Becoming A Sex Worker – The Brutal

Some people get into sex work because it just seems to make sense to them, as I recently described. But more often the entry is brutal, whether poverty, drug addiction, or kidnapping force the involvement.

One prostitute writing “A Personal Refutation of the Concept of Choice” says:

Choice does not always present as balanced; it does not always offer a different-but-equal alternative. When I think of my choices they were simply these: have men on and inside you, or continue to suffer homelessness and hunger. Take your pick. Make your ‘choice.’

Another former prostitute says her grandmother unsuccessfully tried to keep her manic-depressive son from marrying his schizophrenic girlfriend. “What,” she wanted to know, “would happen to any children born into that union?”

“She was right to worry,” her granddaughter says. “It left us in state care, one after the other. And as a young teenager it left me homeless, hungry, and prostituted, in that order.”

Sometimes prostitution arises from poor choices, as one drug addict describes, “My addiction is so bad I sell my body to pay for it. I never thought I would end up like this… I wanna get clean.”

Others are promised a better life through employment, education, or marriage. Instead, they are kidnapped and thrust into international sex slavery. Nick Kristof traveled to India and found that every prostitute he encountered had been forced into it by a trafficker, her parents, or her husband. Having studied and observed trafficking over the years, Kristof says his sense is that prostitution is deeply enmeshed in coercion.

In the U.S. girls often end up walking the streets by way of pimps who “befriend” them and then enslave them. You may have heard of Sara Kruzan. Her mother was drug addicted and abusive, and she didn’t know her father. After years in foster care she became depressed and by age nine she began attempting suicide.

At age eleven, 30-year-old G.G. became a father figure, showing her affection, taking her roller skating or to the movies, and telling her she was special — “so special” that she should never give away sex for free. Pimps like G.G. know that girls like Sarah are emotionally needy, and offer a sense of love from a “father” or a “husband” figure. And, like most pimps, he added terror for good measure. He raped her repeatedly and forced her to walk the streets everyday from six in the evening until six in the morning.

Sara eventually killed her pimp. She got a life sentence.

Or, there is Stella Marr who has fortunately escaped prostitution. She grew up in a troubled home. Her mother beat her all the time for things like trying to steal her friends (when Stella was 4 years old!) or for “making noise that woke her up when I came home from school.” Sometimes abuse took a sexual turn. And she was confined to her room much of the time.

Stella eventually went to Columbia University and got good grades. But the better she did in school, the more violent her mother grew. Finally, her mom threw her out of the house.

Broke and desperate, Stella says her grief created a micro-climate around her that drew pimps. One tricked her into sexual slavery:

I met Johnny (who said) he had a friend who needed a roommate, and that her family owned a restaurant and could give me a job. When we got to the apartment Johnny and two other guys who were waiting there jumped me, beat me up and raped me. They locked me in a tiny room without a window. They broke me like you’d break a horse. It was systematic. They’d rape me, beat me up, and then they’d be ‘nice,’ and give me a tuna sandwich. Again and again and again. It was torture. They dislocated my shoulder, and gave me codeine. I didn’t know if it was day or night. I didn’t think there was anyone I could turn to.

Some wonder why she didn’t run away. But trauma affects the brain, and Stella became brainwashed into believing escape wasn’t possible. And she saw society as complicit in her slavery. Early on, her pimp took her to a party with fourteen policemen because he wanted her to know he had cops in his pocket. Stella felt there was nowhere she could turn.

Unfortunately, despite all of the brutality surrounding prostitution, we too often blame the victims instead of helping them. In future posts I’ll discuss what might be done.

This is a rerun.

Related Posts 
Becoming a Sex Worker – The Benign Side 
In-laws Rip Off Girl’s Fingernails, But Who Cares
Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 1, 2017, in rape and sexual assault, violence against women and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Georgia, this op piece supports your statement:
    Legal prostitution zones reduce incidents of rape and sexual abuse

    The average age of a prostitute is 13 years old. And the best way to end sex trafficking is by decriminalizing it but criminalizing pimps.The average age of a prostitute is 13 years old. And the best way to end sex trafficking is by decriminalizing it but criminalizing pimps.

  2. Elaine Gastelum

    It shocks me to know how many people are forced to becoming a sex worker and even how many people willingly choose to have the opportunity to even become one. It’s quite saddening to hear and read about, because nobody deserves this type of lifestyle. Once again, people only choose to be in this lifestyle for personal reasons because of their past. It disgusts me that such people can have the audacity to steal and kidnap girls, ladies, and women to force them to do such dirty work for them. After reading this blog I feel very bad for ladies like Sarah. Sarah did not deserve to be treated like that and she did not deserve to be raped by a pimp or by anybody. I feel like she thought killing the pimp would be the only way out of her misery which upsets me. It’s very upsetting to know that girls like her think they have nobody to help them and to think they will never have a way out. I believe people should try a lot harder to find girls and even boys that are in those type of situations and help them.

