This isn’t going to be easy. Please keep in mind that this was about 25 years ago. Amid the current hysteria hype lies questions. Should we continue to make people aware of the child/teenage prostitution problem? Should we donate to awareness campaigns or to actual shelters? Can we truly end the bullshit? As long as we continue to have sorry excuses for parents out in the world and teenagers who think that life would be better on the streets rather than home, I highly doubt it. Not all teen runaways turn to prostitution because some man forced them to. Here is my humble story. It’s not special, it’s typical from what I remember of other runaways I had met during that time.
Looking back, I ran away from home because I was a selfish little twit. My parents didn’t understand me, they were to strict, they didn’t like my friends, whine whine whine. A friend of mine said “Hey, I’m going to Houston to live with my brother. Want to come?” What the hell, I went. Grand new adventure and all that.
Fast forward two weeks (or thereabouts). His prickhead of a brother got tired of supporting his little lazy ass and some chick he didn’t know who was obviously a runaway. Out into the streets we go. Lost him. Said he was going to go try and find us a place to stay, left me at the mall, and I never saw him again.
I hung out at the mall for days, weeks. I didn’t know where else to go. Time was broken down into when the mall opened, when the food court filled up, when it got crowded after people got off of work, and when it closed. I could tell it was the weekend by the amount of younger kids showing up during the day.
Eventually security ran me off. I mean come on, same girl, same clothes, all the freaking time. Let me tell you, it’s not easy trying to wash your clothes and your armpits so you don’t smell too bad in a bathroom sink. I bothered their shoppers by asking for handouts and I’d watch what people threw away at the food court to see what I could grab when no one was looking. I can’t even begin to tell you how much candy and snacks I shoplifted.
So some of you at this point are probably thinking I should have went to the police. Yea right. The cops as far as I knew, would arrest me or worse – send me home to parents who I believe would have been pissed at me. I was more afraid of that than living on the streets (remember, teenage thinking here. Not always rational.)
I didn’t go back after security made me leave (still afraid of cops) so I walked. And walked, and walked. I discovered a part of town where there were other bums, young and old. There was a titty bar in the neighborhood, and I can’t remember exactly how I met this one woman who worked there but she took pity on me I guess. She let me shower and get cleaned up at her place and told me she thought she might could get me a job at the place where she worked (I had learned to tell people I was 18 by this point). She did. It didn’t last long at all though. We had given her manager a story about why I didn’t have an ID but eventually he made me leave when I couldn’t ever produce one. He also fired her. That was the end of that relationship.
Back on the streets. Met a man who had seen me dance and he offered me a hot shower, a bed to sleep on, and a meal. I was too stupid to realize or think to ask what it might cost me. Honestly at that point I didn’t care. I smelled bad, I was hungry, and my little cardboard pallet didn’t allow a good nights sleep.
Was he a pimp? I didn’t think so. He was a middle aged man with a kind face. He frequently traveled to Houston on business and stayed at nice hotels. He sat next to me on the bed and made small talk. I was so grateful for what he had done for me but there was only one thing I had that was of any worth in which to show him my appreciation. So yes, I had sex with him. Perhaps it is what he expected all along, perhaps not, but I’m the one who took the initiative. This was the beginning of giving men what they wanted in exchange for something I needed.
“Chuck” (because I can’t remember his real name) was not always around. Weeks would go by without me seeing him and the money he gave me didn’t last long enough until he came back. So I solicited, generally within a block of or so of the titty bar. I tried to hit up the guys who looked like they may have been from out of town in the hopes that they had a motel room I could sleep in and take a shower. Didn’t always work so there were a few backseat encounters. I couldn’t get a room of my own, no ID remember?
It all ended when me and a few other people were in a 7-11 at night and the clerk got scared. Next think I know I’m up against a wall being patted down by a cop, handcuffed, and thrown into the backseat of a cop car. Parents were called, I was picked up by them, and the rest is fairly normal. (No they weren’t pissed, they were happy I was okay)
Now I know that this story is full of holes, I can’t remember timelines, and there are even some parts that I tried to fill in but am still very vague on. 25 years ago, teenage brain in survival mode. What do you expect?
Looking back on what I do remember and what would have helped? A safe house. A house where I felt safe, that had a bed, a shower, and food. A place where others in my situation also went so that I could feel not so alone. Knowledge of where that shelter was. Non-judgmental social workers – not the religious types – that went around and posted fliers advertising places I could go for my immediate needs. I didn’t care about counseling or mentoring or services other than what I mentioned. I didn’t care that these people thought they could “save” me. My long term goal was my next meal. Offer me that without looking down your nose at me. (In a teenagers mind, one of the last things I wanted was to be lectured.)
I remember being bored and going by the electronics sections of stores to watch television. I didn’t care if it was news, sports, or soaps on the television – it was something to do. Commercials advertising the nearest safe house would have helped, the anti-trafficking campaigns – not so much. If “Chuck” hadn’t of helped me out I would be dead from tetanus from scraping my fingers on a rusted can of half eaten chili found by a dumpster.
Is this story the exception or the rule? I don’t know. Is JillB’s story the exception or the rule? I don’t know that either. I met many other street kids who were in the same situation and were not picked up by violent pimps. I also know JillB who was picked up by a violent pimp who used her as a sex slave. Both situations do exist. What JillB and I have in common is that we were both street kids. She started out (left home) for different reasons than I did and her fate ended up being much different than mine. However, we both got hungry, cold, and were alone which helped set us on our (albeit different) paths.
Awareness is great and all, but it didn’t feed me or give me something besides cardboard to sleep on. Building a shelter in Austin wouldn’t have done diddley for me either as I would have no way to get there (aside from trying to hitch hike. Yea, can’t see that not turning out bad. Nor would I have left my -by then – comfort zone.) I’m not saying that whatever “Chuck” was thinking in his head was right at the time either. As far as he knew I was 18 though obviously vulnerable due to my situation. Did he take advantage of me or did I take advantage of him?
Answers aren’t easy, solutions aren’t either. Perhaps my story will make you think, perhaps you will read and forget. Either way, there it is.