When Eliot Spitzer made his astonishing exit as governor of New York after being revealed as a client of the Emperors Club, an escort service and prostitution ring in New Jersey, it also was reported that he spent time with a woman of the night during a Dallas fund-raiser last October at the Crescent Court Hotel. It further was related that top fees for prostitutes in this city don’t begin to approach the $5,500 an hour paid in some markets. Here they are closer to $800.
But that kind of money and fancy hotels are far from the lives of many young women who have been pressed into prostitution, some while still girls little more than 12 or 13 years old. They come to Dallas from the suburbs, often fleeing bad homes poisoned by violence, drugs and, all too often, repeated sexual abuse. They have no resources, no plans. Too often they are taken in by pimps who give them food and a place to stay, buy them clothes and pay to have their hair and nails done. Then the day comes when big daddy asks them to do something for him in return, to service men and bring him the cash, usually around $50 a trick, with six tricks or so demanded every day.
Some have their pictures posted on the Internet to advertise their wares. Others are sent to the streets for direct solicitation. Others still are trafficked across the country from Las Vegas to Atlanta. All are forced into a kind of servitude from which it’s hard to escape. Big daddy beats anybody who tries to leave.
Can’t something be done about this? Certainly Dallas police are trying. Sergeant Byron Fassett has a team of three officers who work to get girls off the streets and into the courts. Some say this is unnecessarily criminalizing the young women, but it is necessary, said Cathy Brock, residential supervisor at Letot Center, run by the Dallas County Juvenile Department. Few ever would get into counseling unless ordered there by a judge. “These girls have been living an adult life in an adult world,” she explained. “They can’t go back to being teenagers. They don’t want rules where they must go to school, go to bed by 10:00 and get up at 7:00. They are used to being out at 10:00 and coming in at 7:00.” Also, she added, “there is a lot of shame and embarrassment.”
Now Letot is raising private money to build a new facility for these young women next door to the shelter it operates for runaway children on Denton Drive. They stay at the shelter for 25 days on the average, but many need residential care for several months after that. Letot has a center for boys on probation, but girls are sent to a program in Houston. It is far better, said Ms. Brock, for them to be in Dallas, near their families, such as they are.
Certainly the people at Letot are doing all they can to deal with circumstances already out of hand. According to Sergeant Fassett, they are the first in the country to offer a comprehensive program. But can’t the police go after the pimps as well? Yes, they can and they do. According to Cathy Brock, the police have brought several cases against pimps. Sargent Fassett said that interviews with the girls are a big help.
But what about the customers? It’s not easy to know who they are, as Cathy Brock noted. Nonetheless, Sergeant Fassett said they do pursue the “johns” in ways he won’t describe, not wanting tip them off. However, it sounds to me as if more officers profitably could be applied to arresting these johns because if caught they can be charged with sexual assault of a minor. There’s a lot to be said for that, and, ironically, one who advocated this approach was Eliot Spitzer. He was wildly wrong in his personal life but right in his public fight against the extreme abuse of women known as prostitution.
To say they are “sex workers,” as some maintain in order to show respect for their humanity, misses the point: These young women, especially those barely in their teens, deserve not only the care that Letot can offer in a new facility designed for their recovery, but also prosecution of the men who ought to know better. Surely more undercover officers could be on guard, watching in the shadows, waiting for the customers who, though encased by legal issues that must be observed, should be apprehended, just as was the former governor of New York.