Thursday, July 19, 2012
The Value of Keeping Cool
This happened more than 15 years ago, back in California, so the kids involved have long since reached legal age and escaped into the world, and their families can't get at them anymore. Also, any police charges from then have long since passed their expiration date, so I'm safe in talking about it.
Anyway, never mind how I wound up harboring a bunch of runaway kids, or all the backbends I went through trying to get them legal protection and safe places to stay. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot about how few rights and protections children really have. I did it because, dammitol, there had to be at least one adult in town that these mistreated kids could trust.
One of them was marvelously pretty blonde girl -- let's call her Alice -- just turned 15, who'd been sexually abused by her stepfather and got an obscure revenge by being the girl who'd put out for all the boys in her school. I'd told her, simply as one girl to another, that using sex as a weapon was a bad idea, but she wasn't entirely convinced. She decided to test me, and came up with an ingenious method.
One night after dinner, when all the dishes had been washed and the other kids were out in the livingroom watching TV, Alice caught me alone in the kitchen and said: "I know I've got to find a way to make a living of my own. I've been thinking about becoming a prostitute. What do you think?"
My first thought was that I must not -- absolutely must not lose my cool and yell about crime or morality or any of that other crap that she'd had yelled at her by other adults for so long. So I stayed calm and went after the purely practical points.
"Not in this state you don't," I said. "In California it's illegal, so you'll be prey to the cops as well as bad johns, creeps and bully-boys. Even if you can avoid those, if you're working independently, other whores will very likely slash up your face to cut down on the competition."
She gave me a double-take at that, so I added: "There was an article in the paper just last week. I think we've still got a copy..."
"That's all right," she said. "So how do I get protection?"
"You absolutely don't want a pimp," I want on. "A pimp will take all your money, dole out food and clothes and housing, and give you nothing. In fact, he'll beat you up if he finds you're keeping any cash for yourself. He'll also try to get you hooked on bad drugs, for which he'll be your only supplier, so as to keep you solidly chained to him. He won't help you if you get caught by the cops, either."
"Why not?" Alice asked. "You'd think they'd want to protect their...moneymakers."
"They can always pick up new girls, very often runaways. They hang around the Greyhound stations, watching for girls who get off carrying suitcases and looking lost. Any one girl in their stables is disposable."
"Oh." Alice thought about that. "What about getting into a...a house, with a madam?"
"Yes, you'd be a lot better off there -- provided the madam can keep the cops paid off. Problem is, there are very few secure houses in the whole Bay Area, and they're rarely looking for new recruits. Also, they don't like to take underagers."
Alice thought for a long moment, and then murmured: "...Nevada?"
Of course I knew what she meant. "Yes, it's legal in Nevada -- in certain counties. If you could get into one of those legal houses, that would be the best way to do it. They give good pay, very good protection, excellent health insurance, and regular medical check-ups -- every week, if not oftener. The problem there is, again, they won't take you until you're legal age. I'm afraid there's just no safe way to go into that business if you're under 18. Honestly, Alice, you're better off working for MacDonald's."
She wrinkled her nose and muttered something about "less than minimum wage," but then added: "I'll go get an app from the one down the street." She got up and went out, looking thoughtful.
Yes, she eventually did get a job in a fast-food restaurant, made an arrangement to stay with an aunt, finished her schooling and went on to a better job and a better future. So did the other kids.
None of them ever took up prostitution for a living. Neither, as far as I know, did any of their friends.