  3. secretariat33

    Women can become sex workers for a variety of reasons. I knew a guy who was with a prostitute in San Francisco who said she was attending San Francisco State University. At first he didn’t believe her, but he ended up in her apartment and saw her textbooks on the shelf. The above article lists poverty, drug addiction, and kidnapping as possible reasons for getting into sex work. But, this woman was actually working her way through college by working nights as a prostitute.

    I saw a documentary on television about the lives of some women working as prostitutes in the Las Vegas area. One woman explained that she came from a very wealthy background, with a husband and two children. One time she tried heroin, and she said she was instantly “hooked.” In her exact words, she said, “This is it for me.”

    What she was saying is that she had never felt this good before in her whole life, and
    that this is exactly what she wanted. So, she ended up leaving her husband and children, and now walks the streets of Las Vegas as a prostitute to support her habit.

    I have read that among all professions that prostitutes have the highest rate of suicide. A prostitute in downtown San Jose explained to a coworker of mine that for her own safety she will not get into a vehicle alone with two men. The work is very dangerous, and many of the women will work in pairs to protect one another.

    The article above mentions that “Nick Kristof traveled to India and found that every prostitute he encountered had been forced into it …” It was not their own choice, and many of these women are in very desperate situations.
    “… we too often blame the victims instead of helping them.”

    I would definitely agree with this statement. For example, the woman mentioned in the first paragraph who is attending S.F. State University obviously needs the money very badly, and is doing what she can to put herself through school. I would not pass judgment on her, and I would not “cast the first stone.”

    • Yeah, this post was on the brutal side. In the article I referenced a recent post on the benign side.

      Thanks for filling in with some other thoughts on this.

    • “I have read that among all professions that prostitutes have the highest rate of suicide.”

      There are a number of fake statistics distributed on the internet about this issue. I’ve been unable to dig up a real statistic, other than to notice that all the lists of top 10 most suicidal professions, none listed sex worker. I don’t think there are any real statistics on this issue.

      However, here is an interesting perspective:

      Total Suicides: 30,000 per year
      Men’s Suicides: 22,500 per year
      Women’s Suicides: 7,500 per year
      22500 – 7500 = 15000.

      Even if we assumed that every female committing suicide was a sex worker (a ridiculous assumption, but amusing for our purposes) there are far far more people dying because they are male than because they are sex workers.

      • But it’s not just males who are committing suicide at high rates. It is white males who are committing suicide at high rates.

        And that is because of patriarchy.

        Patriarchy privileges men, but privilege also creates high expectations. All of the other demographics don’t have to feel so bad about themselves if they don’t “succeed.” If a woman lives her life and all she ever does is raise a couple kids most people will see her as having had a successful life. Blacks and Hispanics have such low expectations that they’re unlikely to feel like they haven’t succeeded because they haven’t reached a really high status. But why men have both high privilege and high expectations, Leaving them much more likely to feel they have failed.

        Not only do they feel they have failed but they don’t have any support. Men are told they are supposed to BE the support, Rather than GET the support. Men are supposed to be independent, not dependent. So who do they turn to? No one.

        With high expectations and without support when they can’t reach their lofty goals it’s no surprise that their suicide rate is so high.

  4. The likes of Sara Kruzan and Stella Marr are a dime a dozen- many are familiar with the cliché of vulnerable young women held captive by abusive pimps. I would venture to assert that a spectrum exists within the field of sex work (critically acclaimed series “The Girlfriend Experience” chronicles this in modern times) and that some women even claim to feel “empowered” by it. I happen to think their so-called “empowerment” is empowerment in its most fleeting form, much like terrorism and gang rape are.

    Manipulative compliments like “You’re so beautiful!” typically evolve into “You’re only beautiful if you give me a blowjob and anal tonight”, enforcing (and often normalizing) sexual coercion and imbalanced power structures. This is typically found along the entire spectrum, as strippers have reported some of the highest rates of sexual assault on the job. Many strippers enter the field as a supplementary source of income and a seemingly safe opportunity to explore their sexuality. Unfortunately, most adult entertainers end up victimized by their sexuality- many clients expect sex and sex acts exclusively on their terms- a rule culturally upheld by higher-ups. I frankly take no issue with sex work, long as its workers are respected, which rarely occurs. No one should feel pressured to perform an act against their will, sex worker or not.

