A few days ago, I saw a Linkedin profile for a woman who teaches at police academies nationwide. I shot off an email asking if she could help me figure out how I might prepare a class to teach up and coming officers some things I think they should know before coming out into the streets where they are going to be dealing with prostitutes, strippers, escorts, madams, pimps, and possibly even trafficking victims.
She laughs "they knew".
"They knew. He would stand right outside the door or sit in the car. They knew and didn't care. If I call any of them they'll just tell him I'm there and I'm toast."
I'm having a hard time wrapping my head about this. But it's not like I haven't seen it before. I remember that one woman where they'd broken both of us legs, put them in casts, and then left her upstairs in the bedroom with two casts on her legs. The "johns" came (no pun intended) anyway. I'd heard stories of women chained to bed posts and the men still came and paid and then left them right where they found them as they found them. So i knew she was right. The customers didn't care as long as they got off so we couldn't turn to them for help.
"What about that old boyfriend of yours?" I asked her.
"Look if you don't help me out - I'm not going to have a choice but to go out and stand on a street corner. If I stand out on a corner with this guy looking for me - he'll find me. If he finds me - my ass is grass. So really you need to help me out here until I can get on my feet." she explains.
What we worked out was this nail lady would call me when they'd come in and I'd show up and ask her if she wanted to leave. When she said "hell yeah get me out of here" we'd run out the back door. I made up a bedroom in the warehouse for them and started kind of an assembly line. I'd sit them down and tell them "yes I got a place to run but I also know you want away from this pimp. So tell me what your plans are and I'll help you if you help me".
The warehouse had been set up kind of like a house. They had their own room in the warehouse, kitchen, bathroom big screen, radio, VCR, etc. Then we had the big living room with a big U shaped couch. There was a patio outside where we could have BBQ's. The offices had been turned into bedrooms. The point of being in this industrial section was so that all the foot traffic from the men would go unnoticed. I'd also got it so close to the police station to keep the pimps, bandits and maniacs away who wouldn't want to get that close to the police station (we were only one block away from the Van Nuys police station). The cars were parked behind a security gate and we had bars on the doors and windows. We were even on the 2nd floor behind two security doors. So it was very safe and secure. No pimp was getting inside unless we let them i.
But I needed to make enough money to make the bills too. I had placed ads in magazines like Hustler that had taken months to get placed and the phone rang day and night. I didn't want that money to go to waste either because I was sick. There was no safe house for these women to go to. I didn't have enough money to just take them in. This was the best way I could think of to solve both problems. I'd pre-screen the dates and collect the money. I'd gotten a theater license for the warehouse and cleared it with the licensing board I could charge whatever I wanted for a ticket. So I charged $250 to "watch an adult movie with a nude hostess". Then I'd pay them $125 for each movie they'd watch and whatever else they did was their gig. I told them the sex was free so it wouldn't be prostitution and they couldn't get busted. I then explained if they wanted more of a tip - sell him another "video". This way it still wasn't prostitution. Since I paid them at the end of the night it wasn't pimping in the eyes of the law.
When one would leave - I'd go get another one from the nail lady. But sometimes a woman would just show up at the nail salon black and blue. I didn't want her to go back to the pimp so the nail lady would tell her she had a way for her to leave him and she'd call me. I would go get them and then sometimes we had three in the warehouse at the same time. One time we had five at once. Two of them were sleeping on the couch. I learned during sporting events like the Superbowl violence against women goes up. After the Superbowl was when we had five women beaten badly they all wanted to leave their pimps. So if the Superbowl does anything - it would make the pimps go violent.
Each case was different but no matter what we tried - the police wouldn't help. The system wouldn't help. We were on our own. Turned out it was a good thing the warehouse was secure when we rescued one woman in particular. After this one disappeared out of the nail salon he pulled a gun on the nail lady and demanded my phone number. From my phone number, he had a friend at the phone company who told him where I lived. Remember, all we had was land lines then. So my phone number was traceable to my physical address. That night he showed up knocking at the warehouse door. Of course I wouldn't let him in so he tried to shoot through the front door. I'd had bullet proof glass installed and he wasn't prepared for that. But he had come prepared. He had two buddies with him and they proceeded to storm the place. One climbed up a tree and got onto the 2nd floor. Luckily he couldn't get through the patio door. The other one climbed up our fire ladder on the back end but still couldn't get in.
