Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whatever Happened to the Little Girl?

In How Much Money Do Prostitutes Make Part II, I wrote about one 12 year old whom a client of ours found prostituting out on Wilkens Avenue. My point was that since the majority of prostituting women seem to begin at that age, it's unreasonable to imagine that they're able to hold out for the kind of money that they "should" be able to get. Even if she's on Wilkens Avenue, a 12 year old having sex with a middle aged man is just a rape victim. How well would you expect a child rape victim to negotiate with her rapist? How well can she do it six year later, after she's been degraded thousands of times and she's strung out on drugs in order to endure it? The free market analysis, in other words, is more than a bit flawed.

After I read jg's comment to Part II last night, I realized that a lot of people might be curious about what happened to that particular little girl, so here is what I know. The client, Linda, who was out prostituting with her own adult daughters, was appalled to find a child on the street openly doing the same thing. Linda confronted her, didn't know what to answer to the inevitable "Well, what are you doing here yourself?" reply, but refused to leave her side. Linda and the little girl spent most of the day together, with Linda warning her away from an unmarked police car, giving her bus money, taking her home, listening with grief stricken empathy to the child's story, feeding her with bag lunches she got from YANA, and telling her, over and over again, that there was such a place as YANA where people cared about a girl like her.

The little girl stoutly maintained that she wouldn't trust a place like YANA, and she wouldn't go to a place like that either. Then she went back home with Linda still at her side. They both met the mother on the street, and the girl told her mom that she hadn't made any money. The mother responded by hitting her in the face. The 12 year old asked for Linda's cell phone and then, to Linda's astonishment, called the police. Linda was frightened, but she didn't leave. The police showed up to find a pair of middle aged addicts screaming at each other and a little girl who identified herself as a prostitute. First thing they did (good old Southwest Baltimore!) was slap handcuffs on the child.

Then they called back the mother who was rapidly sidling away. She ignored them at first, but was persuaded to return when they shouted out a threat to shoot her. Linda, meanwhile, was vigorously explaining that it was the mother who should be locked up, but probably mom herself was much more helpful in that regard. She came back shouting profanities and threats at her daughter. The girl was released from her handcuffs, and she raised her shirt, showing the officers the marks on her belly and back from being whipped for not bringing home enough money. The mother was cuffed and taken away. The daughter was taken away as well, but the police committed a final amazing act on that remarkable day. They took the time to explain to the still-argumentative and grieving old prostitute that she didn't need to worry anymore. The little girl wasn't being arrested. She was being taken to social services where she would be protected, where she would never have to see her mother again.

One year of being prostituted, beaten, and betrayed by her own family balanced against one day of being listened to and cared about by a stranger. It was enough. The girl decided she deserved something better out of life, and she had spirit enough to go get it.

One day transformations are rare, but transformations over time are pretty much the norm. Given enough listening and support, women do decide that they can do better, and they do start to take that difficult journey away from not just one year, but 20 or 30 years of savage abuse. The story of prostituted women is the story of resilience.


  1. I reserve the words 'saint' and 'angel' for people like you.


  2. I think you actually mean that, jg, and yet I'm not even remotely saint-like. I know, though, the sort of exhilaration, or uplift, you feel when you come in contact with a story like that. It is exciting, and, to my mind, doubly exciting because it suggests that most of us have much more resilience and strength than we would have thought.

    Speaking of angelic, how would you classify Linda who was able to feel so deeply for that little girl despite her own lifetime of abuse -- and who was obviously pimping her own daughters, just in a gentler, kinder way? And how about the police who began by cuffing a child prostitute and were able to make a 180 degree change in their thinking within minutes of hearing the what else was involved? I'd be willing to bet that Linda did enough to justify an arrest for interfering with an officer or disturbing the peace, but instead they took the time to reassure her that the girl would be safe. Strange world.

  3. jg, Vickie:
    I guess I split the difference between the two of you. I do think my wife is wonderful, much more so than she'll believe. But I wouldn't go to angelic or saintly (well, she does put up with me).

    I'll suggest the thing is, Vickie is a good person who is stepping forward to do something constructive, regularly. One hope I have in helping Vickie with her blog (me being the nerdly one in the house) is that in reading the stories and events, people can see that they don't need to be angelic or saintly people. Rather, things like donating a few dollars, supplying some instant grits, clothes (notice how often clothes figure in stories), and the like are very good and valuable -- and the reader can do likewise. If not to YANA specifically, then for a group closer to home.

    And then I read a story like this one about Linda. What an incredible triumph! Decades of reasons to not do what she did, nor even attempt to. But, Linda did do it. Part, I'm positive, of the reason she did is YANA being there with its steady message that there are alternatives.

  4. I'm lucky enough to have seen Vickie in action with our clients first-hand, over the span of several years, and on numerous occasions. "Saintly" and "angelic" are terms which readily leap to mind when one observes the incredible (and incredibly non-gooey) compassion, unconditional love and strong support she positively exudes in her encounters with these ladies. They soak it up like blotter paper absorbs ink -- and yet V. has more and more of it to give, each and every time. As much as I respect the "Penguin," I'm with jg on this one.

  5. Yes. Saint and angel are loaded terms and I used them out of laziness to convey an emotional reaction. In regard to Linda's helping a child while working the street with her own daughters, that gave me cognitive dissonance; I couldn't take in what was going on in Linda and the main story was too gripping so I had to leave thoughts of Linda for later.
    I also have to note that from this distance (narration twice removed), the cops slapping handcuffs may have been the reasonable response to prevent the girl from running away.

  6. For anyone in doubt, the anonymous post two comments above is from Sid, the founder and director of YANA. She complained so much this morning about my "censoring" her comment, that I went ahead and hit the "publish" button. Someday, I'll write about what Sid did and continues to do to make YANA exist. It will put my middle class dalliance in rather gruesome perspective.

    In the meantime, I'd like to emphasize my husband's point. You don't have to be saintly or angelic to make a tremendous difference in the lives of oppressed and brutalized people. All you need is: 1) a little free time, 2) an interest in others, and 3) a structure such as YANA in which you can work. (I don't advise charity such as taking the homeless in to live with you.)The experience has been enormously rewarding for me, and I believe that knowing Sid and the YANA clients has helped me to expand in ways I didn't know were possible.

  7. Hmmm, I don't want to seem to negative on what seems to be otherwise a very open-hearted blog, but what sources do you have to claim that the "majority" of prostitutes start at "that age" (here, 12 years old). Especially in the DC area, as I assume that's where you are (haven't had the time to skim through the blog yet).

    Though I'd agree a lot start very early (and my girlfriend is a proof of that, though only a few years later), I would think the majority sits between the 16-25 slice.

    Would be interested in checking though.

    Don't mean to nitpick, but I am pretty defensive when people overly-demonize prostitution (though I'm not that much in favor, obviously) by using child abuse as the weapon to militate against legalization. Thanks for following-up if you have facts, figures, sources, etc...



  8. H. has raised some important questions. My response to them is in a separate post, titled, "Dear H.".