Comment

THE MOTEL: PART 2

Lisa in an interview room while in jail. She was arrested for prostitution and spent a week in jail, just long enough to suffer through the physical effects of heroin detox. Photo by Tim Matsui.

Lisa in an interview room while in jail. She was arrested for prostitution and spent a week in jail, just long enough to suffer through the physical effects of heroin detox. Photo by Tim Matsui.

I happened to drop in one evening when Lisa wanted to do a movie and dinner in Jane’s motel room. Lisa wasn’t there yet, so I accompanied Jane to the grocery store across the street.

Jane left home at 13, spent the last of her teenage years in Mexico, and has four children with an abusive husband. She has another child with a boyfriend who spends more time in jail than not. She’s got a crack habit. And she’s got a soft spot for Lisa.

This wasn’t always the case. As we walked through the produce aisles, picking avocados for fresh guacamole, Jane confessed she’d been pretty mean to Lisa. I don’t remember the details, but it seems that on the street, especially with drugs, you don’t have much more than your reputation.

A few years ago Jane went through a rough patch. She was kicked out of her motel room, was broke again, and was on the outs with everyone. She was, literally, curbside with all her possessions. 

Then Lisa showed up and handed her a key to a motel room. It was paid for, a week in advance.

Since then, Jane has looked out for her. Jane said Lisa made the money for that room the only way she knows, the way she’s been doing it since a pimp turned her out at 13. She made it laying on her back. 

——————–

Jane shops for groceries for the special dinner Lisa requested that night. Photo by Tim Matsui.

Jane shops for groceries for the special dinner Lisa requested that night. Photo by Tim Matsui.

I’ve got a deal with the cops. We share some things about our work, but some things are necessarily vague. Like the motel.

They arrested Lisa in January. Instead of jail, they took her to the drop in center, the Genesis Project. Not long after, she let me tag along with her. The cops saw she was trying to leave the life, and they became invested in her. They hoped she might make the necessary choices to get out.

Sometimes I’d get a call from them; they’d seen her walking, she’d been to the drop in center, she’d called someone. Once they did a hotel bust, arresting a firefighter and citing her for prostitution. Again. The cops were part of a network of people I could rely on to tell me where she was because, even though she and I had a deal, she wasn’t the most reliable.

The cops asked what I was up to. I told them I’d been going to a motel, because that’s where Lisa was. I didn’t say much else; I try to compartmentalize, first out of respect for my subjects and second, so I don’t influence the story. As it happens, I didn’t need to say much because the cops were in the middle of a year-long investigation that lead to the motel raid.

What I heard from two different police departments went something like this:

“You’re going where?”

Followed by, “You’re carrying, right?”

“Carrying what?” I asked.

“A gun.”

I don’t carry. I don’t own a gun. 

———————–

Jane returns to the hotel with groceries for the special dinner Lisa requested that night. Photo by Tim Matsui.

Jane returns to the hotel with groceries for the special dinner Lisa requested that night. Photo by Tim Matsui.

I’m waiting for Lisa to show up, chasing her texts. I’ve spent hours like this, driving up and down the highway, past the motels she frequents, looking for where she said she’d be.

The guy has been at the bus stop for the last 20 minutes, but he doesn’t get on. Then he’s meeting another guy. They leave, then he comes back, alone. I’ve been watching from the car.

Eventually, I get out and go talk to the guy.

In reality, it was a bunch of different guys, and some women, but they all presented the same uncertainty for me. They know Lisa, maybe they know me, we talk; it’s happened over and over. Most are hustlers, selling drugs, sometimes girls, whatever it takes to get by and keep partying. It’s an unfamiliar world for me.

They’ve all got a certain level of curiosity, the ones who talk to me, wanting to know what’s up with the camera, why I’m following Lisa. I’m pretty straight with them, letting them draw the boundaries as I ask questions. I want to know who’s connected to who, what’s the gossip, if there’s any pimps. I still want to talk to a pimp; they’re a missing voice in this story. But, no, they say, the pipe is the pimp on this block.

There’s a guy who lost everything, family, friends, job. He’s super nice, they say, but he just kind of gets by. Sad, they say. There’s another guy, he works construction. He’s a migrant without papers, he misses his family. He likes to unwind with the pipe. Not long ago, walking home from the motel, he was beaten and robbed. He smiles a lot.

Then there was the motel manager. When we first met, in the frenzy of Lisa’s send-off to detox, he tried to kick me off the property.

“People here have a right to privacy!” he shouted. I can respect that.

Somehow I persuaded him to let me stay. Since then, I’d always check in with him and his pregnant wife.

She talks more than he does.

One evening, I saw his hand and forearm were in a splint. He just kind of shrugged when I asked. Jane filled me in. His wife, still pregnant, had relapsed. She was back on the pipe. 

——————-

Jane keeps beans and tortillas warm with a skillet she keeps on the bathroom counter. Photo by Tim Matsui.

Jane keeps beans and tortillas warm with a skillet she keeps on the bathroom counter. Photo by Tim Matsui.

I got a phone call, number blocked. The guy sounded urgent; I kind of recognized his voice.

“Are you from the Genesis Project?” he asked. “Do you know Lisa?”

He identified himself as a SeaTac police officer.

She must be in trouble, I thought. I answered carefully, walking the line. He wouldn’t say much and then hung up. I called Lisa, no answer. We were supposed to meet up.

That evening I found myself in the lobby of the SeaTac motel where she was staying. It felt like a movie, walking in, asking questions.

“Is Lisa here? No? What happened?” I asked.

Come to find out, they called the cops on her and I knew the arresting officer. She’s gotten a reputation around here, amongst the motels, with the cops, and with her community. I won’t say friends, because she struggles with that word. She knows they’ll take her for whatever they can, as they would anyone else, and now it sounds like she’s gotten a reputation for being a snitch.

I wonder if it’s because of me and my camera, or because she’s been at Genesis Project, the drop in center the cops founded.

Some emails and phone calls later and I was at the jail, after hours, looking at her through a window. We talked through phone handsets; their cables were too short.

As I said, it felt like a movie.

——————–

It was 3 a.m. and I was reviewing video I’d shot that night. In the glow of the monitor, I wrote a note to myself. Jane’s words kept coming back to me.

It was pouring rain as Lisa climbed into her ex-boyfriend’s truck. They’re sort of together, but he’s got another girl. Two of them, actually. The relationship looks pimp-like, though Lisa says it isn’t. But it’s her money, from selling herself, that’s paying for the night’s hotel room.

