This paper does not attempt to provide possible solutions for the teenagers who are prostitutes. It only serves to reveal some facts about the problem, and how and why one gets into this situation. I will attempt to give some information about prostitution in general, such as: the history of prostitution, the legal consequences and procedures, the groups fighting for and against legalization, what can happen during the actual event, and some general facts about the business. I will then share some of the answers I got when I was in Roy's house one afternoon; in a lush, expensively decorated lobby interviewing three teenage prostitutes.
Prostitution is defined as the engaging in, or agreeing to engage in, sexual conduct for a fee. The customers include a variety of lonely people, travelers, business men and women and those simply looking for no-strings sex. Commonly called "the world's oldest profession", prostitution is well documented throughout history. Back in the 1800's it was legal and socially accepted--doctors were even assigned to counties to check them for venereal diseases. This changed with the Mann Act in 1910, which gave it huge penalties. Consequently, this act started a rampage of illegalization. Prostitution was strictly prohibited almost everywhere in the country by the 1920's. Today, it is illegal in 49 of the 50 states, with Nevada being the exception.
There were over 100,000 arrests made for sex solicitation in America in 1995 and the numbers have been pretty consistent every year since that time. Of those arrested, about 20% were male and 70% were female prostitutes. The penalty for these offenses (of being a prostitute or being a customer) is a range of fines from $200-$5,000, to spending a minimal time in prison. In some places, the customers actually are fined more; to the extent of car repossession. It is not necessary for the law enforcement team to even see the act occur. It is sufficient evidence if one goes into a secluded area clothed and comes out naked--an arrest can be made on the basis of suspicion. However, the general consensus is that law enforcement is virtually ineffective in the removal of prostitution from our society.
There are many citizens who are actively against prostitution. Some human rights groups are doing their part to stop it by: writing down customer license plate numbers, send letters describing the event to the customer's spouse or employers, and generally harass regular streetwalkers. There also exist many groups that are fighting for the it's legalization. One women, Jane Roe II is arguing in the courts for legalization based on the abortion argument, "outlawing prostitution violates a women's right to privacy.." The rates of prostitution have stayed consistent despite these efforts.
There are four possible results of what can occurs when a customer goes to see a prostitute: everything goes as planned, the customer gets mugged, the prostitute does not perform services, or an arrest is made. Usually, the job goes as planned. The last two cases are pretty uncommon. If an arrest is made, the best case scenario is that one would appear before a bail judge and would be fined a couple of hundred dollars. The worst case scenario for an arrest is where one's car is repossessed, a cover story in the local newspaper is done about the incident, a short jail time is sentenced along with a fine of several thousand dollars. The previous consequence is the more common of the two although the latter does happen (Hugh Grant...).
There are about 1.3 million prostitutes in America. Many of them, an estimated 500,000, are children. One million to 500,000 children are involved in prostitution and pornography every year. Also, an estimated 50% of streetwalkers are HIV infected. Prostitution is a major source for the spread of a sexually transmitted diseases. One estimate in the "Free Teens" pamphlet states that two in five of all prostitutes in major cities are HIV positive. A high percentage of child prostitutes (those under 18) were victims of incest, rape or sexual abuse as younger children. The National Task Force on Prostitution estimates that about 69% of males have, at one time or another, patronized a prostitute and 15% were frequent customers.
Roy is a "pimp" and I interviewed three of his workers. They are all under 18, and they all work for the gay community. They work for an escort service in the heart of DC. Roy owns the business and has about 300 workers, he lives off of the money he receives from them. In the interviews, I am changing the names of all those I interviewed and those mentioned, I promised them I would. There stories are the truth of prostitution, the reality of teens making hundreds by selling themselves. I think one often asks themselves how this situation is possible. These are their answers.... Why do people get started in this?
"There are many reasons why. The first reason most get into it is simple, fast cash. You get a minimum of $100 an hour here. The customer pays $150, Roy gets $50, you get $100."
"With that kind of money, you can make as much as a person with a college degree and a professional type job. Many people come in here just to pay off credit card bills or car insurance." Is that why you stay?
"The problem is that prostitution is addictive. Once you get used to having hundreds in your pocket at all times, and you set your standard of living to that, it's nearly impossible to live otherwise." "I have another job assembling waffle irons. I make six dollars an hour. I feel completely ridiculous leaving after an eight hour day, knowing I've made about fifty dollars, before taxes. I could of made more than twice that here in one hour! I just do it so my parents will think I'm working. I dropped out of school." "Plus, you get tips, anywhere from $20-50."
I ask what the maximum amount is they have made in a week. "About $2,000, if you sit around the house." If one sits in Roy's mansion, the calls go to them first. What are some other reasons why people get involved in this?