So we found ourselves surrounded with a pimp on three sides of us trying to break in to get at us. Only we couldn't call the cops. The minute the cops would come see those beds with velvet sheets in a warehouse they'd know what we were operating. These pimps knew we couldn't call the cops and came ready to break in like the big bad wolf. Good thing I was prepared. I let them see the other end of my double barrel shotgun and they left. I didn't have to pull the trigger thank God. Just the sight of the gun seemed to do the trick. My point being that regular shelters that don't have armed security are no match for these guys.
But the places to put these women as we got them away from the pimps was getting slimmer. When the HIV epidemic got worse - soon drug treatment centers wouldn't even accept prostitutes. Because sometimes the pimps got the women hooked on drugs to keep them under control. So when I'd get them we had to first get them into treatment. So I had developed quite a relationship with the treatment centers around town. Probably once a week I was putting someone into treatment that a pimp had gotten hooked to control them.
But when HIV was soaring - people got real paranoid about hookers. The treatment centers were now refusing them in fear of the virus. People wouldn't rent apartments to you if they suspected you were one. Because when it came time to leave the warehouse - I'd go and help them rent an apartment. But now it was like no one wanted us around - period. I did a lot of make-overs back then. I had to make sure that no one thought any of them were hookers or we just got a lot of grief out of people back then. So I got real good at helping them to change their hair cuts, the color of their hair, their clothing, even the color of their nail polish had to change.
As for the violence from the pimps - we would sometimes try and press charges - but the police viewed us always as "asking for it" or "deserving it" or even "wanting it". One cop actually said "well she must get off on it". No matter what we did we could not get these cops to understand that no these women did not want to be beaten and raped by pimps and maniacs. What just burned my butt was when the women had children by the pimps. They couldn't leave because if they did then he'd file kidnapping charges against them for taking the kids without leaving a forwarding address. Then when he'd show up to see the kids, then not get his money - he'd get mad and beat her up. We'd call the cops and they'd say "well she's not leaving so she must like it". I mean they just weren't getting that THEY COULDN'T LEAVE because of the kids. What was she supposed to do? Leave the kids with him?
But oh boy if a "prostitute" went missing you'd be lucky to hear a blip on the news about it. You would also rarely hear their name - just "a prostitute today was reported missing" kind of thing. Funny - I never once heard them say things like "a secretary today went missing". No blood hounds for prostitutes missing. No helicopters. No search teams. Just "another hooker disappeared" and that would be all I'd hear on the subject. Listen to how they report on us on the news and you'll see that even they weren't reporting on us like we were human. In the Jessie Foster case, the police didn't even search the house until TWO WEEKS had gone by. In that time, he'd replaced the carpets, repainted the interior, and even cleaned the place with bleach. But when Laci Peterson went missing - we had half the country out looking for her.
In the 1970's I remember hearing how they'd just passed the law to where you couldn't legally rape your wife. So the idea that you could actually rape your wife didn't come into our consciousness until the 1970's. But in the public's mind - you still couldn't rape a whore. One judge even called it "theft of services" but not rape in 2007! http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/11/01/judge-criticized-for-considering-gang-rape-on-prostitute-theft-services.html So if a judge in 2007 can still consider a gang rape "theft of services" then you have an idea what I was up against with even thinking of trying to convince America that SOME prostitutes might be there by force and that we had to acknowledge this fact so the system could change.
