In a trial that some observers might say never had a prayer, a Phoenix woman was found guilty of running a brothel, despite her defense that “sexual healing” is her religion. It’s actually a compelling defense strategy, if an unusual invocation of the First Amendment, but, when the guilty verdict was read on Wednesday, Tracy Elise reportedly lamented, “I never thought it would be like this.” Indeed, her defense, while farfetched, might have had legs in the hands of another attorney. Alas, Elise acted as her own lawyer in the case.
Elise, a self-proclaimed “high priestess,” had operated the Phoenix Goddess Temple, where “goddesses” worked in bedrooms that were otherwise known as “transformation chamber[s] dedicated to the great goddess” until police raided it in 2011 and she was arrested along with several accomplices. The “deities” in the temple were naked women who would engage in “sacred unions” with “seekers,” sexually healing them through “tantric touch” on their “wands of light” in exchange for significant monetary “donations.” Authorities were none-too-amused by all of the euphemistic language. Substitute the words prostitute, sex, johns, manual stimulation, penis, and payment for all of the words in quotes above and you have the gist of the prosecutors’ case. Elise, and her workers, prosecutors argued, were accepting money for sex, and, plain and simple, breaking prostitution and money-laundering laws, among others (22 counts in all).
“Sexuality is natural, necessary, and a lot of it happens with ignorance,” Elise reportedly told jurors during her closing argument, which she described as “the impromptu speech of my life” in a video posted to Facebook. “Please don’t let pornography and sex ed be the only thing people have,” she implored the jury. Elise described the trial as a “moment in herstory.” The jury bought none of it, and Elise is now facing up to 70 years in prison when she’s sentenced in April.
If at this point you’re wondering how Elise is bound to do behind bars, her son, Ben, provided some insight in an interview outside the courthouse following the close of the trial. He said she’ll be “continuing her ministry,” adding, “she is teaching women about the goddess … and now she’s doing it wherever she’s at, which is in prison.”
Read the full story at The Washington Post.