You Call that a Defense?
If Jim Norton thought he was going to be an advocate for the legalization – or even decriminalization – of prostitution or sex work in literally any country with his article in Time magazine, he has not only fallen short of the mark…he has made a strong case for why we should encourage law enforcement to focus even more efforts to arrest the buyers of sexual services and insist that they attend one of the many John Schools that are popping up throughout the country.
Before you dismiss my comments as that of a sex-work-hating-rhetoric-spewing member of the anti-trafficking movement that has become drunk on the fear mongering liquor they liberally dispense throughout the country, understand first that I speak from both the experiences of the sex industry worker and the advocates for the women who want out of the sex trade. I supported the concept of John Schools long before they regained popularity and mutated from efforts to educate and inform to an agenda to shame and penalize. I also understand – as Mr. Norton clearly does not – that the reasons for a woman to engage in Sex Work range from those that truly enjoy the work and the financial remuneration the receive, to those who are forced into the trade by circumstance, perceived cultural norms and a lack of opportunity to support themselves in any other way.
Additionally – the National Day of Johns was indeed a parade of sorts – for law enforcement to crack down on juveniles who were being prostituted, multiple cases of physical and psychological abuse and the ever present abuse of power – including a border patrol agent trying to buy sex in full uniform as well as a mother who was selling her 15 year old daughter for sex. The issues of sex addiction, and ritualistic compulsions – as Mr. Norton proudly claims to be paying a therapist to address – are also paraded in this 15 state sweep where they arrested a “daddy” soliciting the services of a prostitute with his new baby in his back seat. Wow. Who is exactly is your therapist Mr. Norton? If tallying the dollar amount is the only recommendation this therapist has to make to have you account for your behavior, you might want to check the validity of their license.
Mr. Norton also claims to be “extraordinarily loving and comfortable” towards the prostitutes he charms through the passenger window of his car. And he worries about violent behavior like rapes and homicides but did nothing when – during one of his “gentle and intimate” sexual service shopping expeditions he witnessed a woman bounced across the hood of his car and tossed into a van filled with more women. How exactly would he recommend this – or any other – pimp get thrown down an elevator shaft” if Mr. Norton didn’t take a single action to alert authorities that he personally witnessed a violent kidnapping and did nothing?!? Way to take a stand Mr. Norton! I’m sure sex workers everywhere are taking up the mantle of legalization based on your action in hopes that they will be protected from violence in this manner. Perhaps you should volunteer to attend a local John School curriculum so that you could gain some understanding of how far off the mark your defense of johns actually is. It is not the legalization of prostitution that needs to be addressed here – it is the attitude created by those such as yourself that the woman who was bounced across the hood of your car didn’t deserve an anonymous call to the police with the license plate of the van in question. You display – by your lack of action – that this woman was of No Worth. Disposable. An antidote for a comedy bit.
Mr. Norton goes on to self-righteously claim that it is the society who is at fault for the prostitute being put in dangerous situations and quote studies that suggest that Rapes and STD’S would be reduced across the board if legalization of prostitution were to be signed into law when in fact this action would only legitimize the pimp and do nothing to protect the prostitute. Legalizing prostitution would not provide health insurance and a retirement package for the prostitute nor would it encourage her to report a violent crime against her person. Just exactly how do you see the “security” being “adequate” in places of legalized prostitution when the majority of violence would occur by the very providers of the security? It is the short-sighted, self-centered point of view of the john that continues to trip up the criminal and social justice system where sex work is concerned. You are not entitled to buy sex out of the passenger window of your car as if it were a Happy Meal of sorts and “giving johns a break” has never really been the central issue when the subject comes up.
Prostitution and Sex Work are complicated issues that demand sensitive and prolonged thought when considering solutions. Prostitution and Sex Work is not the same as Sex Trafficking but there is no clear delineation that both sides of the issue can agree on to make a law – or series of laws – that provide for the variety of needs that arise from the men and women – and indeed children – who work within the sex trade whether by free and fully informed choice or force, fraud and coercion.
Johns like Mr. Norton, who troll for paid sex indiscriminately in neighborhoods where poverty, hunger and homelessness are the primary economic factors that drive this facet of the sex trade can and should expect to be demonized and arrested posthaste. They are a danger to the community and they have no dog in this fight. There is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon when it comes to the difference between a john who discreetly seeks out the company of an independent responsible sex worker who is informed and over 21 and is willing to undergo a certain amount of screening and what Mr. Norton describes as his ritualistic addictive behavior to entice whomever might be working a corner under a streetlight.