“Don’t give up on her,” Jane said, closing her door. “Don’t let her go.”

Comment

1 Comment

THE MOTEL: PART 1

Jane waiting at the hotel, her room busy. Photo by Tim Matsui

Jane waiting at the hotel, her room busy. Photo by Tim Matsui

There’s a series of low-slung motels along Pacific Highway South. They sit side-by-side, their balcony-style hallways shouting distance apart. Every day, thousands of cars stream along the median-split thoroughfare, passing weathered signs and week-long specials.

I visited one motel regularly, looking for Lisa, the girl in the robe. Since she hung out in the area, I did too.

In August, hundreds of cops descended on the motels. They drove up with armored vehicles, wore black tactical gear, and shut the motels down. The cops said the motels were “crime dens.” The owners allowed residents to sell drugs and commit prostitution, taking a fee for each visitor, each transaction. 

I’d heard complaints about the owners and their fees. But the people living there, many who were self-admitted addicts, didn’t see much choice. It was part of the lifestyle.

What follows are a series of vignettes from the place I frequented while filming “The Long Night.”

Some names have been changed. 

————

“Solo Yo, Nada Mas.” Only me, nothing more, is taped to a mirror in Jane’s room as Lisa looks through the refrigerator. Photo by Tim Matsui.

“Solo Yo, Nada Mas.” Only me, nothing more, is taped to a mirror in Jane’s room as Lisa looks through the refrigerator. Photo by Tim Matsui.

A dark blue van, an American make, was parked outside Jane’s room. I hadn’t seen it before. Fluids leaked beneath the front grill. 

The motel door was cracked; inside I saw three men of various ages. They sat with a young-looking woman in blue a tank top. 

“As usual, my room is full,” Jane said, coming outside. She looked different; she wore makeup and her hair was partially braided.

“I got bored,” she said. I told her she looked nice. 

I always check in with Jane. She knows I’m looking for Lisa, who wasn’t there. Jane’s been cool with me, but she’s also clear about when it’s a good time and when it isn’t. Her room is a hang out. A place where people get connected to the things they need, get high, relax. On her wall is a sign she made, “Pay da House.” The motel charges $10 dollars for every visitor. She charges too. I’m the outlier; I don’t pay anyone.

As a long-time resident, Jane’s a mama figure, a social nexus. Sometimes she cooks for everyone, using the electric skillet on her bathroom counter. It’s beneath the drying socks.

Jane was feeling chatty. We stood out in the cold night air. As usual, I asked a lot of questions.

Then, he came out of Jane’s room. Tall, maybe in his twenties, with pants hovering just below his crotch. He turned and I saw something boxy and large in the small of his back, beneath his shirt. Having only exchanged manly nods, and not knowing him, I didn’t ask. Firearms aren’t something I really feel comfortable with in this crowd. Especially when people are getting high on crack or meth. It makes them twitchy.

——————–

Lisa shares a last smoke and a group photo with everyone she knows at the motel, just before her first attempt at detox. Photo by Tim Matsui.

Lisa shares a last smoke and a group photo with everyone she knows at the motel, just before her first attempt at detox. Photo by Tim Matsui.

She leaned into me, pressing her forearm into the crook of my elbow.

“It’s like this,” she said, as she stroked her arm against mine. “Trick f*cking. You don’t let them inside you. You do it like this.”

Holly laughed and stepped back. We were standing in the parking lot, just outside Jane’s motel room. Holly was simply hanging out. Or working, I wasn’t sure.

“Here’s my number,” she said, rattling off her digits. With a flirtatious nod she said, “It rings at my house.”

Holly lived in the motel for six months, room 109, she said, but was very clear that she had her own place. 

“All these bitches here, they going to die,” she waved at the motel room doors.

I wasn’t quite sure what she was referencing; her conversation was erratic, a monologue, and it flowed from one thing to the next. I suspected it was the crack. I followed her next door, where she bought a $5 dollar pipe.

I asked about Lisa, the 19 year old I’d been following.

“Five hours,” Holly said, without context. She was referencing how long Lisa had been gone from the motel during her first attempt at detox. She’d only stayed in the facility about an hour.

“I’d already cleaned out her purse when she got back,” Holly emphasized.

“I’ll steal anything to sell,” she continued, owning her immorality. “I found a cook tin with black (heroin) in it, and two needles full.”

“When she came back I was like, Bitch!” she laughed, reaching up to choke my neck. She was angry that Lisa came back to her addiction.

Many people I spoke with knew they had a problem, a reason they were there. Holly knew Lisa’s was heroin. Holly was one of the few who wanted Lisa to stay away, to get clean, to leave the life. Lisa was younger than the hotel residents I’d met and, for all their dysfunction and addictions, they appeared to be a loose knit family. 

1 Comment

Comment

TOM, A FATHER'S SEARCH FOR HIS DAUGHTER

Portrait of Tom, by Tim Matsui

Portrait of Tom, by Tim Matsui

He’s a big man, tall and broad in the shoulder, with large hands. They are no longer rough and calloused, like I imagine they were when he was a trucker. The deep huskiness of his voice, a smoker’s, lends itself to the cadence of his speech. Deliberate, thoughtful, and paced so a drag on the cigarette feels natural.

Except that night.

Tom was speaking fast, a fluid stream-of-consciousness monologue. The window to the rental car was cracked, drawing his smoke out into the evening air. Rap played loudly on the satellite radio.

“To be a hunter,” he said, “you need to think like your prey.”

“I hate this music,” he gestured toward the dash, “But I used to listen to it. It’s what they listen to.”

Tom was showing me what he used to do, every day, while his daughter was missing. He would start in Tacoma, amongst the seedy motels and clubs, then drive Highway 99 north until Everett. The old highway changes names along the way; Pacific Highway South, International Boulevard, Aurora. But for many it is just one thing: The Track. It’s where one goes to find prostitutes, and Tom knew his daughter was one.

At 15, Natalie (not her real name) was turned out by a pimp. He first raped her then forced her to work for him; she had sex with men who paid him for the opportunity. Not that it should matter where she came from, but Natalie was from a good home, with loving parents, and she excelled in academics and sports. The point is, this is any girl’s story.

I spent several days with Tom and his family in December; it was emotionally trying for all of us, but we worked through the story of what happened. Natalie said she doesn’t want this to happen to other girls, which is why she shared her story. But it was difficult enough that she’s declared the interview she gave is the only one she’ll do. There was a lot of trust shared and, by the end of the week, I felt like I knew them, and they me.