"A lot of people start prostituting to keep up their drug habit. Once they're fired from their old jobs for being an addict, this seems like a great choice. Not many normal jobs offer this kind of money or time schedule. You work a couple of hours a week. And you can walk around D.C. with your pager on and just take an hour out of your day. For a drug addict, it's perfect." Two of them regularly use drugs, the other does not and never has. "Plus, when you use drugs, it makes the work easier. Drugs numb your senses. It's hard not to let this job get to you. But if you messed up, it's easy to overlook it, and use the money to get more drugs." There are a couple other reasons mentioned, such as: to fill an emotional void, a power trip, and to get attention. How does one go about getting the job?
"You're always hired. It's just a question whether or not Roy calls you back." "You come in and fill out an application and wait for a call or page. If Roy likes you, if he thinks your decent- looking, he'll call." I ask if you have to be good-looking. "It sure helps!" "Not really, some people in here are absolutely disgusting!" "You can't be old, either. Once you hit around 28, you can't do this. You have to work in McDonald's or something." The application asks for hair and eye color, measurements of every body part, and what you'll do sexually. Roy puts them in a file and finds the person to best meet the description of a client. What are some of the negative aspects of this job?
I expected the first answer to be AIDS, but I was wrong. "The way it makes you feel...it can really get to you." "Everybody feels it, no matter how long you've been doing it, no matter what drugs you're on...you feel just...I can't describe it". I ask if it makes them feel dirty. "Dirty? No, not really, more...well, yeah, I guess dirty is the word." "It makes you feel bad, people look down on prostitution. Not that I care what everyone thinks, but it gets to you. For example, when people ask what you do for a living, what are you going to say? 'I'm a whore. And you?" We all laugh. "People always ask, too. They always wonder how someone our age can afford everything we have." All of them are wearing designer outfits, well over a couple of hundred dollars. One had just bought a new $30,000 car, a Mitsubishi Eclipse. "The job just causes emotional stress, that's the worst part."
"There are other bad things about this job. The risk of getting diseases. Everyone always uses a condom, but they can break. I know plenty of people who have gotten something from doing this. Condoms are not 100%." "You're always wondering if you have something like AIDS. Everyone here gets tested every six months, but still, you worry." "And there is the risk of getting beat up. There are ads for this agency everywhere. In any gay newspaper or magazine in the area, you'll find numbers for an escort service. It's even on the internet! Roy has pictures and stats about his workers, and a client can get online and find the one they want. Anyway, some homophobic people calls these numbers, set up an appointment, and beat up the person who shows up. You walk into the room and there are a bunch of guys there waiting for you." I ask how often that happens. "It's never happened to me." "It's rare, but it still happens." What are some positive aspects of this job?
"Obviously, there's the money, but there is more people get from this. Some people get on this power kick. This job makes you feel needed, and if that's something you've never had before, it can get to your head. There are a lot of people around here who think that this job is perfect, and nothing can hurt them. They feel a sense of power." "Also, you always have a place to go." Roy lives in a huge, beautiful mansion in D.C. His workers are always welcome there, and to use anything in the house. People randomly come in and out, showering, getting food or watching T.V. Everyone can always sleep there if they need a place to go. There is a sense of friendship among all the workers here, almost like a fraternity. They all have something in common. Many find friends here. "Some live here, but I couldn't handle that. My mom would flip if I moved out!" Roy charges $1100 a month rent for his workers if they choose to move in.
What do your parents think? Do they know? "Most kids parents around here just don't care. Or they kicked their kid out. My parents kicked me out when I was 15. It was Christmas Eve, I told them I was bisexual. They told me to get out. I don't think they care right about now." He is seventeen now. "My parents would flip out! They would kill me if they knew I was doing this. They think I get all my money from my waffle-iron job. I'm never home anyway, so they'll never find out. They think I'm doing good because I'm in outpatient drug rehabilitation." Most around here are moved out of their parent's home, either by force or by choice. The people that do still live with their parents can hide this very easily. They just have to leave the house for an hour when they are paged. All the underage workers have dropped out of school.
I don't know what will become of these three. I have no idea if they
have AIDS, I have no idea how to stop them from doing this. When I
decided to write about teen prostitution, I thought I would mention ways
of stopping the behavior. But the truth is there is no solution that I
can figure out. From the information they have given me, I can see why
it is so easy to get into this role. While I was interviewing these
people, I couldn't help but notice they were all nice, intelligent,
good-looking people. They all could have gone to college and gotten
normal jobs. But what job would offer this kind of money so quickly? The
only way of solving any problem is to look at the truth, the reality of a
situation. I hope I have accomplished that here.
Interview with three prostitutes in DC
*Author's name removed recently for security reasons unrelated to this paper. If you have questions please contact Dr. Stephen Wright.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.