Second, I had gotten myself involved in Iran Contra and some very big deals that went way beyond prostitution. Again, I refer back to the documentary "Cocaine Cowboys 1". They talk about the boats and planes full of cocaine. Well I used to drive some of the trucks that would take the crates of the raw cocaine off those docks and landing pads because I had the kind of face no one would pull over. It was very unlikely they'd pull over a white woman - but they sure might pull over the black guy driving a big unmarked truck at 3:00 a.m. down in Beverly Hills. Which was another thing - I could drive into nicer parts of town without being stopped.
So I had a lot of very high level criminals knowing that I knew their names, faces, and addresses. I knew where whole rooms of cash and cocaine were kept. I knew where there were warehouses of counterfeit money. I knew where the chop-shops, the illegal brothels, the crack-houses, the processing places where they'd process the cocaine for sale and put them in those little baggies, I mean I knew where the rugs were and the dirt that was under those rugs as well as what house those rugs were in also.
To top it off - I had something else I didn't even know at first. A woman had called me up saying she heard I could stash her away from her pimp. She told me her pimp/drug dealer boyfriend had just beat her up in a drug rage and she wanted to leave - now. I told her about the warehouse and she said "please come get me out of here". So I drove all the way to Lancaster to get her out of the house. When I arrived - it was in a complete shambles. He had really gone on one hell of a rampage. She had a dislocated shoulder it turned out after I got her to the hospital. But when she'd called me I was in the process of retiring. I had turned off the phones and saved up enough money to quit. But breaking everything took time when you have chronic fatique syndrome and you can't pay someone to help you with that kind of stuff.
So I told her I couldn't supply her with any appointments because I'd just shut off the phones, I hadn't renewed my ads, I was closing down the offices, etc. She told me she could apply for disability and get into a section 8 apartment - so I told her she could stay in the warehouse until she got on her feet in her own place. I really didn't think she'd go out and keep working behind my back - especially that close to the police station. But that's what she did. She started going to the men in the buildings across the street, next door, etc. and coming onto them. One of them was an undercover cop. She was also selling drugs she'd brought with her I didn't know about. So she got herself popped for prostitution and drug sales while it turned out she was also on probation.
Only when they arrested her - they found my under cover camera equipment. Surprise! You're on Candid Camera. So it turned out that my video recorder had recorded her having sex and doing drugs with undercover police officers for about two weeks before they popped her. Meaning they knew I had this incriminating tape of them on me once they started tearing up the place looking for cash and drugs to confiscate.
Back then everyone snitched. So everyone thought i'd snitch too. The tabloids paid a lot of money for what I knew - so a lot of people were really worried what I'd say. They didn't want to wonder either. They wanted to sleep at night. So they just ordered me whacked. Which meant when I got myself arrested - I had criminals, celebrities, mobsters and the cops all wanting me dead at the same time. I mean what's one more dead hooker right? They knew no one would care or bother even investigating. So it was on.
The DA said to me that he knew I didn't want to do a lot of the stuff I did because he knew that I'd been threatened by the "family" I was with when I first started in the sex industry. He even told me "you're the only person who has left them and is still alive - so you have to tell me what you saw". He wanted me to turn state's evidence as they called it and was trying to assure me that they could give me witness protection if I did. They even changed my case name to the male spelling of "Rene Le Blanc" thinking that would assure me they could protect me.
At first I thought I was safer in jail so I didn't post bail. Until they tried to kill me in jail. They had tried to do a Sandra Bland on me. First they put me in the psych ward in a solitary cell so I was alone and there was no witnesses. Then a guard came in at 2:00 a.m. and tried to get me hung with my own dress. I was just lucky that the cleaning crew had forgotten something and came back for it or I would have been dead. That's when I told my attorney to post my bail and get me out of there.
Then I had cars chasing me trying to run me off the road. I didn't know if I was imagining it or not but I stopped driving. I gave my car to a girlfriend who looked a lot like me. That day someone broad sided her at 110 mph and killed her. The police told me that an illegal alien ha said that he'd gotten paid $100 to plow into my car - only he thought she was me. But I knew I had to get off the streets.
