Saturday, June 21, 2014
History of Sex Workers Anonymous (formerly Prostitutes Anonymous)
History of Sex Workers Anonymous
I first came in contact with the issue of sex trafficking while also being “forced” to be in the sex industry in many different ways that were not so direct as a gun to the head. In order to try and understand this – think of the sex industry as having direct parallels to the meat industry.
Let me try and explain using this as a model. First of all, you have people who have pets they love and adore. They treat these animals as well, if not sometimes better, than they would children. They have groomers, eat foods cooked specially for them, wear designer clothing, and are watched over 24/7. They are not eaten, but instead loved. However, these pets are still kept on leashes and are not free to go where they wish.
Then you have farms which raise animals under very healthy conditions where they are kept “free range” and fed “vegetarian feed”. They are humanely slaughtered. Some are even blessed by a rabbi and ritually slaughtered so they feel no pain and then called “kosher”. In a Kobe beef farm in Japan – the cows are actually given massages so that they are happy and the meat is tender.
On the other side of the spectrum are the factories which don't even give a chicken room to turn around in their cages where their feet have never felt the earth. They are pumped full of hormones, chemicals and antibiotics before being horribly butchered in an assembly line in a huge plant. It's so dangerous to eat this meat nowadays that you have to clean the cutting boards with bleach and wash your hands after touching this type of meat.
Human trafficking also exists in every field. There are people who are forced to work in farming, the restaurant industry, cleaning houses, the fishing industry, and sweat shops. There have been stories of people who are confined, threatened, beaten, and worse in every field that's been told to us since telling stories began and we had slaves back in Egypt.
Sex trafficking exists in the sex industry in many forms. There are rings of gang members, cartels, mobsters, and other groups of people who use men, women, and children like cattle to staff strip clubs, brothels, hostess bars, massage parlors, escort services, on to even moving trucks that go out to the farms to service the ranchers and the cowboys.
Then there are the pimps. Domestic pimps in this country have evolved out of a generational system borne out of poverty. It started when a newly freed couple saw an opportunity to work together to get out of the poverty cycle they were in. The story of the “pork chop” is their roots. The man told his woman that if the slave owner gave her a pork chop – she was to give him ½. What was “hers was his and his was hers”. He then harnessed the earning power of many women and started parlaying their ability to attract men and their money into organizing each of them into a better future off the plantation. African American men were unable to find work after being newly “freed”. This left them to find their way initially using pimping, drugs, gambling, etc. in many cases. Things they did through the brothels that were then formed after they were freed. The slave owners had developed a “taste” for having sex with the women they had power over unlike they could with their wives.
This is the story told by Richard Pryor who watched his mother working in his grandmother's brothel. The women in this family system would start out working in prostitution. As they got older, pregnant, or disabled they would then become madams so they could teach the younger women “the game”. The men in this family became the pimps, the protection, the drug dealers, and the planners. Richard in his autobiography “Jo Jo Dancer” showed us he rejected this “family business” when he choose to become a comedian. But the fact remains that this system was one way some families chose to support themselves and “get ahead” after becoming freed slaves in this country.
Pimps are no different than anyone in any other profession. There are the “gentlemen” pimps that prostitutes will speak highly of. So highly that there's the case of a father-son team of pimps that were recently found not guilty because the women they pimped testified about how well they were treated in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Of course “gorilla pimps” are also a reality. Those are the type that will literally kidnap men, women or even children, who are just walking down the street. They then rape them as part of the “turning out” ritual the pimps are taught which degrade a person so low they feel they can't return back home again because of the shame. Some go so far as to force their victims to commit crimes so horrible that in fear they'll go to jail they accept these new lives as their fate. Others are instructed if they don't do “as they're told” that their families back home will be murdered.
As the economy has suffered, men of every race have discovered a way to make money when they have nothing as pimps. This is why this country now has pimps of every race who share a past in poverty and a lack of education. The “streets” as they are called teach the men they can get ahead using drugs, crime and prostitution to do so.
The sex industry is huge. There are strip clubs, massage parlors, brothels, pornography production companies, adult bookstores, adult theaters, swing and sex clubs, escort services, outcall services, and even “topless maid” companies. Each one of these have people working in them besides just the person who is offering sex or even simulated sex as with webcam and phone sex operations. Think about the strip clubs – they have the owners, managers, bartenders, bouncers, cooks, waitresses', on down to even the guy who cleans up the club at closing.
Then there's the “related” businesses that are connected to, or supported by, the sex industry. There's the newspapers, magazines, and websites that advertise these operations. The website designers, the programmers, the graphic designers, the photographers, the make-up artists, hair stylists, nail salons, lingerie stores, on down even to the stores that supply oversized lingerie to the transgender prostitutes, strippers and porn stars. Porn has it's modeling agencies, whereas escort services have their managers, screeners, bookers, dispatchers, and even guys who drive the prostitutes to their appointments. There's even adult-themed motels that rent by the hour who don't make their mortgage strictly on the adulterers looking for an “afternoon delight”.