 

Tom, father of 17 year old "Natalie," a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking, in the southwest where they relocated after surviving the ordeal. Natalie was sold for sex by a pimp for over three months through the website Backpage.com. (Tim Matsui)

Tom, father of 17 year old "Natalie," a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking, in the southwest where they relocated after surviving the ordeal. Natalie was sold for sex by a pimp for over three months through the website Backpage.com. (Tim Matsui)

 

While Tom turned to the streets, hunting for his daughter, her mom, Nacole, turned to advocacy. Everyone in the family dealt with it in their own way, she told me.

And so this past spring, they were asked to participate in a fundraiser in Seattle; for Nacole to tell the story of what happened to their family. Which is why Tom and I were speeding south to Tacoma, to the start of his northward cruise along the highway. It was his idea, hatched in the darkness as the fundraiser began.

Tom grew up on the streets and knew what kind of a world his daughter was walking into. He drove the highway, posting pictures of his daughter, stopping at businesses she might visit, scanning the sidewalks. Looking for her.

Tom did this until his rage grew so intense he nearly killed what he thought to be a pimp and a prostitute. Pointing his truck at them and accelerating, he braked hard at the last moment, stopping just in time. And then he hit the bottle, and didn’t find the bottom until months after his daughter returned home.

I worried that driving down the highway, a memory lane of nightmares, would leave Tom in a bad place. What I was witnessing was a character transformation.

Most people would see him as a gentle giant; this is Tom today. But he’s the first to admit he was a different person then, and I was witnessing the change, like a flashback in real time.

Apparently Tom shot some video from one of those nights looking for his daughter. He didn”t remember shooting them, but it was on the tapes he sent. But my editor, Tim McLaughlin at MediaStorm, said they are so visceral, so powerful; they show what a father would do for his daughter.

I was watching Tom become the man he needed to be to look for his youngest child. His daughter. It was intimidating.

20121210_NM_101.jpg


Comment

Comment

LISA: THE FIRST DETOX

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

Mid morning, I forget the day, and she texted. ALL CAPS. I used to have a regular work schedule, but with some of the late nights I’ve been keeping it’s been hard. First it was riding with the cops, on a 5pm to 1am shift, but recently I’ve been following Lisa, the young woman in the robe.

She seems to live in three hour increments, which is about the longest she’ll go between getting high. She’s doing nearly three grams of black a day, often cooking the tar-like heroin with a couple crystals of meth. The clockwork of her habit supersedes all other things; daylight, food, shelter and especially me, the tag-along journalist she sometimes lets into her life.

“SORRY ABOUT LAST NIGHT MY BAD BUT HEY I NEED A HUGE FAVOR I NEED TO GET A HOLD OF SOMEONE FROM GENESIS ASAP MY PHONE IS ABOUT TO DIE AND NO CHARGER BUT I AM AT SAFEWAY ON 216 AND WANT TO CHECK INTO DETOX NOT NOW BUT RIGHT NOW BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND AS LONG AS ITS MEDICAL THO”

Catch as catch can. Sometimes she reaches out, only to disappear. Sometimes I find her, walking, working. This time she was making a big move. She’s got my number, because I’m persistent, but had lost the number for the Genesis Project, a drop in center started by police for people like her.

When we arrived, she was fidgeting at an outdoor table, amazingly still there. She hadn’t slept in the past couple of days and had been “around,” essentially drifting between friends’ motel rooms and different dates. With the rain, she didn’t have a lot of those. She has a few regulars, but Lisa primarily prostitutes from the street. She’s been doing that for six years, when she was turned out by a pimp at 13. He’s in jail now, for murder.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said, picking up her pink Playboy purse from the patio furniture.

Carey got up too. She’s been shooting a second camera off and on for the project. The grocery store, mid day, was filled with families and there was no way I could follow Lisa into the women’s restroom. She was probably going to use. Carey’s introduction to Lisa was on one of those nights, driving the strip, chasing Lisa’s texts. Before Carey knew it, she was in the McDonald’s bathroom filming Lisa shoot up in the mirror. As Lisa walked into the store, Carey followed.

Lisa prepares to inject a mix of heroin "black" and crystal meth. As most of her veins are collapsed, she usually needs a mirror to inject into her neck, and often uses public bathrooms. She fluctuates between using one to three grams of heroin per day, often needing to get high every couple of hours. (Tim Matsui)

Lisa prepares to inject a mix of heroin "black" and crystal meth. As most of her veins are collapsed, she usually needs a mirror to inject into her neck, and often uses public bathrooms. She fluctuates between using one to three grams of heroin per day, often needing to get high every couple of hours. (Tim Matsui)

 

The Genesis Project staff arrived while Lisa was in the Safeway restroom. When she came out they took her to the drop-in center.

Paperwork needed to be completed and phone calls were made. Indeed, there was a bed at the treatment facility. We did a candid interview with Lisa, replete with interruptions; the staff questioning her drug use and her phone blowing up. She’d announced to her friends that she was going to detox. But first, she had to get high again. It had been too long and she wanted to slide into treatment with as much black in her blood as possible.

Respectful of the center’s policies, Lisa stepped outside to reclaim her needle stash from the drain pipe. Pulling the heroin from her bra, she walked next door to use a hotel bathroom. And then she was ready.

But then she needed to pick up a few things from her friend at the motel. And there were goodbyes. And a crack hit. And more delays. And more goodbyes.

Lisa's 42 year-old ex-boyfriend "J" expresses how much he loves her outside Jane's motel room. J, a meth dealer, often made Lisa pay for motel rooms, beat her on more than one occasion, sold her drugs, and maintained relationships with other young women. Lisa called him a "hustler" until just before he was sent to prison in the fall of 2013; by then she was calling him a pimp. (Tim Matsui)

Lisa's 42 year-old ex-boyfriend "J" expresses how much he loves her outside Jane's motel room. J, a meth dealer, often made Lisa pay for motel rooms, beat her on more than one occasion, sold her drugs, and maintained relationships with other young women. Lisa called him a "hustler" until just before he was sent to prison in the fall of 2013; by then she was calling him a pimp. (Tim Matsui)


The center’s staff, two young women, stayed in the car while Carey and I followed Lisa. Our cameras made people nervous; the motel is known for drug dealing and prostitution; without Lisa, we wouldn’t be tolerated there.