Mr. Norton’s call to “give johns a break” is enough to confirm the need for education and information about sex work, prostitution and sex trafficking through a john school format. And if they have to be arrested in order to receive this information and behave in a socially responsible manner, then so be it.
Ashley came to OOTL as a referral from a Law Enforcement Vice Officer who had arrested her on several occasions and we assisted her with contacting the Victims Advocate to press charges on a violent pimp who was a Person Of Interest in the homicide of an Orlando Police Office. Although he had “sold her contract” to another pimp that she had been with before and had gone on the lam to avoid arrest he was still an ever present threat in her own mind. Ashley was a product of her environment with little opportunity to even consider that she might have other options. Her mother had been involved in prostitution and had married one of her pimps. Both of Ashley’s sisters had been involved in the escort/modeling game and they were all in denial that prostitution was indeed – the “Family Business.”
The new (or rather new this time around) pimp had given himself the name “Successful” and had dreams of becoming a player in the hip hop music industry. He supposedly owned a record label and was constantly “in the studio” and insisting that his girls work to fund his project. Successful was not what his name implied with the promise that they would live a life of privilege when he achieved his goal. He had 11 children from 11 different mothers and had never paid a dime for child support. Most of the women who had borne his children had worked for him as prostitutes and he was well known to law enforcement as the worst of the Romeo pimps.
A Romeo pimp is a man who snares a woman by convincing her that they are in love. They target a woman who is looking to be loved and tell them they will fill the void in her life. They usually start off as just being friendly – then escalate the relationship with romantic elements – and then finally – “turn her out” when the couple is faced with a real or imagined financial crisis. He tells her that any financial considerations she provided and for the support of his dream to become a famous rap artist, a world class entrepreneur or the father of her children – would be repaid when he eventually made his fortune. It is not at all unusual for a Romeo pimp to be actively working other girls in the presence of the “new” recruit and
Successful was a mild mannered character that would only become violent if he had too much to drink. He was known to treat his stable as well as can be expected but when it was crunch time and the rent was due, he could pressure them into submission using all means necessary. Successful monitored all the girls weight and would send them to the school playground to exercise if he felt they were putting on a few pounds. He gave them new working girl names and allowed them to make one phone call home to family once a week.
In order to ingratiate herself to the pimp, Ashley took on a role that is not uncommon and she became his procurer and trainer of new girls that he would bring on. She would tell girls he was interested in that he was a great guy and very protective. She would say he was kind and generous and would make sure they were taken care of when he inevitably became wealthy and famous. Ashley was an excellent recruiter and she had gotten Successful several new girls while they were out touring the country in his rented Escalade. It was Ashley and another girl who recruited Andrea during a trip back from Atlanta. They had purposely made a stop in Savannah because the deplorable economic conditions there were an excellent opportunity to get good looking girls at a discounted price. The Savannah girls were more desperate and were more likely to get in a car with a stranger than the more experienced Atlanta girls. Ashley had out done herself on this latest trip and had returned to the cheap motel room in the most desolate of Savannah city limits with a half-starved Andrea and another young scared blonde girl who had just been dumped on the street because she had come up pregnant by a trick, She had already had three abortions in her short 20 years.
The three girls and Successful set off south to Ft Lauderdale where the Sex for Sale trade was particularly proliferate among locals and tourists. The girls became close on the way back and- without Successful becoming wiser – Ashley shared her experience with OOTL and told them that she was going to run when they got back to Florida.
Within a matter of weeks of being in Ft Lauderdale Ashley called and stated that she had stolen Successfuls laptop – with all of their contract information on it – and were seeking safe haven. There was a dramatic hideout in an abandoned school yard and several desperate phone calls to OOTL and the initial law enforcement officer that had referred Ashley to us.. They eventually slipped into a convenience store and awaited rescue by a police officer who took them to a local shelter to await the next bus to Orlando.
Sometime in the night the blond girl took off and went back to Successful, leaving both Ashley and Andrea fearful for their safety. They made their way to Orlando and stayed in a hotel until the safe house was ready to accept them.
They were at the safe house for an emotional 12 days before Ashley persuaded Andrea that they were in danger and they should run. Andrea – having been recruited and trained by Ashley – had little opportunity to make her own decisions had did as she was told. Ashley returned to her mother’s house where her 3 young children lived and Andrea worked streets until she had enough money to call Successful and beg him to take her back.