What about the billboards the strip clubs and even brothels pay money to use? The yellow pages that receive millions of dollars per year in advertising. The printing companies that print those little magazines, booklets and newspapers that go into the vending machines they have down on the corner, or the newsstands that sell these magazines. Of course there's also the adult magazines who employ many writers, photographers, graphic designers, printers, distributors, truck drivers, and the store owners who make money selling these products.
There's even been some attention lately into the issue of Google and Facebook both making money off the advertising and traffic connected to the porn and escort service industry – which also includes the legal brothels in this country in Nevada. Has anyone ever thought to ask how much money or a “vested interest” the cell phone companies has in the sex industry even? Let alone how much money the brothels are paying into the Nevada state treasury.
When you look at this industry you can see why I say that not “everyone” connected or in this industry is going to be one that's going to be in the category of being a “trafficking victim”.
Before I can explain why I opened the doors to Sex Workers Anonymous (formerly Prostitutes Anonymous), or even why we changed our name from Prostitutes Anonymous to Sex Workers Anonymous, I need to first explain the culture that I grew up in that I feel enticed me into the sex industry in the first place.
In 1971, the book “The Happy Hooker” came out. It became a best-seller. The movie “Deep Throat” was the first movie to leave the back alley adult theaters with five seats in them that had boxes of kleenex on them to being not only in a main stream theater – but something that adults who wanted to be perceived as “sophisticated” went to go see together with their friends. Mae West was considered a sex symbol and icon for women to empower themselves and to become something more than pregnant housewives churning out babies. She was adorned in furs, jewelry and compliments with much power over many men. Her movies used to also be on TV late at night so us insomniacs used to watch her and envy her world.
So when I went to work at a nightclub in the San Fernando Valley in California in the 80's – it was a world filled with celebrities, wealth, power, and what I viewed as freedom from the world I was living in at that time. I saw what appeared to be a “better world” where the cars were Bentley's and Rolls Royces, the houses were “south of the boulevard”, and we had men from the Jackson family coming down and having drinks with us when the club would close at night.
Contrast that to coming home to a schizophrenic abusive drug-addicted mother who would be trying to burn down the house one night when I came home from work – and you might see why I considered that world my ticket to freedom at the time. No one entices victims into the sex industry by showing them the bad side anymore than the tobacco industry uses photos of their cancer victims to promote the sales of their products either.
To understand my view on sex trafficking, as well as how one can become “addicted” to this lifestyle – peer into my world here for a minute that existed for me then. Let's take the brothel that the media is talking about that I was busted in back in 1984. This service was set up as a theater. Men would pay $250 to watch an adult movie with a nude hostess and the sex was free.
Because of how many cars would come to this place during any hour of the night and day – I had rented a warehouse by the railroad tracks where men coming and going wasn't noticed by people at home with their kids. Because this was a “legitimate” business, I would take no cash. My theory at the time was only criminals and undercover cops used it so I took only business checks and credit cards. This also allowed men to put “entertainment” on their company expense accounts.
The year was 1984 and Los Angeles had a record number of serial killers back then targeting prostitutes. I invite you to watch the movie “Frozen Ground” with Nicholas Cage that shows the uphill battle a prostitute had in trying to do something to stop a man who had killed probably up to 30 prostitutes in Alaska to see how the police treated “us” at this time.
She knew his name, ID number, home and business address, and even gave a description of the stuffed animals in his basement yet the judge would not issue a search warrant against an “upstanding businessman and community member” based on the word of a “prostitute”. The police even wouldn't investigate until a sister of one of these victims appealed to them about how much this meant to “her”.
When I went to the Los Angeles Task Force that was after the Hillside Strangler a full year before his arrest – I also had their names, home and work address, phone numbers, and even predicted when another body would be found (because he told me). Yet they threw me and a girlfriend out of their offices because they couldn't get a warrant “based on the word of a whore”. When I asked why they said because if we were called into testify that at this time our word was not “reputable” enough for a jury to stand up in court.
It later came to light that this set of killings came from a team of men who were pimps in Los Angeles who before they started killing their victims would lock them into hotel rooms and terrorize them into not leaving with horrific torture and abuse while they would turn “tricks” for them. The “tricks” saw these women were being held hostage and said nothing. They couldn't risk being drawn into an investigation which would ruin their lives either by explaining how they saw these things. So no one did anything about their plight.
Prostitutes, porn stars, strippers, etc. get pregnant. We become disabled. Back in the 1980's the HIV virus was raging. Yet we had no Obamacare. We had no way of getting health insurance. There was no disability insurance for us either. No social security when we retire because we aren't paying anything into the system. There's not even a tax refund check once a year. There's no way to build any credit so we can't finance a car, buy a home, or even a new car. Everything in “our” world has to be done in cash which is also very limiting. There wasn't even such a thing as a debit card that you could load money onto. Try filling out an application to get into college and qualify for financial aid when you don't even have a bank account because you don't have an ID.
I had set up a “legitimate” business for many reasons. Safety was one. This place had a security camera and system around it so none of these serial killers would get in to us. There's also “bandits” that target drug dealers and brothels because they can't report the theft to the police. The police are always “shaking down” massage parlors so I also wanted to be able to videotape any threats given to us by anyone – criminal or cop. There was also a team of traffickers that would chloroform women and sell them to wealthy Saudi Arabian businessmen and the police would do nothing to stop this either.