Lisa seemed to be the youngest of the loose-knit, almost family-like long term residents. Some wished her well, telling her not to come back, to stay clean. Others promised to be there for her, always. And her ex-boyfriend, more than twice her age and one of her drug dealers, looked passionately into her eyes, expressing his love for her.

The drive to the treatment center was confusing, the staff getting lost. When we arrived, Lisa needed a smoke, she needed to make a phone call, anything, it seemed, to postpone her high-dive moment. She was scared, she said. Scared of being sick. And she loves getting high, she said. But she was hopeful. Afterwards? She didn’t see anything different for herself. She would still work the street, but maybe she’d be able to save all the money she spends on heroin.

Lisa made it less than 24 hours before walking out of the detox center; it was more than just her craving for the drug.

Comment

3 Comments

THE STING AND CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

It was scheduled for two nights, and the list of players was long. FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Seattle Police, Sheriff’s Office, SeaTac police, and some others. They slip my mind.

The sting was a joint operation, run by the Sheriff’s Office, and took place in SeaTac. This is the home turf of the detectives I’ve been following, so I had an in with them, but it was tenuous. Given the number of agencies involved, the sergeant was wary of my presence.

I felt my access could change at any moment, leaving me out in the cold, but in this case I got closer. The guarded looks I first received became more relaxed; the cops I didn’t know soon became real people. But the oddness of the situation still hit me: one journalist, some 20 cops, sex workers, and a hotel room. It’s an oddness I feel with this project as a whole for, as the story increases in complexity, I am being drawn deeper into the lives of my subjects.

The operation itself was pretty simple. Find underage girls working in the commercial sex industry and, using the blunt tool that arrest provides, attempt to get them out of the life and connect them with aftercare services. If they arrested a pimp in the process, all the better, but that’s a lot more complicated.

For this operation the cops went online, looking at profiles of young women offering escort services, dates, companionship. Mostly they’d look at Backpage.com or the TnAboard, scrolling through profile pictures looking for young ones. Then they made a call or sent a text asking to meet. Some girls and pimps know which numbers belong to cops, or suspected cops, and won’t answer. Others are too busy or just flaky.

Having booked hotel rooms, the police staged themselves; in one room, a detective posed as a “john,” the sex buyer. Other rooms are for interviews and one for monitoring the “sting” room. Additional detectives lay in wait outside.

 

Any car dropping off a sex worker is watched or followed; this could be a pimp. The tricky part is the young woman has to make an offer and agreement for sex before she can be arrested. Then the suspect in the car can be detained but, unless the young woman says it’s her pimp, it’s hard to hold the suspect. And the pimps train them; she will have a false identity, will lie about what she does and her relationships. The cops know she’s probably willing to go to jail for her pimp.

I was dropped off in a room with two SeaTac detectives. The game was on and pizza arrived. But the beer was missing, and the tasers and radios were out of place. Then the signal went out and the cops piled out of the room for the arrest.

That night there were no minors; the youngest was 18. There was a young mother of two with a drug addiction. She was later arrested again on a subsequent sting. There was another who couldn’t fathom she was being arrested. Another stood with her hand on her hip; she knew the game, and she was more afraid of her pimp than the cops. A cop told me she confessed that she’d catch a beating for this.

A 19-year-old woman is questioned by detectives from the King County Sheriff's Office during a sting operation intended to identify minors involved in commercial sex and their pimps.

A 19-year-old woman is questioned by detectives from the King County Sheriff's Office during a sting operation intended to identify minors involved in commercial sex and their pimps.

Not everyone is arrested. If there’s a pre-existing warrant, they need to be. If they lie, they might be. If they’re honest about what they’re doing, they are often let go or given the option to go to the Genesis Project drop in center for the night. But that was then.

The sting happened a few months ago, on a cold winter night. Since then, spring has passed and summer is settling into the Northwest.

The detectives have resigned from the Genesis Project and stopped delivering sex workers to the drop in center. For the moment, they’ve shifted their work back to narcotics. It would be interesting to follow this too, but it doesn’t relate as much to my story.

Conner, the patrol officer who thought to start the non profit, is under investigation and on administrative leave. He is using the time to reshape the organization, to keep it closer to his original vision, and to catch up on home projects.

I’ve used the time to get closer to one of the young women the cops pulled in during the winter. She’s the one in the robe.

That night there were no minors; the youngest was 18. There was a young mother of two with a drug addiction. She was later arrested again on a subsequent sting. There was another who couldn’t fathom she was being arrested. Another stood with her hand on her hip; she knew the game, and she was more afraid of her pimp than the cops. A cop told me she confessed that she’d catch a beating for this.

Not everyone is arrested. If there’s a pre-existing warrant, they need to be. If they lie, they might be. If they’re honest about what they’re doing, they are often let go or given the option to go to the Genesis Project drop in center for the night. But that was then.

The sting happened a few months ago, on a cold winter night. Since then, spring has passed and summer is settling into the Northwest.

The detectives have resigned from the Genesis Project and stopped delivering sex workers to the drop in center. For the moment, they’ve shifted their work back to narcotics. It would be interesting to follow this too, but it doesn’t relate as much to my story.

Conner, the patrol officer who thought to start the non profit, is under investigation and on administrative leave. He is using the time to reshape the organization, to keep it closer to his original vision, and to catch up on home projects.

I’ve used the time to get closer to one of the young women the cops pulled in during the winter. She’s the one in the robe.

Lisa, wearing her first robe ever, eats at the Genesis Project drop in center the night the detectives followed her and arrested her date for solicitation of prostitution. Turned out by a pimp at 13, Lisa has sold herself for the past six years in order to maintain a heroin addiction she picked up along the way.

Lisa, wearing her first robe ever, eats at the Genesis Project drop in center the night the detectives followed her and arrested her date for solicitation of prostitution. Turned out by a pimp at 13, Lisa has sold herself for the past six years in order to maintain a heroin addiction she picked up along the way.

The story has changed, grown more complicated, and deepened. I intend to stay with it, through the changing of the guard, to see if this concept of victim-centric law enforcement is replicable. If so, it may be the beginning of some sweeping changes in how America addresses domestic minor sex trafficking.

3 Comments

Comment

ENDLESS CIRCLES

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

Access aside, I don’t think I could be out there every night.