  5. There are several ways that this article has mentioned that young girls get pulled into the sex worker business. There are a couple terrifying ways that are more “outrageous”, but the one that spoke to me the most was the girl that had to sell her body to feed herself. I feel bad that she had to choose to sell her dignity and sense of self-worth just to live. She didn’t asked to be born into her bad situation, but she had to do what she had to do to make money. The picture with the quote saying “human trafficking is modern day slavery” is proven to be true throughout the many horrible stories of these girls. Sex-trafficking may seem voluntary at times(prostitution) but it is not. It is never voluntary because these girls had been forced into that life style whether it was their poor financial status, manipulative men, or broken homes which ultimately made them go down this dark path.

  6. This is a very hard subject to talk about because there is a small minority that could do something else but choose prostitution. Those people overshadow the majority that don’t really choose prostitution. American’s believe the success stories while ignoring the other 95%-99.9% of stories that are not successful. American’s believe ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstrap’ BS that we have been taught all of our lives. Some of us understand it’s a lie but most don’t.
    In the case of prostitution, I think a lot of feminist get it wrong. Yes, there are a few success stories but by and large it hurts women. It’s in the same vain as saying a women POTUS would be the end of sexism. Looking at the successful few and ignoring the majority is just flawed thinking.

    • I’m confused. Which successful few you are you talking about in this post?

      And I would never argue that a woman president would be the end of sexism. They haven’t ended sexism in other countries with women presidents. Neither Queen Elizabeth I nor II ended sexism in England. I have argued that electing a woman President in the US would be a marker of greater feminism, that’s all. And the fact that for the first time in American history a majority of Americans voted for a woman shows that we are becoming a more gender equal nation.

  7. I remember seeing Sara Kruzan’s name on tumblr and never knew her story until now after reading your post. To follow up, she was placed on parole 19 years later as of 2013. It’s a cruel, unbelievable reality that young children are exploited and treated anything less than human. Just as the post says, they are “brainwashed” into a fake sense of safety and are enslaved against their will. Especially at a young age, they would grow up with no full understanding of the rights they own. I will never understand what goes through a grown adult man’s thoughts as he willingly supports the trafficking market and the abuse of a child’s vulnerability.

  8. As explained in this article many women become sex workers for they have been mistreated and or have had terrible life experiences. Where the only solution for them is to sell their bodies to get money, have economic stability and feel some kind of “love” or “affection” from men. Many women are love deprived either from both parents or from their dad and look for that in men, who later they take advantage of them like the story of sarah and the pimp G.G. and become murders like in this case because they can’t take it anymore. Many women sadly take their lives because they can’t get the help they need. We as outsiders from this world of prostitution criticize and say, these women work and sell their bodies because they want to, because if they really wanted to have decent jobs they would, for there are many jobs out there that they can do. But we don’t realize that these women can be or are going through so much physically, emotionally, and mentally issues. Just the thought of thinking that someone has women as prisoners and sex slaves is scary! These women need to understand that there is help for them out here in society. That there is less people like the police officers that are mentioned in the story of Stella and sooo much more people that are so against it and can help. I think it’s important not to judge these women because they are clearly going through a rough time if they are prostitutes unwillingly and they are in need of help. Other women recruit to prostitution for their addiction to a drug is so severe all they want is to get it, and because drugs impairs their ability to keep a job and they’re willing to do anything, and that anything becomes selling their bodies. I think of Prostitution like depression, drugs, and mental diseases, that should be treated as an illness, but people see it as if it was choice of life when in reality it’s not, and ignore and judge these women that need so much help, and most importantly to feel loved.

  9. At first I thought prostitutes had sex for money because they wanted to, because they had no choice like there were no other jobs but after reading this posts, this makes me wonder how is it possible that women are still so afraid of men? I get it, I really do, men threaten girls and girls feel like there is no way out but in reality, I think those women are weak and they don’t speak up or seek for help. Even if they are alone and don’t have family, they have groups that help people get clean or get off the streets it’s just that you have to want to move on and succeed. If you can’t help yourself, no one will. We need to speak up, get into places, people will hear us and if the right ones hear us, there will be no more pain. Just like homeless people, why not instead of asking for money, ask for a job? Most homeless are pushing their wheelchair around! They can obviously walk, they are not disabled and even if that were the case, there are places to work who can accommodate your needs. I just wish these women would not fall for these pimps words and work the way everyone else does. Get the help they need and stop depending on these men to give us anything in exchange for sex. Stop feeding them into their idea that we were brought into this world to serve them as sex objects. We are much more than sex objects.

    • Blaming them for being weak doesn’t make sense to me. It’s kind of the point. These are vulnerable girls who are targeted because they have had horrible family situations and are very vulnerable — and yes, weak in that way — and the pimps know how to manipulate them. In addition if a girl tries to escape unsuccessfully she has beaten in front of all the other girls, which terrifies them. And sometimes the pimps have parties with police officers – or men who are at least dressed in police uniforms — so that the girls will feel like they can’t go to the police. Maybe it would’ve helped if I had mentioned this.