The other was so that we could pay our taxes. I knew that Al Capone had met his downfall by not paying them so I wanted to pay mine. I also wanted to pay my withholding and build up my credit score so I could buy a house. The government had made it so you couldn't purchase a house for cash anymore to stop the drug dealers. So one had to “explain” where the cash came from in order to buy a house or even a car worth more than $10,000 back then. We couldn't even put more than $2000 in one bank account without having it reported to the IRS who would then want to know where it came from and also if we were paying our taxes on this money. So I had to not only “launder” the money we were making but I also had to use this business so that I could try and finish college, buy a house and a business, and retire hopefully some day.
We also needed insurance. I wanted to be able to not only take out some life insurance, but I also wanted to get some disability insurance in case I came down with this virus that was going around back then, or maybe I got stabbed 51 times like a girlfriend of mine had happen to her. What if I became pregnant? I wanted health insurance also. Having this business as a “front” meant that I could pay taxes, and obtain the insurance I wanted as well as offer it to other women I knew.
Which is what I did when I started contacting the other madams in town like Alex, The Beverly Hills Madam, who Heidi Fleiss was studying under back then. I told them I could offer them a way to process credit cards and business checks from their clients for a percentage. I also told them I could not only launder their money through our company for a small fee, but I could also offer them and their “employees” insurance such as health, disability, retirement, life, etc. By paying them with a paycheck at the end of the week – this also allowed them to build up their credit scores as well to think about their future when the day would come for them to retire.
I also told them about a computer I had programmed where we could keep track of the phone numbers of these crazies who liked to kidnap, beat, maim, torture, and even kill prostitutes. Most of these men knew we had no internet, no reverse directory, and no one telling one another about what happened to us because as a group prostitutes are a very anti-social crowd.
But by building up my connections within this industry, I could put the phone numbers of these maniacs into the database. I then would get calls from various madams and businesses around town to run a number through my system to see what I could find out on them. This was a way I had devised to try and protect us from these serial killers and rapists who targeted prostitutes – as well as these men who were kidnapping and selling prostitutes because no one would ask questions when “we” disappeared like happens when a non-prostitute disappears.
In other words, I had set up the very first computerized screening system for the sex industry in Los Angeles. Hence why the media nicknamed me “The High Tech Madam”.
Look around the world that I was seeing at this time to go to this length and you'll understand my passion towards not only helping sex industry workers to break their “addiction” to this industry and adjust to life afterwards, but also to help trafficking victims. Because I had built up a very “secure” system back then before the police shut it down – word spread. This was why I would get calls in the middle of the night from women who wanted to escape their pimps but didn't know how. All that would happen if they left would be that they would be found, returned, beaten, and put right back out on the “track” again.
Pimps in my world back then were viewed like restaurants view cockroaches. We don't like them and would love to get rid of them – but they're going to exist anyway no matter what we do because they're going to feed off the food we're serving. I personally wouldn't hire anyone to come to work with me if they had a pimp. That was a “rule” I had back then. I had paid dearly to escape the pimp family that had brought me “into the game” and I wasn't going to allow myself to get connected back up into that world again.
That also led to phone calls for help from women who were being pimped in the old “family” that I had escaped. They saw how I had gotten “out” and they wanted “out” too. So I had a reputation on the streets as what pimps call a “sexual outlaw” since I didn't have a “man” anymore. I also had the reputation of being willing to take in anyone who wanted to leave their pimp.
Which leads back to also why I had such a strong security system at my establishments. I knew that pimps viewed my mere existence in that industry without a pimp as a threat to their establishment of “order” in the sex industry where they would teach that “all women needed a man” behind them. So their attitude was if they couldn't get me to “join” them - then they'd “beat” me by trying to show everyone that if I tried to continue operating without a pimp then they would make sure I regretted it.
This meant some pimps would try and have their women act like they didn't have pimps so I'd hire them. Then they'd try to ease their way into my life through these women. So I was in a constant battle for survival to protect myself from the serial killers, crooked cops who wanted to get greased, pimps, bandits, and maniacs who liked to beat up on women without fear of the police caring.
So when a woman wanted to escape a pimp back then – word was to call me. I would get the calls at 2:00 in the morning after their pimp had just beaten them senseless because she was a dollar short on her quota that day. Or I'd get the call to go get them in the hospital because their pimp had gone too far with one of his “lessons”. Sometimes they'd just want to teach their pimp they didn't need him anymore and call me and ask for help.
Why didn't these women go to a battered womens' shelter or a homeless shelter? For one thing, the pimp would find them in five minutes and drag them out by their hair. Shelters like this are not set up to protect the residents from pimps. Homeless shelters aren't even set up to protect themselves from attack. Who attacks homeless people needing shelter for the night?
Besides the lack of security to protect them from the pimp – the staff isn't trained in how understanding “us” let alone how to help us to transition out of sex work. Most of the staff in these shelters are usually housewives, or young interns studying for their social work degree, or church women. These people typically look at prostitutes with extreme disgust and judgment. Back in the 1980's when we were coming down with HIV in record numbers – we were also viewed as health threats. Many shelters, hospitals, and even the jails didn't want us out of fear of infection. So we were not exactly welcomed at these shelters.