It’s eight hours of endless loops around a short stretch of Pacific Highway South, looking for prostitutes. It’s chatter on the push-to-talk Nextels, against a background of radio calls with Dispatch; an aural web of bad things happening in SeaTac. And it’s waiting, watching traffic, seated in an Andy’s overheated passenger compartment, a shotgun strapped to the ceiling.

It’ll go something like this:

“I’ve got one,” Brian might say over the Nextel. “Walking north past the Casino. She’ll be by you soon, Rich.”

“Does she look young?” Joel might ask.

“Yeah,” Brian might respond. “She’s got a hooker jacket. She’s looking back at traffic…she’s definitely trying to make contact.”

Time passes. She’ll keep walking, leisurely, her short-cropped jacket with its faux fur-lined hood one of the markers the detectives look for.

“I think we know her,” Rich, the Sergeant, might say from his vantage point.

“Remember that one from…” and he’ll cite a previous arrest, trying to dredge up the name.

They will follow her for a bit, leapfrogging, pulling into parking lots, watching. They’ve ID’d her; she’s not a minor, maybe 20, and she’s already got a SOAP order (stay out of area of prostitution). They could arrest her now, but the focus of their work is to find underaged girls being prostituted by pimps, with the goal of helping the girls get out of the life, arrest the johns and get the pimps, if they can.

But maybe it’s not her night; no one is picking her up. Just as they decide to contact her, either to check in with her or to cite her for violating her SOAP order, Donyelle might come over the Nextel.

“I’ve got a young one,” he’ll say.

They’ll pull away from the out-of-luck 20 year old. With the same drive-by, park and watch routine, they’ll monitor the new girl as she walks down the highway, always with traffic, looking over her shoulder, trying to make contact with the men cruising for a “date.”

A young woman, a minor known for robbing her 'dates' is arrested during a sting operation to identify minors involved in sex work and their pimps.

A young woman, a minor known for robbing her 'dates' is arrested during a sting operation to identify minors involved in sex work and their pimps.

Maybe this one gets picked up quickly. Maybe she’s attractive.

They’ll follow the car as it turns off the highway, retreating into some dark spot; the distant corner of a parking lot, a residential neighborhood, wherever the john feels safe. They’ll give it a few minutes; by watching her they’ve got “Probable Cause” but they like to wait for the “Offer and Agreement” to occur, the deal where he offers her money for sex. They will sneak up to the car, then shine flashlights through the windows. Andy will pull up, his low-profile patrol car now flashing lights.

“Sheriff’s Office!” the detectives will say from the darkness, hands on their hip, next to their badge and gun.

Doors are opened. The john is asked to get out. Since I’ve been riding with the police I’ve seen family men, a baby seat, a porn-filled SUV, a minivan. The men are Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, African American. I’ve met sex offenders, convicted felons, drug dealers.

They struggle to explain what they were doing.

“I was just giving her a ride,” is usually the first denial.

Doors are opened. The john is asked to get out. Since I’ve been riding with the police I’ve seen family men, a baby seat, a porn-filled SUV, a minivan. The men are Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, African American. I’ve met sex offenders, convicted felons, drug dealers.

They struggle to explain what they were doing.

“I was just giving her a ride,” is usually the first denial.

On March 11, 2013, in Des Moines, Washington, King County Sheriff's Detective Brian Taylor questions a buyer of commercial sex, a "john," who had picked up a young woman from Pacific Highway South, a notorious track for prostitution. The man, on his way home from work, had driven evasively before arriving at the young woman's grandmother's house. Through separate interviews it was determined there was an offer and agreement for paid sex. The SeaTac Police Department Street Crimes Unit, for which Det. Taylor works, emphasizes anti-prostitution patrols in an effort to address the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking, or the sale of children for commercial sex by pimps and gangs. In this instance, with no immediate evidence of a pimp (exploiter), the sex buyer and the young woman, both adults, were cited and released. Prostitution is illegal in the state of Washington.

On March 11, 2013, in Des Moines, Washington, King County Sheriff's Detective Brian Taylor questions a buyer of commercial sex, a "john," who had picked up a young woman from Pacific Highway South, a notorious track for prostitution. The man, on his way home from work, had driven evasively before arriving at the young woman's grandmother's house. Through separate interviews it was determined there was an offer and agreement for paid sex. The SeaTac Police Department Street Crimes Unit, for which Det. Taylor works, emphasizes anti-prostitution patrols in an effort to address the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking, or the sale of children for commercial sex by pimps and gangs. In this instance, with no immediate evidence of a pimp (exploiter), the sex buyer and the young woman, both adults, were cited and released. Prostitution is illegal in the state of Washington.

“Then how come your pants were around your ankles?” Was one response I heard. “What, was she just resting her head in your lap?”

And the girls. Some cry. Most are kind of stunned. One, in her mid twenties, told the detectives she’s doing it for drugs. She knows what they’re looking for and said they’ve got bigger fish to fry. They let her walk.

But, maybe tonight, the girl is underage. It’s a felony for the john.

Last week, when I wasn’t scheduled to ride with them, Andy sent an email.

“We got three girls tonight, one was a 14 yr. old,” he typed with typical brevity. “One of the older girls had a great attitude and has been in the life since she was 15.”

And that’s the trick, he’s found. Attitude. She has to want to leave the life if she’s to be successful. And even then, it’s no guarantee. It’s a long road.

Followed by SeaTac police detectives while she was walking Pacific Highway South, until she was picked up by a 'date,' Lisa waits, handcuffed in the cold winter night, while her date is interviewed. While he was uncooperative and went to jail for the night, she expressed interest in a drop in center founded by the police officers as an alternative to incarceration. The center functions as a first point of contact for social services and long term care. It was Lisa's first time hearing of it. Police took her there.

Followed by SeaTac police detectives while she was walking Pacific Highway South, until she was picked up by a 'date,' Lisa waits, handcuffed in the cold winter night, while her date is interviewed. While he was uncooperative and went to jail for the night, she expressed interest in a drop in center founded by the police officers as an alternative to incarceration. The center functions as a first point of contact for social services and long term care. It was Lisa's first time hearing of it. Police took her there.

Comment

Comment

THE ROBE

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

There was one girl, recently, whose story hit me little harder. She was giving a guy oral sex when they walked up to the car. She was 19 and high on heroin. Although she’s a pimp-less ‘renegade,’ she was turned out by a pimp at 13. She picked up the heroin along the way. She now bounces from motel to motel, selling herself to pay for the rooms and her habit, everything she owns fitting into a pink school bag.

