


While Hollie indeed seemed to be Solace's highest-profile client, I never saw Hollie's name traded on. Naming the AVN suites were a shorthand for guests to know they would be treated with respect, care, and even humor when necessary, as that was what Hollie was about. And Laura never prayed over you; I remember it was the Cupcake Girls who tried to pull that the first year of the Hollie Stevens Suite.


I also believe there is more to this story, but maybe the central disappointment is that the reach of Solace exceeded its grasp. Perhaps the thinking was too global when simple but meaningful bits of local outreach were the organization's forte.

unionizedwhore
unionizedwhore

Maybe the whole bunch of them were really under cover FBI agents looking for sex trafficked victims but couldn't find any so they just disbanded and left...

roxie666
roxie666

It is not Sex Workers Outreach Program's mission to provide services to individual sex workers.  Sex workers who need services can come to us for referrals to professionals and organizations that do provide non-judgemental support services to sex workers.  SWOP works on projects with the goal of improving the lives of sex workers in general.  We do outreach to street based sex workers; we put on events that create positive sex worker community; we provide speakers to conferences, college classrooms, and sex work related events; we network with other local and national sex workers' rights organizations on public policy and legislative issues.

Lala Bean
Lala Bean

I am very familiar with xxX church. They were at the Miami porn convention last year with a booth and we're passing little gifts and flyers out. They are a good organization. I was a sex worker when I was living in San Francisco. I was a porn actress as well as working at the whore houses in Nevada. Thanks to a nother organization that help me get out, I haven't worked in that industry since 2009. The government really needs to take a look at the porn industry and see what it is doing 2 people. Most of us are all on antidepressants now, suffer from depression, and has been received several times

heartbroken
heartbroken

Why would Lasky file for divorce and then disappear right as the organization is being audited? Fraud. Why would she alienate a dying woman from her family and have her sign over all of her rights? Personal gain. There is more to this story. This woman told everyone she encountered a different history. I first thought she was "christian' and later heard she was a satanist, ostensibly to get in deeper with Hollie. Never heard she was a former sex worker until that story suited her. Halo held up by horns? Make-up and cupcakes doesn't help change someone's situation in life. Hollie needed her family and Laura took that away from her on her deathbed so that she could control the situation for her own financial gain. There's more to this story and it's heartbreaking. :(  

liljennypocket
liljennypocket

This seems sort of like a non-story. Woman tries but fails to create a successful nonprofit, doesn't dramatically change anyone's life but also doesn't harm anyone's life either. The end.

shortsandsandalsent
shortsandsandalsent

A new award-winning documentary, "Risky Business: A Look Inside America's Adult Film Industry," examines many of the current issues surrounding the adult film industry, including much of what was written in this article, including the social backlash and discrimination that adult film performers face.  The film's website is RiskyBusinessTheMovie.com

thunder.in.our.heart
thunder.in.our.heart

St James Infirmary has provided peer based medical care and counseling support to sex workers in San Francisco since 1999, it would be great if you could update the article to give folks who may feel a gap about Solaces demise in regards to those services an idea of where to access care.  

jameskidwell
jameskidwell

Who are you and why do you insist on defending Laura Lasky? Why do you insist on saying I didn't have contact with my sister. I just accidentally restored my old phone on my new one and it reloaded an entire conversation my sister and I had texting in Dec of 2011. How could you have heard her say that when we were talking? Obviously, you are a liar. I'm sick of the lies. Her closest friend has contacted me and said she heard us talking. Others have said the same. If you heard her say that, that long ago, how come I was even talking to Laura about my sister's treatment? I've had some kind of contact with nearly everyone in this article. I know who the anonymous people are. Why is that? Why can't you leave well enough alone? She was a fraud. The tribute room was to expand her business. Her FOR PROFIT business. Why not a contract to make sure no one uses her name? Facts are facts. Laura has fled. If she cared so much for all these people, wouldn't it be worth staying and fighting for? Especially if she didn't do anything wrong? It's like you didn't even read this article and commented. Just like your comments on the last article written about Laura being a fraud. How many articles do you need? I've never met people that will defend crooks after they've been exposed, unless they're in on it. Amazing. I was in hopes that I wouldn't have to comment on this article, but I can't let out right lies go unanswered. Lies that don't matter to this story. Lies told just to be hurtful. Laura won't even say where she moved. Rip on her for a while. She's the subject in this. Open your financial records if you did no wrong. That's what real non profits do.

etcash
etcash

@heartbroken  laura never took hollie's family away from her, that was holl's decision, and I personally asked her more than once if she wanted to recant it, and she did not. I don't know what to think, at all, when it comes to all the other allegations, but holl's decision to keep her family away was hers and hers alone.


Debriefneeded
Debriefneeded

@heartbroken- totally agree with all you've said here.  I think people in SF who met and thought they knew Laura Lasky are now realizing that much (if not all) of what she stated about her background, and life, was total b.s.  I am sure many SF acquaintances are now comparing notes and stories and coming up with just more mystery about the lady who only dressed in black.   Who is she really? Where did she come from?  Who knew her before she came to SF?  Has she done this kind of thing before? So many questions. As for the very inclusive and accepting Christian values she espoused, I hope that the message of a loving God, who is FOR everyone, was not damaged by the messenger.   Its upsetting to think she is another Christian who gives Christians a bad name..for that, I feel especially heartbroken too.  Don't use the name of Jesus to manipulate, deceive, lie and rip people off, ok?  Have the decency to do that in your own name, and keep God out of your misdeeds.         

meatsack
meatsack

@heartbroken

Yes pretended to be a satanist to get closer to someone. 

Whatever dude.

 
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