The residents were not much better back then either. I'd hear stories of how these prostitutes had tried the shelters only to have the women gang up and tell the house manager that they wanted the “whore” to be thrown out of there because they were afraid of “catching something” from her because she's so “dirty”. Which is not completely untrue. If you are at most jails when they do a prostitute “round-up” you'll find a lot of those women come in with crabs, ringworm, lice, and other STD's. Certainly more so in the 1980's before a lot of outreach was done about things like “safe sex”.
Even the drug treatment centers and the detoxes were refusing entrance to prostitutes back then. The fear of HIV was just gearing up back in the early 80's, and that combined with the prejudice that prostitutes were receiving anyway back then all led to the fact that if most wanted some way to get away from their pimp – the word on the streets back then was “call Jody”.
I was able to provide them with a safe place to sleep while they got clean, recuperated from any beatings they'd suffered, and their pimp couldn't just come into my place and drag them back home because of the security I'd set up.
If a girl was under the age of 18 years of age – I would work with groups like Children of the Night to either return them home if they wanted or to get into programs like CON where they would get their education, have safe housing, and receive counseling to put this past behind them and move on. If they were over 18 – I would do things like send them back home, or even give them money to get the heck out of sex work.
What I saw was very disturbing. No matter what route they would take after being freed from the pimp – they would return. I'd get a call saying “I'd like to come work for you” always within six months or less. If I'd sent them home to their family – they'd want to leave. If I had helped them start a “legit” business – they would want to return to sex work. If I helped them finish school, and get a degree, and a “legit” job – they'd want to come back to work on the weekends. If they got married – they would leave their new husband and show up at my doorstep asking to go back to “work”. It seemed like no matter what I did to help these men and women who we had just freed from either a pimp or a trafficking ring – they'd want to go back to sex work within a matter of no time.
It made no sense to me because I was also trying to quit the sex industry myself desperately at this time. I had tried enrolling in school. I had tried therapy. I had tried religion. I had tried various “movements” like EST or Lifespring. I had tried “rebirthing” and “primal scream” and even running around Elysium Fields naked “communing with nature”. I had even tried saving up money to quit and had over $250,000 saved up when the police finally arrested me.
To the policeman's eyes at this time, or the social workers, or the therapists, or even the outside world – it appeared that this meant only one thing – that we “wanted” to be in the sex industry. This was why so many in the social services and law enforcement were disgusted with us and had given up any hope on us. The reason why cops would stop trying to “save” us from the pimps is because three days later after they'd put them up in a hotel room or send them home to family – they'd be right back like homing pigeons. Social workers gave up trying to get us housing and education because we'd wind up not finishing school and living in some strip motel turning tricks again in no time. Churches gave up on us because they'd pray for us – only to find us right back in the massage parlors the next day.
I had one girl particularly that I just didn't understand. I'll call her Jeri. She had this pimp who would just beat her unconscious. She'd have two black eyes, cracked ribs, a broken nose, and then she'd call me for help to take her to the hospital. I'd bring her home and feed her ice cream and chicken soup and beg her to let me call her family to send her home. She'd say she wanted to stay with me. I'd let her stay with me rent free in exchange for cleaning my house. I wouldn’t even ask her to prostitute because she'd be covered in bruises and clearly needed to just rest. So I'd let her answer the phone and vacuum for me so she'd have a chance to figure out what she wanted to do next.
Then she'd tell me she wanted to go get some cigarettes. Three days later I'd get a call to come pick her up again from either the one pimp's house or a new one she'd picked up. If she'd leave one, she'd just go to a pimp bar and go “choose” another one. All something she didn't have to do because she could have stayed with me and done nothing. I would tell her I could use an assistant and she could stay with me and just answer the phone – and that this whole thing with the pimps' could all be put behind her. She'd agree with me and then “poof” she'd run off to yet another pimp. Since Los Angeles had a lot of pimp bars back then – the source for her to find a replacement was endless.
I was studying a branch of psychology back then that Tony Robbins has popularized. It's called Neuro-Linguistic Programming. I had remarked to my teacher about how it just seemed really “crazy” how this woman would keep going back and keep going back no matter how much I would try and help her not to go. He then told me that was exactly the problem – was that I was being “nice” to her. He then explained to me that some people have the belief wired into their head that only people who “beat them” actually “love them”. They confuse anger and violence with love. That sounded insane to me to which he remarked “of course” it was – but the fact remained it was true nonetheless.
To prove it to me he asked me to try an experiment. He asked me if she would do things to anger me (besides running back to a pimp every week). I said yes. In fact she was always stealing from me. Jewelry, money, pictures, etc. He told me the stealing was her signal to me to abuse her. He then told me that I could prove this theory the next time she tried to steal something by becoming aggressive with her. So the next afternoon I caught her stealing a jewelry box my grandmother had given me. To see if this theory was true in the slightest – I raised my voice and started calling her names. I then pushed her into a wall. I didn't beat her or harm her – but I did call her a name and push her into a wall to see how she'd react. To my shock she smiled at me. She then said “now I know you love me”.