They took the guy to jail and they took her to the Genesis Project. The aftercare center is only funded enough to function part-time. They turned on the heat, the lights. Seinfeld was on the TV. Two on-call volunteers came in. She was hungry and chose a frozen chimichanga from the well-stocked kitchen, using the plastic fork and knife like an 8 year-old. They gave her a long, terry cloth robe.

“I’ve never worn a robe,” she said, a little incredulous, her voice dulled by the heroin.

“Well do me a favor and keep that one,” Brian, one of the detectives and co-founders said. “And then when you leave here, I want you to take a big old bag of clothes.”

She clasped her hands in from of her face, as if to pray, and started to cry.

“It’s ok,” he said. “This is why this is here, because we care about you.”

“I want you to feel at home here,” he continued. “I want you to feel like you can come here any time you want, go in the fridge and grab yourself something to eat, because this is yours….your family just increased by about 120 people.”

“We do this because we care about you guys.”

“Why?” she asked. “I don’t even care about myself.”


Before leaving, I knelt beside the couch. I reintroduced myself, reiterating that I was documenting the cops and the center. I reassured her she wouldn’t be identifiable, but gave her the option, if she wanted to speak with me later. She offered to sign something then, but it was too soon, and she was still high.

She’d come in wearing a short tube dress. To warm up, they’d given her a long sleeve t-shirt and pajama bottoms to go with her robe. She lay on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, eating peanut M&M’s, and watching Family Guy.

She turned back to me.

“Do I look normal?” she asked.

I nodded.

Comment

Comment

NATALIE

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

When I felt the first sweat, I was sitting on the floor, in thick brown carpet, with my back to the wood stove. My mouth started to water, filling with that metallic taste accompanying…. there it was. Stomach cramp. I knew I was going to puke.

I put my camera down, still listening to what Natalie (not her real name) was saying, her parents weighing in on occasion. I was there, for her and her family, to tell their story. I’d spent the past three days with them. I’d walked them through an intensely emotional series of interviews; they showed me their life, opening up ever more, a trust of proportion for which I have no scale.

And now I was in their living room, sure I was going to be sick.

I put on my jacket, thinking of an excuse to go out to the car, so I could heave out of earshot; they’d surely hear me in their bathroom. I felt like I had food poisoning, which I’ve experienced often enough. Natalie had cooked that evening and I didn’t want to embarrass her. In fact, they’d been so welcoming I’d eaten nearly every meal with them.

17 year old "Natalie," a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking, now lives with her parents, Nacole and Tom, in the southwest where they relocated after surviving the ordeal. Natalie was sold for sex by a pimp for over three months through the website Backpage.com.

17 year old "Natalie," a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking, now lives with her parents, Nacole and Tom, in the southwest where they relocated after surviving the ordeal. Natalie was sold for sex by a pimp for over three months through the website Backpage.com.

 

“You know, the only reason I took your call is because of who sent you,” Natalie’s mother told me the first day I arrived. We were sitting in the winter sun on the smoking porch. “I trust her, otherwise I’d have told you the same thing I told all the others. No.”

There were a variety of media suitors, including big broadcast shows. They kept calling. And calling. One reporter even accosted Natalie in the bathroom of the courthouse during the trial of her pimp. An FBI agent came to her rescue.

When Natalie was 15, she was turned out by a pimp in the Seattle area, forced to sell her body for money that he took. He used the “escort” listings on Backpage.com to sell her, at times running three different identities and photo sets of her, posting as often as every hour so she would stay in the top 20. Especially on weekends. So complete was his hold on her mind, that soon she was posting the ads herself, arranging the out-calls, mostly to hotel rooms, and bringing in enough money that she supported him, two other prostitutes, two children, and herself in a three bedroom apartment.

She never walked the street, she was a Backpage girl, and the police used it to set up the sting that brought her in. It was her case, and her mom, that helped pass new laws in Washington state meant to keep minors like Natalie from being used for commercial sex. The controversial one was the “Backpage Bill.”

Owned by Village Voice Media, which generated $28.6 million from online escort and body rub ads last year, this story is what the media wanted, and Natalie was their token “victim.”

While we’d talked on the phone two weeks prior, that first day with Natalie’s family felt very much like a vetting process. I wanted to understand their story, and I think they wanted to understand me. When I do these kinds of stories I consider my subject a survivor, not a victim, and I recognize it’s their story, not mine.

The deal we had when I arrived was I could use Natalie’s audio and non-identifying images of her. I’d change her name, and I wouldn’t name their new hometown. And yet, by the end of the second day, after we’d finished the video interviews (I’d put all of them on camera, with their agreement, just in case they changed their minds), Natalie asked, “It would be a lot more powerful if they saw my face, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, absolutely,” I replied. “But once it’s out there, it’s out forever.”

Her parents were split; her mom wanted her face obscured, her dad thought she should come out. I laid out the pro’s and cons as best I could imagine, leaving them to decide.

Natalie was considering becoming publicly vulnerable; anyone who recognized her face would be able to connect this horrific story to her. In some cases people may shame her. But there are others who would honor her and even others who might look to her courage to find their own. This is what she held in her heart as she handed me her release.

“If this helps one girl,” she said.

——-

That night, I made it out of the house before getting sick. It didn’t even happen until I was safely in my hotel room, a Super 8 at the crossroads in the center of town, frequented by oil and gas workers. I lost the dinner Natalie had cooked, fell into uncontrollable shivering, and spent the next 20 minutes trying to warm up in the shower. The night was a fevered sweat; I woke every hour as I weathered the stomach cramps.

I was fortunate that the next morning I didn’t need to be moving until 10:30. Natalie was at work when I arrived at her house, but her parents were there. Her mom had taken the day off and her dad was preparing to do some household chores. We sat on the smoking porch for a bit, and they commented on my exhausted appearance.

I hesitated. I didn’t want to appear weak, and I didn’t want to suggest I’d been poisoned by Natalie’s food, which I wasn’t even convinced about. But when I told them I’d been sick the night before, they both nodded. I must have gotten the 12 or 24 hour intestinal flu that was circulating through town. All three of them had suffered through it.

“Really?” I asked.

Oddly, I felt relieved. For me, my sickness became a shared moment with my subjects. That evening, my fourth sitting on the brown shag carpet of their living room, was more intimate. My camera was in hand, but so was my heart. And I think they knew it.

Comment

Comment

GRADDON

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

The meeting was set up, but not in an “are you available” fashion. The communications officer simply said when it would be.