Ashley stayed at her mother’s house with the blinds drawn until the case worker for Childs Services came and informed her that she was in violation of a no contact order of protection with her kids. She contacted OOTL again asking for assistance and we worked once again to assist her by taking her several trade schools and letting her imagine a life that didn’t involve selling her body.
Ashley is the poster child for women who grow up in an environment where prostitution is not only accepted, but almost encouraged. The poverty stricken, low income, project style atmosphere breeds gangs and drugs and guns and anywhere that those elements are present there will also be prostitution. It has been this way for generations and the offspring of pimps and prostitutes brought up in foster care or by exhausted grandparents who have lived similar lives continue a cycle of impoverished existences where education rarely continues past the 8th grade. Few can read or write well and the importance of education escapes them because they only know what they see and the best they can hope for is a low paying job behind the counter of a fast food drive through window. The only successful people they see are the drug dealers who prey on the meager government assisted living that only further traps them by denying them the ability to excel – or even the knowledge that they could do better.
Imagine that you woke up tomorrow with no skills – and no knowledge that you didn’t have any skills. No opportunity – and no knowledge that you had no opportunity. No education and no role model to show you an example of what a normal day might look like. In fact – in this very real example of how life in the projects is. The best opportunity you might have as an attractive young woman is to go to work as a lookout for a drug runner or hold onto weapons for gang members, or, already at high risk just by the nature of the environment, become the girlfriend of the “Romeo Pimp” so that you won’t risk being attacked by all the others and then – just like Ashley, you find yourself trading sex for money and giving it all up to the one who promised to protect you.
To those of us who work with these women, it seems crazy that they don’t leap at the first chance they have to get out of that environment and get an education or a good job or learn new skills that will enable them to provide for their families. But life on the streets is measured in milliseconds and being in what any normal person considers a safe place is like being set on fire. They have never considered a future because one has never been offered so thinking in terms of anything other than what is going to come about in the next few hours is practically impossible. When confronted with an opportunity to enter a year long program, they go immediately into survival mode and survival means fight or flight, and because we refuse to fight they take flight and head straight back to the chaos of the street. A year to them is like an eternity. They have a hard time committing to a single day.
We call these girls runners. We call them runners because no matter how close we come to considering them as “rescued”, the instant they sense a chink in the armor they take off. In hindsight it could be funny if it weren’t so tragic. What are they running from? A comfortable bed with clean sheets in an air conditioned home with hot running water and a full refrigerator? They would rather stand on a corner for 20 hours a day, having sex with strangers, risk contracting a venereal disease, being beat by a pimp or a trick or even being killed and dumped on the side of the road.
A prostitute has a 20 percent higher chance of being murdered than any other human being on the planet. Her life span is considerably less than what the average person could expect if they ate nothing but fried processed fat and smoked cigarettes from morning ‘til night. And even when she’s in her prime and highly sought after because of her youth, the life will age her beyond her years and her eyes will become dead. As lifeless as the life she only pretends to live.
Ashley fears that should she take a leap of faith and embrace a life beyond the confines of what she knows, then all of the time she has already wasted will taunt her every day. She doesn’t consider that her destiny could be one where she shows others that are trapped by their circumstance that there is surely a way out. Her past could be such an example of a God that loves and forgives all to take a shredded and tattered mess of several generations and repair it beyond her greatest expectations. If she could consider that there is the possibility of possibility, her life could account for the salvation of her own generation and for her children’s future, which if history indeed repeats itself, surely will score a similar outcome that she – and her entire family – has already dictated.
Today Ashley is a well-recognized recruiter for yet another pimp in a house on “The Trail” and continues to draw new women into a life of prostitution. She is estranged from her three children and regularly sneaks into her mother’s house and leaves money to care for them. Her mother knows what she is doing to leave the cash but does nothing to stop it. She is currently married to a pimp who was convicted of murder and is serving 20 years in Florida State Prison. She grieves for him and I wonder sometimes if she doesn’t think back to her brief 12 days where she had a chance to break the chains that bound her and chose instead to fulfill her destiny. She told me once in a rare quiet moment when she wasn’t trying to shock me or find a way to manipulate me into complying with a ridiculous demand that she wished she would be murdered because she didn’t have the will to commit suicide and she thought that somehow if her life were taken in violence that God would forgive her of all her treachery and she would be able to go to heaven.
All I could tell her was that she was already forgiven – that it had always been so.