My belief system was very challenged right now because essentially what I was being confronted with was that this woman's need for abuse was intertwined with her need to be loved. That the only way I could keep her from a pimp was to abuse her myself?
That made no sense to me so I went back to this teacher to discuss this further. He pointed out that now we had identified that this woman had in fact been brainwashed by the pimp – now we could “deprogram” her. I thought back to how pimps will beat the woman and say that they are only doing it to “school” them and because they “love them” I realized he was right. Jeri had been brainwashed and unless we “deprogrammed” her then she was doomed to return to these pimps over and over again like a living nightmare. If not the pimps, then another abusive system that would feed into her “programming”.
So I brought Jeri into this man's office and we set about “deprogramming” her. After the session, I asked her what she wanted to do. She said she wanted to open a flower shop back in her home town. So I gave her some money and a bus ticket and sent her on her way. Soon after she got married and had some kids. As far as I know, she never turned to the sex industry. She was like my hero because she was the only one I ever saw leave and stay gone back then.
Why not take my own advice and quit? Then who would be there to help these other women? I'm not saying I'm a martyr or anything – but there was no place for women like Jeri to run to back in that day except to someone like me. They couldn't call the police, or the shelters, and there was no hotline for them to call. There was really only me back then that the streets trusted in this type of situation. I was afraid if I shut that door that more lives would be lost.
There's a history of Alcoholics Anonymous where it talks about how Bill Wilson used to try and get alcoholics sober by bringing them into his house. No one would stay sober longer than a few months. Absolutely no one was achieving long lasting sobriety. After he came home from church one day to find a man had committed suicide in his bathtub – he realized he needed a “different” approach which became the basis of the 12 steps.
I soon grew tired of patching these men and women up – only to see them return back to the streets or even the very same pimp. But I was also afraid to leave because I knew that this would mean not having the money I was making in the business and then I wouldn't be able to fund any rescues. Then I had a meeting with the attorney who defended me in my high profile arrest. He basically put it to me like this – he said “you can't get someone sober if you're drunk yourself” and pointed out to me that I wasn't going to be helping these women to quit permanently until I took that step myself. He basically asked me what good was I really doing if I stayed in sex work, and continued to only be a temporary band-aid to these victims because I couldn't even leave it myself for the long term.
It was that night actually when I awoke from a nightmare. In this nightmare I was wearing a bright green prison gown. I was in the women's jail in this dream. It was so vivid I could even feel the rough fabric on the dress. I then called up my mom and asked her to come to coffee with me. I told her that I had saved up enough money to retire and that's what I was going to do before my “warning” dream came true. She freaked out immediately and started reminding me that we had house payments, and seven cars we were paying car notes on and other contracts that we'd signed up to pay on a year's contract. Basically, she asked me to please just “stop and think this over”.
In deference to her wishes, I agreed to shut down the businesses for a while. I wanted to let things cool off. So I turned off the phones, stopped all the advertising, and locked up the doors on all the offices from the incall service to the phone sex office we'd set up. I then retreated to my apartment where I sat and watched movies and ate. Because I also had an eating disorder back then – so I ate. And ate some more. Then purged some more to keep my weight down.
I didn't leave town though because of the man I was seeing. He was very much into “threesomes” and cocaine and partying. Because his house was under surveillance by the police at this time, as well as mine – I went out and rented a hotel room where he could come and meet me. Next thing I know the front desk is calling me to tell me to come “move my car”. As I opened the door to do so – I'm met with a SWAT team. Evidently a task force had been put together of the various police divisions with the intent on getting me arrested. There was an armored SWAT truck, a drug sniffing dog, a helicopter, and so many black and white cars I couldn't even count them to arrest me that evening.
Evidently when I'd shut down the theater, one of the women working for me had stolen a key. She then went into this place behind my back and reopened it. Only she didn't follow the security protocol I'd set up – so she wound up sleeping with some of Van Nuys' finest vice cops. Who then arrested her when the party was over. Threatening her with violating her probation if she didn't turn as a witness against me – that's what she did.
I soon found myself sitting in the Sybil Brand Institute for women in that same green dress as in my vision!
Being confronted with having no choice now but to quit or to now violate my own probation which would result having to serve eight years in a federal prison – I was now officially “shut down”. I couldn't even see my “regulars” because the police had my phone tapped and they were now following me around night and day hoping to catch me doing something illegal. They had even contacted my regulars and threatened them about what they would do if they didn't report to them if I tried to call them for money. Wanting to protect their own backsides – all my clients shut me out except the one who put his house up for my bail.
So I couldn't flee the country. My attorney advised me if I put up the bail on the $50,000 they were demanding – then they would call that “proof” of illegal earnings and they'd confiscate that also on top of everything else they'd cleaned out. This meant the only way for me to get bail was to have someone put up their house. This man was a 70 year old retiree from the post office. I just couldn't flee the country to avoid this trial and cost him that house and look at myself in the mirror again. Especially after he had trusted me enough to put it up in the first place.