I checked into a motel. But then I got antsy. I left and another girlfriend of mine stayed in the room. When I got back the police and news were all over the motel. Turned out a guy showed up with a gun banging on the door. She'd called the cops who then confronted him. He refused to surrender and charged the cops supposedly so they had to kill him. So I wasn't safe driving and i wasn't safe on the streets.
Where was I going to go? A shelter? I had cops coming after me. One flash of a badge and anyone would tell them something or let them in. My apartment had already told me cops had been there trying to get a key to my apartment. The cops had already told my attorney that if I didn't give them the tape they'd kill me. He told them if they killed me he'd put the tape on the 11:00 o'clock news. So they were posturing.
Then my attorney told me to go stay with my 70 year old grandmother. He told me they would try and kill me and make it look like a suicide. That if I stayed with her - I'd have a witness about where I was at all times and they couldn't kill me if I stayed in her house and didn't come out for a while until things cooled down. Now he warned me "they'll try and lure you outside or her outside so don't leave the house no matter what". Which is exactly what happened. We got the knocks on the door and weird lame excuses to try and make one of us come outside. I just refused and so did she. (Might be why Jeane Palfrey didn't make it. I had warned her not to go outside at her mom's house for this reason.)
In the meantime, my attorney was doing a lot of negotiating for me. He was letting a lot of people know that I was not "snitching" and they had nothing to worry about to calm everyone down. He got threatened himself a few times - but he really saved my life back then. Without him negotiating like that - I would probably be dead. He did things like let the cops know that if I got left alone the tapes would never see the light of day - that sort of thing.
But after what I went through - I knew there was no way I could have stayed in a program like the Mary Magdalene Project and survived. I would have been murdered if I had not been in a place like my grandmother's where I had a witness who wasn't leaving for any reason. I mean they even sent someone to the door trying to get her to come outside saying a "water main broke out in the front of the building - you have to come look at it". Grandma just said "call the water company" and slammed the door in their face. It's one thing when you've got criminals coming after you - it's a whole other thing when you have someone with a badge coming after you.
I'd gotten some clean time and a little apartment and a cute little Dodge Colt and now I was ready to change the world. But it was more than that. People kept seeking me out for help to escape a situation where they couldn't get help from our traditional system. I mean how many times do you have to ask for help to leave the sex industry and be referred to a church, or a drug program or a homeless shelter before people realize that's not what's needed? Through a series of very lucky accidents I go more into in my memoirs - I'd now made it out. But what about the others? Who was going to help them?
THE MOVEMENT BEGINS
Again, I was still dealing with a world that didn't even realize people like that existed. I couldn't ask this country to bring about changes until I first made them realize there was in fact a problem. Before starting a program - I did exhaustive research to make sure absolutely totally sure no one else was doing a hotline, a program, etc. I also did extensive research into what "worked" and what didn't.
As I started this research people started telling me about this church that was "getting women off the streets". So I went to interview them - the Children of God. This was 1986. Only as I interviewed these women and looked around - I realized they might be off the corner and not have a street pimp but these women were being pimped and their children sexually exploited. But what to do? Children of the Night wasn't set up to take in 10 families. No one was set up to take 10 families and the dog.
To top it off - no one was still even believing Linda's story about what Chuck had done to her was true - I went ahead and sent off a couple of my news clippings to all the talk shows. The Sally Jesse Raphael Show was the first one to respond and offer me the whole hour. I went on there talking about my story - the need for our society to change - giving out the hotline - and talking about how these women needed help. Thankfully, an apartment owned stepped up and let these women move in for no money. That was our first "rescue" as Prostitutes Anonymous. The Children of God cult then left the USA that year and changed their name after the bad press and word spread around town about what happened.
I'd also sent some clippings to Ms. Magazine, along with some other feminist publications and authors. I honestly thought the feminists would be supportive. They were anything but. It confused me a lot at first to be honest because I really thought women like Gloria Steinem and Erica Jung would be supportive of me striking out saying that there were these women out there by force and we needed to give them their choice back. To my absolute shock the only person who was receptive was Gloria Allred. She had a talk show then on ABC radio and she interviewed me on her show to help give us a boost.