  10. Yasmir Williams

    Thank you for sharing and bringing awareness to this topic. You’ve brought up many interesting realities that are in need of attention and awareness. Human trafficking has become one of the fastest growing businesses of organized crime. Women and kids are being trafficked around the US and across international countries. This horrific crime has taken advantage of people lives and exploit them into forced labor. Pimps usually prey on your girls and women that are vulnerable, have no employment, unstable, and have a history of sexual abuse. Growing up in the San Francisco, I was always afraid of traveling to Oakland because it was an area that young girls would be taken from their homes, on the streets and were sex trafficked. Now that I am older, I know that this crime can happen anywhere. Traffickers take advantage of girls/women and sell them into sex slavery and as a woman, I am lucky that my parents raised me to be independent and ensured that I was safe and around people that would not harm me. Now that I have younger nieces, I teach them to defend themselves and be cautious who they befriend. This blog really shined a light on victims that are lured into this business and I hope that readers can one day save someone’s life by being aware.

  11. In our country and in all Asian countries, human trafficking is a big problem. Most of the times, underage girls are sold to pimps who took them anywhere they like ( mostly in Gulf countries) and made them do ANYTHING!
    I feel really disturbed when I read articles regarding such ‘forced’ prostitution.
    Watched a docu-film a few months ago, The Fallen Angels, it’s about sex tourism in the Philippines… it made me cry. Might sound melodramatic but, just couldn’t help it…

  12. I’m going to refrain from clicking the like button on this one. Nothing to like about this.

  13. I could talk about theses issues all day, as they are very intriguing to me. I’ve watched many documentaries and foreign films about these affairs and they always leave me feeling lucky and feeling helpless (because I wish I could dedicate more and more time to save these girls [those who want to be saved]).
    I am lucky enough to have a mom who raised me very independently and who challenged me to take up Karate, Muay Thai, and boxing. Thanks to years of practice, I feel I can protect myself and others, but I know that not everyone had the same chances as me.
    I think it’s quite easy to jump to conclusions and go to the victim blaming route. In domestic violence cases often people say, “why don’t you just leave him?” But it’s not that simple because trauma leaves more than a mark or a permanent scar– that’s not enough to deem it as such. It changes the way we think, we act, we feel or don’t feel and it is one of the reasons people “freeze” or don’t leave (beyond being scared). After being broken down for a while and/or repeatedly, it is extremely difficult to keep up positive hope that one day we will be saved or one day we will find the courage or the way to leave, run, kick the door and scream until someone hears us. I highly suggest you watch “Room” with Brie Larson, which came out last year, it is very interesting in how it depicts courage and a rape victim after years of abuse. But again, not everyone after years or even one time, can and will find the courage and the strength to help themselves. These experiences alter the brain, and alter our fight or flight response, and sadly, not everyone can be saved.

  14. You bring up the pimps who are dangerous and why it’s brutal. But I’d think, not escort, but night walkers, like hookers who walk the streets even without pimps that prostitution is still very dangerous still and quite possible for rapes or that do happen. Because if you think about it, some of these women are walking late at night in probably not the nicest areas of the city or maybe even slummy areas. Some sleazy, skeevy, men driving up or taking the offer for sex. It just seems like there is a decent chance that some of this male suitors, who are strangers and these women are bound to get men from all walks of life and creepy guys they could come across. And these men, once in the room to have sex with the prostitute deciding to rape the women. I’m sure that must happen a decent amount too as well, so not just the threat from the pimp, but the threat of men they encounter for sex too.

    • That’s true. Prostitution can be an extremely dangerous profession even for those who enter willingly. They face a very high rate of rape. (And even where entry seems willing it is often coerced by desperation.)

      • Anirban (aka Abner) Bhattacharya

        Another thing-if it’s girls taking part in prostitution, if there are pimps, then of course, that must be punished. Most men who pick up prostitutes usually want women, not girls, because the men have problems getting women-often because the man has gotten old and can’t get young women anymore unless he pays a woman for sex or if it’s a young man, because he has problems getting women interested in him.

        Porn actors and porn actresses could be called prostitutes as they make sex movies for money. Porn stars take medicines esp. shots to treat Venereal Disease as they have sex without condoms. Porn stars get tested for Venereal Disease. With prostitution, most women who do prostitution don’t have pimps. Prostitution is legal in Nevada’s licensed brothels. The women who are prostitutes in the Nevada’s brothels have to tested for Venereal Diseases and they are independent.

      • The average age of a prostitute is 13 years old. And the best way to end sex trafficking is by decriminalizing it but criminalizing pimps.

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