Why Street Prostitution Is Skyrocketing in California
"Nine to 21 times a day with different guys? The body is not made for that."
By Abigail Shrirer
The following is excerpted from “Predator’s Paradise” at City Journal.
Abigail Shrier is the best-selling author of Irreversible Damage. You can find her work at The Truth Fairy.
Earlier this month in South Los Angeles, I watched women stand three astride in the middle of the street in pasties and G-string bikinis under fishnet dresses. Less than a block away, their pimps kept each other company on a sidewalk corner, in hoodies and loose jeans, watching their quarry, awaiting the payout. They didn’t hold the women on actual leashes, but they might as well.
It’s fashionable on the Left to defend prostitution as simply one more way for consenting adults to engage in harmless fun: “Sex work is work,” they say. But the reality of the prostitution burgeoning on our streets is that it has more in common with slavery than with any legitimate job.
“The horror stories I could tell you about [prostitutes] being beaten and being choked and being burned and being gang raped,” said Vanessa Russell of Love Never Fails, an anti-trafficking nonprofit based near Oakland. The result, she explained, was “PTSD” and “psychotic breaks.”
I recently went on a ride-along with Erin Wilson, who volunteers for the anti-trafficking organization Journey Out, and her mother, Stephany Powell, at Figueroa, one of California’s busiest centers of prostitution. For decades, Wilson and Powell have worked to combat human trafficking in Los Angeles and to help women and child victims escape.
We toured several lines of vehicles stretching around a series of blocks, each manned by a prospective client waiting for his chance with one of the girls. At least 35 females worked the lines, mostly white or Latina. But it was early; by the end of the evening, their numbers would double, Powell, assured me. But by then, it wouldn’t be safe for us to be there. Gun violence follows the pimps like a stench.
Several of the women looked very young—under 18. And while the popular imagination often portrays prostitutes as foreign-born, that’s a myth, says Vanessa Russell, who runs an anti-trafficking organization outside of Oakland. She points to evidence that 83% of all cases victims of sex trafficking were born in the U.S.
A large body of research finds that many women turn to sex work to support their addiction, which sex work worsens, and that pimps use drugs to maintain control over the women they exploit.
Twelve years ago, one of Russell’s dance students, aged 15, was raped and then trafficked throughout California for about a year. The girl had no mother or father in her life. Russell explained, “someone did a strategy called ‘Romeo pimping’ to get her to believe that they were her boyfriend. And then they introduced violence into the relationship.”
While the last few decades have seen an increase in human trafficking, women at all three anti-trafficking groups I spoke with across California agreed: nothing compares with the stunning rise in trafficking they’ve witnessed in recent months.
Powell, formerly a sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Vice Division, knows the city’s streets intimately. Over the last six months, the number of prostitutes has doubled, she says. “On Figueroa, between 68th and 75th, in an hour, you might see about 30 girls out there. Now, you can see 60 to 65 girls in an hour.”
Prostitution remains illegal in California, yet police report having lost significant ground in the effort to contain it.
Why is that? Why did street walking prostitution skyrocket in California? What, exactly, is going on?