I arrived at SeaTac City Hall on time, then sat outside a locked door observing a receptionist behind thick glass. Waiting. It was December 4. A mini-summit was happening behind closed doors.

Prior to my request to report on their department’s work on domestic minor sex trafficking, a commercial video production team had worked with them on the same subject. And it got messy. If I were to over-simplify, I would say the film crew got too involved. So when I asked about documenting the work of the department, I felt the need to underscore that I am a journalist, not a participant. I observe.

That was in September, and I was growing nervous about being able to tell the story I had proposed for the grant. There was an internal investigation and media policies were being revised; I might not have the access I thought.

My proposal is based on the story of a cop who creates a shelter for prostitutes. He was exasperated by prison’s revolving door. Because some were asking for it, he wanted to find a way to help get the women and young girls he was arresting out of “the life.” He started talking to them, listening to their stories, and came to realize for many they didn’t have a choice; they were living in fear, being run by pimps.

There weren’t many places to send the girls, so he started a drop in center he hopes to expand to long term safe housing combined with counseling, education, job training, and whatever else it will take to help restore the survivors’ confidence in themselves. It currently operates on a shoestring budget and volunteer hours. I saw the story as a unique marriage of law enforcement and social services, a rare thing in this field.

The wait for access was worth it, and it appears I have an ally, not only in my subject, Sheriff Deputy Andy Conner and the Street Crimes Unit, but in the Major himself.

Major James Graddon, Chief of Police, City of SeaTac was the last task force commander for the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway. He plead guilty to killing 49 women, many who were underage prostitutes.

Graddon stopped by after my meeting with the captain, communications officer, and the Street Crimes unit. Small of stature, crisp in his movement, and dressed like an office worker, with the addition of a badge and gun on his belt, he shook my hand warmly. And then he offered his support for my endeavor with the Alexia Women’s Initiative Grant.

“We can’t do another Ridgeway,” he said. “No one should have to suffer through that. Ever.”

Read more about Graddon and Ridgeway below. Excerpted from this article in the SeaTac blog.

“Graddon was the last team leader of the Green River murders taskforce. It was during the 2001 “arrest phase.”

“Once we got Gary Ridgway into custody – we did that all as a very clandestine operation – we grew our task force to include prosecutors,” he says.

“For about a year, through the course of the secret plea agreements, having Gary live with us for six months in our ‘bunker’ down at Boeing Field – ‘bunker’ was the nickname we had for our office – literally living with Ridgway 24/7 for 188 days.

“Irrespective of what I would think of him on an emotional level … we had a job to do. We needed to be there for the victim’s families,” Graddon says.

“We don’t have enough time now to describe what it is to listen to Gary Ridgway talk about the murder of – pick a number – he is charged with and plead guilty to 49 and he claims a host more than that.

“To listen to him over the period of hundreds of hours of interviews, watching my team work with him, watching the search teams go out and do what they (had to do) and, on occasion, going out with them, we simply had to be focused on the job we were doing. We didn’t have time to think about it on an emotional level, yet there is a huge psychological and emotional level to it all.”

Comment

Comment

OPS

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

I sat, on the end of the row of chairs, feeling like the journalist. The outsider, the observer, the untrusted. Not because my intention is exploitive, but because I don't directly help people. I tell stories, hoping the people who see them will learn something and want to act on their new knowledge.

I was at a training meeting for the Organization of Prostitution Survivors (OPS); the intention of the series was to get volunteers and board members on the same page, although most already were. 

The room was split fairly evenly between survivors of prostitution and social services providers, though to categorize so simply is unjust. Many fit both roles and, it seemed, all had some kind of a story. 

This evening's training was on trauma. Single event, vicarious; there are many forms. The evidence of trauma manifests itself in many ways too. While I observed, I was beginning to remember.

Like the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting next door, whose cheers and clapping I could hear through the wall, this group thrived on sharing. On honesty and vulnerability.  Some were talking about horrific experiences they owned; to do this meant trusting the people in the room. 

The only reason I was in the room is I have been researching the story of domestic minor sex trafficking in Seattle for four years, hunting for funding and trying to do this without repeating earlier mistakes; the kind where I overextend myself financially and personally.

And that's when it clicked. Sitting in that chair I remembered, and my own story became clearer.

My work in this field started over a decade ago, first with sexual violence. This led to creating a non profit. Suffering serious burn out, I left for several trips to southeast Asia to report on human trafficking.

I started remembering how I would come back from these trips. Anxious, keyed up. Everything had urgency. Re-entry into Seattle's every day humdrum was torture. I was angry, frustrated, quick to snap and even faster to judge. I'd also learned to cry again. Sometimes, by myself, I'd simply weep.

I still don't truly acknowledge it, but I was carrying a form of trauma. It grew incrementally.

I like to think I wasn't shocked by the stories I was hearing; I'd already heard a lot. I knew what human traffickers could do. I became used to the traffic noise, the scent of sewage, the bi-weekly food poisoning and respiratory illnesses. I took tips on anti-worm medications, laughing off sickness and political absurdities with the expats I met, all while treating every person as a possible contact.

The hunt for access was ever present; someone always knows more than you, can open the door you didn't know you needed, or keep you from ending up beaten and robbed on some red-dirt track in the jungle. I found it created a faux intimacy, a trust bound by immediate circumstance, but lacking in longevity.

I didn't have any one difficult, traumatic event. But I think it added up. The stress was always there, the insecurity, the politics amongst my various sources. And yes, some of the stories were hard to hear. Like sitting with a woman as she described her father's murder by Khmer Rouge child soldiers; squealing pigs triggers this memory for her. Or the scent of acid-burned flesh and the labored breathing of a mother, soon to die. Or the many young women who spoke of the violence and abuse they faced daily as prostitutes, some bearing the scars and bruises; almost all of them unable to imagine any other life.

I came back from my last trip to Cambodia in 2009, to a relationship I chose over leaving America indefinitely. That was four years ago. I haven't dug into a trauma story since then. The funding wasn't there, the timing wasn't right, and my energies were focused on building a family and becoming financially stable. 

During that OPS meeting about trauma, as I sat in my chair listening, all this came back. My palms grew sweaty. I waited for a lull in the discussion, then spoke up. I told them what I have just told you. That it's been four years since I've touched trauma. I told them they were helping me remember my capacity for trauma, and my limits. That I was reminded of the painful depths people can experience and still come back and be whole. And I thanked them, for they were helping me understand and better tell the story of domestic minor sex trafficking. There were some nods and a heavy pause, but then the discussion continued. I wasn't sure how to feel.

