Friday, June 24, 2016
RIGHT TO RESCUE BILL
(702) 488-1127 Telephone
June 24, 2016
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago
Re: Decriminalization of Juveniles Caught in Prostitution
Dear Mr. Santiago:
Please allow me to introduce myself. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I was growing up, the very concept of sex trafficking did not exist. Those in prostitution were viewed strictly and only as criminal’s period. The 1980’s had us getting from all angles. There was HIV/AIDS killing us off in droves while the medical community was refusing to even touch us once they found out we were prostitutes for fear of contracting the disease. Serial killers were targeting us because they knew law enforcement wouldn’t even look for us when one of our friends called to report us missing. To top if off, police departments used to do weekly “sweeps” where they’d just round us up like cattle. After collecting their fines and humiliating us – then they’d just let us go. The courts would put us on probation with insane conditions and then wonder why we weren’t able to get jobs in the legitimate world.
I saw one brave woman try and tell the world most of us were being forced to do what we were doing – her name was Linda Lovelace. In 1980 she stepped up to tell the world she’d been forced to film “Deep Throat” with her husband pointing a gun at her from off camera while no one on the mob financed set lifted a finger to help her. To make sure no one would believe her, Chuck Traynor, her husband slash pimp, had his new wife, Marilyn Chambers do a media blitz professing he was nothing she was saying was true. Of course the media didn’t see her stumble into a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in 1985, the same year I hit NA, confessing to me he had also been controlling her with drugs. With no laws on the books against trafficking, the best law enforcement could do about what happened to her was to charge everyone on the film but her with “obscenity”.
This was ridiculous. It was open season on us and we had no protection because no one believed we were being victimized. While this was happening, I started seeing new drug courts popping up providing the addict with treatment rather than treating them like criminals. I saw the parallels and contacted Edwin Meese. He had been working on the Meese Report on Pornography with Linda’s help, and was the California Attorney General at the time. He told me we’d never see decriminalization of prostitution probably in my lifetime, and the reason why the addict had drug court was because there was an AA and NA. In other words, there was a treatment option. Mr. Meese explained if I formed a 12 step program we could go in and ask the court for “alternative sentencing” options.
With no safe house for those of us over 18 back then, and only one for teenagers in the whole country, I took an old warehouse and turned it into the first one in the USA. Then an angry pimp claimed I was running a brothel and I found myself ironically being charged as a pimp despite the fact I’d retired by then. You can read about the arrest at www.hightechmadam.com Because of the security I’d put on the place – the media dubbed me the “High Tech Madam”. There was no way anyone believed this was a safe house because no one believed we were victims.
This was why the 12 step idea appealed to me. I didn’t want to do another residential program. As long as we were now “outpatient”, I might as well go international. Nothing else like it existed anywhere at the time and I couldn’t see myself turning away anyone wanting help. To get people into the meetings, we created the first hotline for people to call when they wanted help to leave any part of the sex industry if they were over 18 years of age. Children of the Night was working with teenagers then – leaving us adults with nothing in the way of help and services.
Now we just had to convince the courts most of us were not out there by choice, because of drugs, or some kind of moral deficiency. To do this, we started a massive media campaign to raise awareness assisted by France Nuyen, the actress from South Pacific and the Joy Luck Club. She made public service announcements for us which ran all night promoting our hotline. I took members of our program onto talk shows which were popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s to tell our stories – and convince the government we needed laws written and federal recognition this was real. Then we saw the Trafficking Act of 2000 pass.
One of the reasons I’ve stayed focused on working with adults is because in most of the situations involving juveniles, it’s just not the same as adults. When an adult calls me up wanting help – they’re in a position where they can get to meetings and accept help. But when I first started doing this work clear back in 1987, I had many teenagers running to me for safety. Only five minutes behind them was usually a parent demanding their return. I can’t help someone when I have their parents telling me if I keep them safe with me I’m going to be charged with kidnapping. This is why I’ve always sent teens to Lois at Children of the Night – because I’m not equipped to deal with the massive undertaking working with juveniles represents.