The police knew there was no case against me. I wasn't even on the grounds when this woman turned these tricks. They had no proof I had any more knowledge of what she was doing than any other landlord. The lease to the property had been done in a fake name. The phones were in fake names. There was not one shred of evidence that tied that business to me. So I sat back pretty cocky thinking they would have no choice but to drop this case and I'd move on with my life.
What I didn't know was law enforcement also knows this and has their own “routine” of prosecuting the parents when going after someone like me. So when my mother showed up at my arraignment they arrested her. Their surveillance had taken a photo of my mother taking a $20 bill to go and get me some chicken. The pimping laws in California were such that if anyone took any money from a “known” prostitute which I was being branded at this time, then that person was guilty of felony pimping. This was why they also charged the hotel desk clerk for taking my money and even the cab driver who had driven me to the hotel with pimping.
Then the District Attorney informed me that if I didn't “play ball” and testify against the “family” that I had managed to escape myself then their response would be to make sure that my own mother did time in prison for “pimping” me. When I turned to my attorney and asked if they could do this – he responded that they had the photo and technically it fit the requirements of the law. In other words the DA back then was like an 800 pound gorilla - they can do whatever they want.
My mother knew the people I had escaped from. She remembered me having to move in the middle of the night and putting the lease into names that couldn't be traced. Knowing full good and well that I'd never live long enough to see testifying at a trial against these people – my mother told me that she was willing to go to prison so I could keep my mouth shut and survive. She locked arms in solidarity with me in the courthouse hallway and told the DA that “we don't snitch so shoot your best shot”.
The DA pleaded with me that they didn't want us to go to jail and to please “talk”. I knew what I'd seen. I knew the world that I'd seen. I also seen the extent these people went to in order to make sure that no one testified. I had seen them have people get themselves arrested just to get into a jail cell where they would kill potential witnesses. I had seen them blow up cops in car bombs. I refused to talk and wound up getting some jail time, a fine and probation.
They figured that someone like me would eventually trip up and violate my probation. They figured it was just a matter of time before I'd be cornered and have to do what they wanted. But there's one thing I've always prided myself on – and that's not being “like everyone else”. So when I heard that jail door slam behind me and the guards saying “she'll be back” I swore I'd never see those cell bars again as long as I lived.
But the probation system was completely backwards. They demanded that I tell potential employers I was on probation and for “pimping”. Yeah right that's going to get me hired. Then they demanded that I come down for an interview once a month during the day hours of 9 to 5 pm. How exactly I'm supposed to take off work on a new job to go down there and still keep the job is also beyond my understanding. They even demanded my new employer sign a paper verifying they knew I was on probation, and what for. Like any employer is going to verify that he's just hired a felon and all the liability that would go with actually being aware of that fact.
I had no choice but to get a job. I couldn't get welfare or even SSI disability. Not just because they required me to, but also because I now had to pay a $150 a month fine. That's not cheap back in the 1980's. Especially if you're taking a minimum wage job which usually are the only ones that don't care if you're on probation. They also required me to be in school. Now how they expected me to work and go to school I also don't understand. Especially with the depression I'd just gotten slammed with after the arrest, and the cocaine I was now using to self-medicate this depression.
I had no social support. Everyone around me, including my friends in COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), were telling me to stay in sex work. That was fine for them to say because they weren't the one who was going to have to serve the prison time if I violated my probation. The “tricks” certainly weren't supportive either. I couldn't tell which one of them was for real and which one of them the cops were sending in to set me up – so I just shut my pager off entirely.
I had absolutely no idea how I was going to pull this whole probation thing off. I took the first job I was offered in a restaurant. I then got so upset when I got my first paycheck that I went on a drug run for three days. The whole thing just seemed absolutely impossible for me to sort out how I was going to get through this.
So I called up an old girlfriend of mine in desperation I had known who had joined a church. She used to pray for me so I staggered over there after this drug run and begged her church to pray for me. They called together a special circle and that's just what they did.
Then I left and went staggering into my school. As I was grabbing some coffee to try and get through the next few hours, I was struck by a man talking about how “people in the life are sitting around slashing their wrists and laughing about who is going to die the fastest”. Wow that sounded like where I was coming from. I went up to him and asked him why I had this feeling he knew something about how to help me. He then asked me if I had ever heard of Narcotics Anonymous. My whole family had been alcoholics, so I never drank. So I'd heard of Alcoholics Anonymous – but not NA.
That night he took me into my first meeting. I heard the words from “Who is an Addict” and knew that I was home. Let me read you a couple of excerpts from what was read to me that first meeting:
“Addiction is a disease that involves much more than simple drug use. Some of us believe our disease was present long before the first time we used.” and “We suffer from a disease that expresses itself in ways that are anti-social and that makes detection, diagnosis and treatment difficult. Our disease isolated us from people except for the getting, using and finding ways to get more. Hostile, resentful, self-centered, we cut ourselves off from the outside world. Anything not completely familiar became alien and dangerous. Our world shrank and isolation became our life.”
As I learned more about the disease of addiction – I realized that just because I hadn't drunk alcohol like all the alcoholics in my family didn't mean I hadn't escaped having the disease. My father didn't drink, but his disease twisted itself into the sexual addiction that drove him to molest me as a child and even to see prostitutes and his addiction to pornography.
