Monday, October 12, 2009

How Much Money Do Prostitutes Make? Part II

O.K., some prostitutes may be poor, but at least, people argue, sometimes they get paid a lot of money. They have to be paid well for doing the things you can't get most women to do for free. You know, the freaky stuff. At least that has to cost real money. Limited supply, serious demand, risk in even asking other women for some things -- it makes sense that certain acts have to be expensive.

Well, let's see. There's having unprotected sex w/ a man who's pretty obviously sick. The risk of getting Hep. C or the AIDS virus ought to be worth some serious cash. Our women try to use condoms for intercourse, and they really try to avoid actual intercourse altogether, but unprotected sex definitely happens. Prostituted women seem to have a long list of serious physical ailments, but I don't see any of them getting rich from it, and I've never heard, not once, about the big bucks any of them scored by sleeping with a sick man.

Then there's rough sex. We had a client who agreed to take her pants down and let a man spank her for money. Once he got her over his lap, he pulled out the paddle and hit her full force while she screamed in panic. Sid took pictures the next day of the purple bruises that covered the woman's rear end. The price? A dollar a whack. Even the client's mother thought a dollar was a little low. Unfortunately, however, the price seemed to be mom's only objection.

Still, risky sex and sadistic sex are available outside of prostitution. How about sex that could put you in prison for life if you tried it with anyone other than a prostitute? How about sex with a really young girl -- 12 years old, for example. There's certainly demand for that. If a man gets convicted for having intercourse with a young child even once (and who wants to have sex just once?) his life is pretty much ruined. I would have thought that a man who can find a family willing to let him have sex with their little girl would pay thousands of dollars for the opportunity. I really am with the economists and everyone else on the net -- people who can get something as dangerous and taboo as that have to be willing to pay a fortune.

Except that they aren't. People who've studied the issue claim that the average age of entry into prostitution is from 11 to 13 years old. I don't know how those studies were conducted, but I do know that a large majority of our clients who actively prostitute come from backgrounds of severe sexual abuse. Sometimes their families rape them. Sometimes their families sell them. Sometimes they seem to drift into horrible situations. I doubt that many of the women who have taken their daughters out prostituting with them waited until the girls were 18 first.

We had a client who met a 12-year-old out prostituting on Wilkens Avenue. The girl said she "had been doing this" since she was 11. She was out by herself with no money, no protection, nothing to eat on a cold December day. She would be beaten by her mother if she came home with less than $20.00 (the cost of two hits of heroin). I'm guessing that mom and boyfriend shot up more than once a day and, of course, had other expenses too. Not that they weren't willing to help the child earn more money -- in fact sometimes the girl woke up to find her mother ushering another trick into her room -- but the girl wasn't able to support the family by herself. How could she? You have to be able to name your price to get it. She was a little girl sent out of her home by her mother, standing on the side of the road waiting for the next rapist. What kind of value could she put on herself? How much fight could she muster when the middle aged man who picked her up told her what he thought she was worth?

And if she continued prostituting, if by the time she was 18 or 20 she had been sexually degraded thousands of times at her family's insistence, what kind of change would you expect her to make? Does she suddenly go out, saying to herself, "Now I'm worth something! Now I can really put a value on my services!" I've been at YANA four years now. I've heard a lot of women say that they were blessed, that they were fortunate, that they came from wonderful homes. I've never heard any of them say they were worth much money. That's what's wrong with assuming that because the women are worth a lot of money they'll know how to get it. They've been taught since they were little girls that they aren't worth anything.


  1. You've invited comments on how your readers react. These two posts make me cry. Literally.

    I appreciate that you are sharing this.


  2. Thanks for the comment, jg. I suspect you're not alone. I once gave a talk to a room full of seasoned professionals who deal with this population (probation officers, administrators in the dept. of corrections, and the like). I talked about family backgrounds and the inter-generational nature of prostitution in our clients. After about 15 minutes I realized I was looking out into a sea of utterly stunned faces, many with that glassy look people get when they're on the verge of tears. Fortunately, Sid rescued the conference at that point. Like you, they were very kind people.

    As a follow-up to your comment, I'm going to try to do a new post tonight about what happened to that little 12 year old girl our client met.

  3. Try looking into GLBT youth. The main difference is that their parents weren't druggies and slum dwellers. They come from good families. Or what constitutes as 'good' in America. Many people think underage male prostitutes are somehow born into the trade, blaming their sexuality. The truth is much harsher: rejection - from family, friends, and church.

    The constitute a whopping 20-40% of homeless teens. Kids as young as 12 being thrown out to fend for themselves for coming out as GLBT. Or if not actually told to leave, being utterly rejected as to finally force them to run away, engage in self-destructive escapist practices (drugs and prostitution), or kill themselves (suicides among gay teens 2-3 times more likely than heterosexual youth, I personally knew one guy in college who did it because he couldn't stand his parents' "embarrassment" of him anymore). Granted most of them are boys, that doesn't make them any less vulnerable. If that isn't enough the more effeminate ones (especially the transgenders) risk death daily at the hands of total strangers not because of the sleaziness of prostitution but because of society's attitude toward GLBT people themselves.

    And of course, everyone including the parents, the government, and the churches themselves blame it somehow on innate oversexuality despite the fact that it was them who literally pushed them towards self-destruction.

  4. Thank you very much for your comment. There's no question at all in my mind that you're right about the danger and degradation of GLBT prostitution. We have a few lesbian prostituted women, but I don't know their backgrounds. They generally fit in well with the rest of the women and are liked (w/ a few homophobic exceptions, interestingly enough from the ones who've had less deprived backgrounds). We are a women-only program, but we've encountered some prostituted men, generally dressed in extremely unconvincing women's clothing, during outreach. We would give them whatever little handouts we had, and they were always very gracious. I think we would have a very hard time combining the two groups at YANA as our women love the fact that they can talk about their sexual traumas without men present (they don't mind the occasional male volunteer. They don't want to be around men they'll see again on the street.)

    I would love to see an organization that did exist for prostituted men. Do you know of any?

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