Gloria Allred also knew we had some women who had some child molestation and some rape cases. She agreed to discuss them with the members of Prostitutes Anonymous for free. She even talked to some of our male victims about representing them on rape charges against their "johns". Gloria even talked to me about whether i could sue my father for what he did to me and about incorporating our program. She told me about how I might get some help through the ACLU and let me use her law library for research. On a personal level she was very supportive and encouraging. That woman is the "real deal". Even now - she's "Friended" me on Facebook to show support but I still can't get Gloria Steinem to even speak to me. Samoly Mam she's all over. Me? Nothing.
It took me a while to wrap my head around the feminists being against pornography but unwilling to help us who were saying we were "survivors". Because the feminists were trying hard to push that sex work was work and a woman's right to "use her body any way she wanted" which I also agreed with. I should be the person to decide what I do with my body and if I want to sell it I should be able to. So along that same line of reasoning - then someone shouldn't be forcing me to sell it either. I thought our lines of reasoning were in alignment because if I have the right to control my body then wouldn't you also be supportive of not wanting to allow someone to sell it against my will also? But I heard a resounding thud when it came from the feminist factions. Now if I wanted to let them exploit me like they'd done Linda - they would have been very happy to oblige. Because I soon learned that when these icons of "female empowerment" were talking about the subject - it was about "their" empowerment - not "ours" across the board.
I learned this when I started putting together our own events like a panel I put together at UCLA. I invited them to come to "our" event- but heard nothing back. Yet I'd seen Linda go to "their' events and that seemed okay with them. In other words, if I wanted to come to their events to support their agendas and their fund raisers and line their pockets - they would be very happy to let me be exploited by them.
Their people (not even them but their people) did approach me a few times asking if I'd speak out against pornography at that events like Linda had done. I said I'd be happy to organize an event they could come speak at to help me raise money for my project - and they'd back away. See I felt Linda had gone from being pimped by Chuck to being pimped by the feminists. I didn't want to substitute being exploited and used by one person by another . I didn't want to be anyone's "token" anything. If I was going to stand up on a podium with Gloria Steinem or Erica Jung - I wanted to do so as an equal or not at all.
Only they weren't interested. I saw the same thing with Samoly Mam years later. During his rise to fame in the field I created they would celebrate her. They made her their "poster child of sex trafficking". They had her accepting checks and speaking on stages with them just like I'd seen Linda do. I saw them hugging her on the stages of these fund raisers and seeing them applaud her - but I still didn't see her over at their house for Sunday dinner as one of them. I still didn't see Samoly Mam put together an event that they were a part of as equals. No - I saw them parade her around like a pet monkey, stand up and tell us your horror stories, then we'll give you a check and send you back to your hole. It didn't bother Samoly because she wasn't a "real' survivor of trafficking that needed to be empowered to recover. However, I was and did. Linda went back to making adult films and doing drugs and Samoly Mam was exposed as a fraud. But they were also willing to let those people use them for money. I wasn't.
I gpt the call to go on Sally's show the first time in August of 1987. That was my first national talk show appearance where I had the whole hour to myself. I talked about Linda trying to tell America about her trafficking experiences but took it one step further. Her campaign had been to try and stamp out pornography with her truth. That however didn't change our legal system or the way we were viewed by people.
Taking away a Playboy was not going to change the system and allow people like these victims to get recognition we existed and help. It wasn't going to stop cops from rounding us up every Thursday night in paddy wagons like dog catchers when probably 1/2 of those women out there were there by force. No one even asked them if they wanted to be there - everyone got arrested and treated equally as criminals. My goal was that I wanted to see a woman branded as a hooker to be able to pick up a phone, call 911, and have a car come out and arrest that guy if she was being held there against her will without her being thrown into the black and white along with him as a criminal.
(Continued in Part Two - How we got from the talk shows to the Trafficking Act of 2000.)