I could take one look at my mother who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day to see how this disease affected her. I had been a sex addict when I was younger – and now could see how I had become “addicted” to the sex industry. Just as any addict has their story end in “jails, institutions and death” - so too had my illness brought me there.
I wasn't exactly finding anyone I could talk to in these NA meetings however, Back then the rooms were full of gang bangers, guys on motorcycles, and talk of needles and street life. While I was able to find the guidance I needed to help me get through probation, finish school, and get into a square job that actually would pay my bills – I wasn't able to find anyone I could really “hang” with socially.
There was only one other group at this time available to me. My COYOTE friends had just been putting so much pressure on me to return to sex work that I just didn't want to be around them. I had learned in NA that if you want to stay clean, you have to stay around clean people. If you want to stay sober, you need to stay around sober people. The question was – where were the ex-escorts and ex-madams and ex-porn stars?
The answer was only one place at the time – a group called Catharsis. It had been started by a woman who had been a madam and an escort like I was. She also used to do some outreach for Children of the Night. I'd seen her on a talk show (which is where isolated people got their information from back then since we didn't have the internet). So I called her up and asked if I could come to a meeting. She was very warm and friendly so I looked forward to finding a group of women like myself who had quit the sex industry.
So while I'm going to these Catharsis meetings once a month – keep in mind I'm also going to my NA meetings as well. If you've ever heard anything about alcoholism – you may have heard the term “dry drunk”. What this means is that someone who is an alcoholic who quits drinking – but doesn't work a 12 step program. They then recreate their life as an alcoholic entirely sober. The same isolation, drama, extremes, mood swings, etc. all return. They basically wind up having all the same problems in their life – only without the alcohol to soften the blows.
The same goes for any addict. If you take the drugs out of them without them working a program of recovery – then they recreate the same insanity. This is why NA says yes there are many ways to quit using drugs – but if you don't use the 12 steps to find recovery then you're going to wind up right back where you started where “at the end of the road when you realize you can't live with or WITHOUT drugs”, and it goes on to speaking about how this new life without drugs can also wind up back at “jails, institutions and death”.
So while I'm going to my NA meetings and seeing real miracles where life long addicts and criminals are getting jobs, getting their own homes, making families, and building new lives – I'm now walking into a Catharsis meeting which was just a sort of social club for ex-madams, ex-escorts, and ex-porn stars. Which was kind of fun for the first few meetings. I really liked these women.
But I looked around the room and pretty much only saw a room full of Caucasian females who worked the upper class section of the sex industry. I didn't see any of the male hustlers, the pimps, the street walkers, the women of color, nor even the lesbian or transgenders from the sex industry. I sure didn't see anyone in there who had been a trafficking victim or even spoke about ever having a pimp.
What was even more disturbing was watching them self-destruct before my eyes. A great majority of these women were in abusive relationships. We had more than one meeting where they'd show up with the infamous big hat and sunglasses covered in makeup. Some would show up drunk or high as a kite. Others would show up and talk about their eating disorders like this was a normal “diet”. A few others were coming in talking about their shopping or gambling addiction while just about everyone was talking about depression.
When I looked to Norma was some answers (the name of the founder), she had none. She invited me up to the house one night to talk about my concerns and basically told me that since she had retired sex work by marrying a wealthy man she really didn't know about how others in the group could resolve these issues.
I then asked her how her husband made all this money. She showed me a garage full of Amway. Now I don't know how many of you know what Amway was back in the 1980's – but I'll leave it up to you to decide if you think what he was doing back then was a “legal” source of money or not. Which was still another thing I was seeing in the members of Catharsis – a lot of substitution from prostitution into other criminal behavior.
I felt in a Catharsis meeting like I was watching these women self-destruct. We were there to “love” each other “unconditionally” but somehow I felt it was wrong. I felt it was wrong to just stand by and tell someone how much I “loved” them while I was watching them go down the tubes with one form or another from the disease of addiction affecting them. I wanted to help them and I also wanted this group to do and be something other than just a social club for a bunch of female escorts to sit around and hold each others' hands while we were self-destructing.
I then asked if we could use this group to try and do something positive – like going out to help trafficking victims. I brought up those who were being trapped by pimps and how no one “understood” them as well as we did. Couldn't we band together to go out and help them kind of like Lois Lee was doing with Children of the Night but for the adult victims. They just looked at me like I was insane – and asked why they would want to risk their lives in such a manner when that exact risk was one of the reasons why they had quit sex work. They had quit in order to get away from the risk of a pimp killing them – so it made no sense to them to go out and risk that again only to save someone else.
At this time HIV was really gearing up and prostitutes were being reported to have something like an 80% infection rate. So I brought up doing outreach to get information and testing out to the sex workers. I pointed out that these people would trust us because of our past and they'd trust us enough to get tested as well as to educate themselves with what little we knew back then. Everyone agreed it was a great idea – but we could never get anything going. The women would show up at the meetings we'd put together to do outreach with hangovers, black eyes, or their husbands didn't want them to go and it just became like directing a three ring circus to try and get anything done out of these women.