Working with this issue for THIRTY YEARS now, I can strongly tell you this. While I do urge decriminalization of sex work for adults, I STRONGLY do NOT agree for the same with juveniles and I’ll tell you why. My mother was my pimp. Most teenagers are in some way, shape or form, pimped out by the adults responsible for their care. I favor decriminalization for adults because that’s the only way I know to get witnesses to come forward willing to testify against our pimps. But for juveniles – this is a completely different situation.
There are two “systems” to deal with this issue – the criminal justice system and the mental health community. When a juvenile is arrested and then put in front of a judge – that judge is then in a position to court order the proper treatment. They can also remove that child from a bad situation they can not leave on their own. From there, they’re put on probation where there are strict requirements. When I was on probation, I was forced to go to school, get a job, etc. If my probation had not required those things of me under the threat of violating my probation and thus jail – I NEVER would have been able to get out of the sex industry and clean.
I hate to be cruel but our Child Protective Services is failing us now as it is. You have social workers burning out and rotating cases every six months. Most workers in California report a caseload NOW of 60 or so cases they can’t even deal with now as it is. IF you load on top of them monitoring a situation as complex as a child being pimped in most cases by their parents OR by their boyfriends who their parents are not doing anything about the situation, the bough is just going to break here. What are you going to do in the way of counseling? Do you really think one of these parents who are neglecting them now, or outright mistreating them, is going to take the steps to get them proper counseling? Where are the properly trained counselors who take Medicaid?
I’ve modified our 12 step program for juveniles and created a Sexual Exploitation Anonymous program. Yes having 12 step groups set up where these kids can go and talk safely will provide some type of assistance and support for these kids, but in trying to find the help to monitor these meetings I’m just not finding the proper resources in enough of a supply from enough people as it is in the areas where this problem is at it’s highest.
Plus things have changed. I have to be honest with you and speak plainly – the areas where juvenile prostitution are the highest are also the areas where you’re also finding many local police officers, even judges, prosecutors, etc., are either directly involved in the sex trafficking, or they’re “clients”. Like the two LAPD officers caught in Los Angeles raping prostitutes, and then forcing them to be “informants”, this means now even they aren’t able to come to our program willingly much either. Our group in Oakland was completely trashed by the local police and the media now has brought to light why. Because also in the areas where juvenile prostitution is at it’s highest, our group is coming under attack not just by street pimps, but also cops who are pimps and johns.
Meaning the only way I even see these teens would even make it to one of our meetings would be if court ordered. I ask you, if a teen has one of their parents pimping them, and a cop as a client or even taking a piece of the action for himself – do you really think that child is going to make it to a voluntary therapy session or one of our meetings? Who is going to drive them? You and I both know they’re reliant upon their caretakers to get them to something like counseling. But if this teen is in prostitution then the caretaker has already failed them.
Are you now going to ask that same person to be responsible to help the teen get out of what that adult PUT them INTO? That’s what “decriminalization” is going to do. To make matters worse, you will have no way of keeping track of these kids. No one is going to be able to follow-up on them because there won’t even be a court jacket with information for them to even know who to follow-up on.
I’m the person who started this very movement to decriminalize prostitution so that we could prosecute our traffickers, and also so we could get help to exit sex work. I’m now sharing with you my belief decriminalization for teens is a horrible mistake. If I myself had not been arrested, then forced by the court to get counseling, go to school, get a job, etc. not only would I not have made it out of that whole lifestyle – more importantly my own family would never have gotten out of my way. When it was time for me to get a job, go to school, etc., they helped me because they didn’t want me to go to jail. If there was not that sword hanging over my head – again I’d not be out today myself. I wasn’t happy about being arrested – but it truly saved my life.
That’s my two cents now on this. Thank you for listening.