After the meeting, a couple of people surprised me by thanking me for sharing. And I felt, maybe I wasn't just "the journalist" anymore. Maybe I was a person, just like them, trying to understand a particularly difficult experience.  

I know journalists are supposed to sit on the side and observe, but sometimes I think this leaves us aloof and disconnected. Especially in a place like this, where stories usually kept hidden are revealed with honesty and vulnerability. As journalists, we expose those stories for all to see and, I feel, if we don't offer something of ourselves, we aren't truly connecting with our subject. We aren't vulnerable in return, and in our lack of presence, we cannot do their story justice. 

Comment

Comment

JT

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

I met James on a cold, clear night. There was a rally for the homeless in Westlake Park, in downtown Seattle.

James was clean and sober and in search of housing. He’s been in and out of prison over the last ten years. He doesn’t want to give “the D.O.C.,” the department of corrections, any more of his life; he says he’s old enough now that every year counts. He shows a self awareness and intent that just may keep him out. We both knew, as a formerly incarcerated person, the odds are stacked against him. Even in his search for housing.

His body was in continuous motion, physically filling space as he filled the silence with stories of prison. Clallam Bay, aka Gladiator School, where they put the young gang bangers. The penitentiary, in Walla Walla, where the guards ask, when you arrive, where you’re from. It’s so they know where to put you. Meaning, you better have a group to belong to or, for your own safety, they’ll put you in the hole. Isolation.

Then I asked him what he knew of the Life. Of pimping and prostituting. He laughed; he used to pimp, he had a few girls. They came to him, he said. They wanted to be taken care of. I asked if they gave him all their money. Yes, he replied, but they were expensive. Getting their hair and nails done and everything. One time he had two girls with a crack habit and a heroin habit. It was tough, he said, hustling for those two habits.

As a journalist, I’m looking for stories that will illustrate the theme I am pursuing. Sometimes I don’t feel this is a fair way to be in a conversation, in a relationship with someone, however brief. James wasn’t the story I was looking for, but he had some history, something I could learn from. And I relaxed; I let him lead the conversation again.

What struck me most is how he saw himself; the provider for these women who went out to have sex with anonymous men, and then turned all their earnings over to him. I had the sense that in this transaction there was a kind of intimacy, however skewed in my opinion, where it wasn’t just business. That there was some kind of love. After all, he said, the girls came to him.

Comment

Comment

"LESLIE"

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

She offered me tea when I arrived. I accepted; a mug of green. While she prepared it, I looked around her office, an interior room in the building. Her desk was far cleaner than mine, and her book shelf held what you’d expect of someone working with homeless youth. I turned to the wall.

Affixed beside a white board were two large sheets of paper from an easel pad. All were covered in multicolored handwriting. A lot of it I recognized from my work in trauma. I looked closer; it was specific to prostitution trauma.

Leslie Briner, who works for YouthCare, a Seattle nonprofit serving homeless youth,  did a lot of direct services client work but found her interest drawn back to policy. That was what I was looking at on the wall. Policy development for addressing domestic minor sex trafficking.

A lot of it related to the marginalizing of women, creating a space where they are vulnerable, decreasing their options, and, once they’ve been subordinated, using them as objects.

The idea is that we all do this, whether we are aware of it or not. It is ingrained in our culture.

I was reading Leslie’s thought stream, laid out on the wall. She was framing the issue, but the view she was revealing pointed toward solutions. Toward resiliency and hope.

I was seated when she returned with the tea, after which we fell into an easy conversation. My being the journalist and her being in social services, I had expected some conflict. I realized I had been afraid of her and had felt I needed to prove to her my intentions weren’t exploitive. Instead, I was surprised to find how similar some of our thoughts and approaches to the issue are.

And she got it, she saw what I am trying to do with stories and how this can help her with the work she is doing. While she’s researching and authoring policy, at the heart of what she’s doing is trying to change our cultural norms.

Youthcare is one of the agencies in Seattle at the heart of the response to domestic minor sex trafficking. They were also a client of mine, as I helped them update their entire image library last year. Some of what I learned was touching, difficult, and can’t be talked about. It’s one of the reasons Leslie shifted from direct services to policy development.

At the end of our conversation I felt heartened, more confident and hopeful. Leslie is a wealth of knowledge, an incredible resource, and is driven in her work.

Asking if I could take an iPhone snap of her for social media, I pointed to the white board.

“Tell me about that note you’ve highlighted,” I asked.

Written in large letters, separated from her notes on the stigma prostitutes face were these words:

“You Never Know the End of the Story”

“That’s my reminder to keep moving forward every day,” she said.

Indeed.

Comment

Comment

ON AURORA

Photo by Tim Matsui

Photo by Tim Matsui

 

It happened one evening in early August. We saw a woman sprawled beside the road, holding her head. We looked, drove past, then my wife asked if we should stop. We did. 

 

I rolled down the window and asked if she was ok. She said she was in pain and everyone was driving by. She said all she needed was a ride. It was crushing, but I quickly understood what she was doing and probably why she was in pain. I asked where she wanted to go.

 

"Aurora," she replied. We were 200 feet from the highway. I asked where.

 

"Anywhere," she replied. "By the donut place."

 

"Near 125th?" I asked. She replied yes. That was not a go; we had a nine year old in the back and I didn't want him any closer to her. In the driver's seat, my wife asked if I'd get out and talk with her. I did, and she drove up the block and waited.

 

Kneeling down, I asked the woman if she was "working." She replied, softly, that she was. She identified as a prostitute.

 

I asked if she wanted me to call someone, that I knew of a safe place she could go. It wasn't what she wanted to hear, because she started screaming at me for not giving her  a ride, for wanting to take care of my family, not her. She got up and walked off.

 

She was an adult, she wore a short black skirt, black tank top, and had a rather large black hand bag. Her hair looked to be bleached, she wore heavy makeup, and she moved erratically. 

 

North of 125th is where the older prostitutes tend to work. It is likely that a john or a pimp hurt her then dropped her beside the highway, leaving her to find her way back to where she would earn the night's money; for the pimp, for the drugs, for whatever. 

 

For us? She walked away; you can't force help on people who don't want out of "the life." 

 

But I, we, wanted to do something, to help. We didn't want to turn away but, in the end, we did. And now our son is scared of the bad people who hurt her. 

Comment