I began to wonder if what I was seeing was limited to only “us” in that Catharsis was pretty much comprised of women who had been on the upper levels of the sex industry – or if this was happening to men and women in the sex industry across the board. About this time I had been talking to the CDC and UCLA about the fact I felt that the HIV virus was going to jump from the gay community into the heterosexual community very shortly because of the bisexual prostitutes. They were also curious about what happened if the people who had quit sex work were exhibiting all these same self-destructive behaviors and depression like we were seeing in Catharsis.
So they partnered me with someone to start a study into this subject. We interviewed 2,000 prostitutes in the Sybil Brand Institute who were current prostitutes and sex workers. Then I went out into the NA program, Catharsis, and some of the local churches to interview another 2,000 ex-sex workers from all areas of the sex industry ranging from the strippers, to the prostitutes, to the porn industry workers, to phone sex workers. They had me get in touch with a center in Amsterdam so we could even interview ex-sex workers where it was legal so we could see if our results were affected at all by whether or not the sex work performed was illegal or legal.
What was revealed was what we dubbed “post-prostitution syndrome” or pretty much like the “dry drunk” for the alcoholic did seem to hold true for us coming out of the sex industry whether it was legal or illegal. There was the first group who seemed completely “addicted” to the sex industry. They couldn't seem to quit no matter how hard they tried or what they tried. They could leave their pimp, get clean, move, get a degree – and still wound up right back in the sex industry.
A famous person I can point to that illustrates this fact is Suzy Favor Hamilton. This woman is attractive, intelligent and educated. She's married, has a child, a home, and a very lucrative business in that she had millions of dollars in sponsorships from people because of being an Olympian runner. There's no pimp, no drug problem, no sick child who needs medical care she has to cough up money to pay for because she has no health insurance, etc. Yet here is a woman who is destroying all of that in order to fly up to Vegas to turn $600 an hour tricks as an escort where it's illegal – so she's even risking arrest on top of her family, marriage, business, reputation, etc. This clearly illustrates how sex work can be an addiction for some people.
Just like an addict – this disease can also substitute into something else also. Which means that anyone with this disease can also quit sex work but find themselves substituting into another form of addiction and/or self-destruction. Which explains what I was seeing in these Catharsis meetings. What I felt was worse was these women had no interest in changing either. I would ask them if they were interested in working on this pattern that was clearly exhibiting itself in our group – and unanimously these women had absolutely no desire to work on these issues.
In fact, they made it very clear they were quite “happy” being “unhappy”. As one of these women was telling me this through her sunglasses because her husband had just beaten her the night before – I just realized that her and I had different definitions of what we wanted out of our lives outside of the sex industry. I didn't see the point of going through all this work to just get another way to pay the rent – and find myself still going down the road to hell anyway.
It was about this time when I was seeing Linda Lovelace speaking out on talk shows about trafficking existing in pornography. She was telling the American public about how that movie “Deep Throat” was done with her pimp pointing a gun at her off camera. The bruises on her legs were clearly seen when she was doing the bathtub scene – and no one on the set would do anything to stop it.
Her story wasn't just about domestic violence, it wasn't just about the fact that as women we were being exploited and abused, her story wasn't just about how dangerous the sex industry really is for some people, but it was about how some women are being forced to do things that society is then not only arresting them for doing – but also shaming them for the rest of their lives. If a victim actually survives their ordeal – not only were they not believed they didn't do these things by choice - but they are also viewed as not being good for “anything else”.
Women like her who had been branded as “porn stars” couldn't go out and run for political office, we couldn't get jobs at a daycare, and we sure couldn't get a job working on the SEC or in bank handling money. People would tell us that we needed to “quit” and the courts and police were trying to force us to quit – yet society wasn't letting us quit. I saw a recent case about a California school teacher who had the news come out that she had done porn over 10 years ago. The school responded by not only firing her – but also in trying to keep her check. This was only in the year 2013 – so imagine how bad it was back in the 1980's.
Linda wasn't being believed. People kept waiting for others to come forward to validate her story. Marilyn Chambers was now with her old pimp, Chuck Traynor, and she was telling the press that she was being treated “just fine”. Of course she was loaded at the time by drugs Chuck had forced upon her. I can say that now because I saw her at an NA meeting shortly after this interview and can say that now that she's deceased.
I couldn't let her not be believed. There was too much at stake. I felt like if I came forward to tell my story then they couldn't disbelieve both of us. But why just go on TV and ruin my new life? I knew if I went on national TV and get myself fired and evicted. For what?
I went into the Catharsis meetings and discussed my feelings with them. Suddenly half of room asked me if I could put together something like Narcotics Anonymous – only for “us”. Those of us who hadn't been using drugs or drinking. I was not interested in starting anything so I refused.
Only God had other plans. The night was August 15, 1987. It was the evening of the Harmonic Convergence. I remember wondering what “great spiritual event” would happen to me since the news was reporting this was a very special day. I went to make myself a bath and suddenly had a “spiritual awakening” that I found out much later on was very much like what happened to Bill Wilson and Jimmy Kinnon. Bill Wilson had founded Alcoholics Anonymous while Jimmy Kinnon had founded Narcotics Anonymous.
Such was the founding of Prostitutes Anonymous.