All for the money
Whether it’s police crackdowns, new laws or gang rapes, nothing stops hookers from working the nasty streets of Sacramento
Gina sleeps through the afternoon in a bare hotel room off Mack Road. She rises at dusk and puts on her usual uniform: short black shorts, combat boots, a dark hooded sweatshirt, little or no makeup. She smoothes her short dark curls into a ponytail and waits for her ride. When her friend drops her off on Stockton Boulevard, she joins women with names like Precious, Passion and Essence as they walk the city’s most active prostitution stroll zone.
Though it’s much quieter than in its heyday due to a recent no-tolerance policy toward prostitution and a new loitering law, Stockton Boulevard between Broadway and 65th Street still attracts women strolling in pairs or alone, looking into cars, sometimes waving, wearing everything from jeans and T-shirts to skin-tight sheer dresses.
Gina’s often among them, strolling purposefully, her natural exuberance tempered by a constant fear of the police.
On a recent warm night, about a dozen of her co-workers can be found on the street, each one embodying a different fantasy. A sophisticated 30-year-old mother of two, dressed conservatively in a belted leather coat, stands in front of an AM/PM under the lights. She talks to homeless men and cops while she waits for her next trick. A skinny nervous woman in a green nylon sweat suit appears to be walking home from the store. Carrying a plastic bag from Raley’s, she turns around and heads north after walking south for several blocks. Across the street, a young woman in a dramatic red coat with a fur-trimmed hood, her face barely visible, moves slowly and evenly up the street. She keeps her eyes straight ahead.
Gina walks south from the corner of Stockton and 47th Avenue, where a number of prostitutes have been picked up and gang raped recently. She keeps one eye on the police car cruising by before making eye contact with a driver who pulls his shiny car into the dark lot behind her. She walks up to his open window. “Hey sweetheart,” she says.
Gina turns down her first three offers every night. It takes her a while to get her bearings and determine if the undercover vice detectives are out. She wants to avoid the stings that capture a netful of women every few weeks, especially now that she’s been tangled up in one. “It was so embarrassing!” Gina says with a disarming and flirtatious laugh. First, she negotiated a price with this guy, then he took her to her spot. Gina promptly dropped her pants. That’s when he put the cuffs on her. She only got a citation that time, but who knows what will happen the next time.
If tonight is a good night, her first “date” will end quickly, without incident, and another will start immediately after. She’ll pull in about $200 for four hours’ work and maybe receive a tip or two. A few nights ago a man gave her his wedding ring. When she asked if his wife would mind, he told her he’d already bought a new one.
Gina’s out here because of the easy money, but even at an average of $50 an hour, she’s not making as much as the pretty 18-year-olds. When she started at age 23, a single trick brought her $200 on Stockton Boulevard.
If it’s a good night, cars will circle around her constantly. “I’ll just keep hitting dates back to back to back,” she says. “I won’t even have a chance to get out of a car and walk nowhere.” If it’s a good night, she won’t have to jump out of moving vehicles to avoid getting beaten up or raped, and johns won’t demand their money back afterward. If it’s a really good night, she’ll be invisible to the half-dozen police officers patrolling the area. Tonight, there are more cops than dates, and Gina keeps moving, hiding from the police when she can, sweet-talking them when she can’t, her strong bare legs caught in the glow of everyone’s headlights.
Avoiding the police has become harder recently. She thinks some of the extra heat may be in response to the series of gang rapes performed by a group of as many as 20 East-Indian men working in threes and fours. The police have been coming down hard on the girls anyway, but it seems like the rapes have made the streets even hotter.
Gina thinks the guys who got her in October 2000 must have been watching her work for a while. One drove up in a gold four-door Honda and offered her $80, almost half a night’s pay. Gina got into his car and he followed her directions to her usual spot. When they got there, he gave her the money and told her to get in the back seat. Everything seemed normal. She opened the door, and two guys in jeans and T-shirts jumped out of the bushes. When the driver demanded his money back, she didn’t hesitate. Pointing a gun at her, he told her to get back in the car and not to scream. She was driven into an unfamiliar neighborhood where her captors spotted a house under construction. Within its frame the three of them took turns raping her while Gina did whatever they asked in a clear-eyed effort to stay alive. “There’s no part of me that wants to die,” she says.
When it was over, one guy punched her in the jaw while another started up the car. Left in unfamiliar territory, she had to walk back to Stockton after two to three hours of constant abuse.
Though the risk of violence is always with her, Gina’s learned to read people well before getting into a car, and she maintains that prostitution has its positive side. “We think we’re on top of the world. We got glamour. We got everything a man wants, and we got his money.”
It was the money that skewed her judgment. The only other time she was that scared was when a crazy guy in a van, his back seat draped with a plastic garbage bag, pulled her by the hair, ripped her sweatshirt and her bra and started cursing at her.
The whole time she was with him she imagined herself cut up and shoved into that bag, abandoned somewhere. The police had warned her something like this might happen. It was scary enough to keep her off the street for a whole week.
Her relationship with the police is complex. Sometimes she’s on their side, and sometimes not. In one instance, she even assisted as part of a sting to capture a man who said he worked for the sheriff’s department; he used his position to get free sex. The next time he contacted her, she placed an immediate call to the sheriff’s department. They set up a sting with Gina as bait. When the guy showed up, it turned out he was a security guard for Lucky’s.
With all the threats, Gina still feels lucky compared to some. She’s been on Stockton Boulevard for over five years and has only served 45 days for prostitution. She’s never had a pimp, so that $200 or more a night is hers, tax free, and she gets to make her own rules. Never date young guys because they’re too aggressive. If a john doesn’t go directly to her spot, make him stop the car right then and get out. If he won’t stop, don’t be afraid to open the door. Tuck and roll. Gina never does anything without a condom, and she never takes anyone to her room. She doesn’t do any drugs, which means she’s never so desperate that she has to get in the car with someone she doesn’t trust, something the “druggy girls” have to do every night.
Even among the women on the street, there’s a pecking order and pity for the girls addicted to dope. Gina’s seen women stripped naked and left on the curb by pimps speeding off in cars paid for by their labor. She’s seen pimps beat their women on the streets. And she knows women who sleep under the overpass, some introduced to drugs by the boyfriends they expected to protect them.
Gina probably could have been one of them. She grew up in a family full of poverty and addiction. At 14 years old, she attended a Bible camp where she became pregnant the first time she had sex. She was married right out of high school to a man who beat her repeatedly and turned her in for selling marijuana. That was the second time Gina lost custody of her children. Now they live with family members, unaware of their mother’s chosen profession. Only after leaving her husband did she hit the streets, finding some independence and plenty of money.
There’s not much available tonight, though. Gina stops to greet a couple of women on the corner. A male friend says he’ll stay out and keep an eye on her while she works the late hours. “Be careful,” she tells the other girls, “lotta cops out here tonight.” She heads back down the street, looking over her shoulder as cars approach, staying close to the parking lots, trying to be invisible to the cops.
Even with the enormity of risk, and the nights spent outrunning violence and incarceration, Gina doesn’t question whether it’s all worth it, or where she’ll be when she’s old enough to retire, or what will happen to her the next night. She has only one addiction, but it keeps her on Stockton Boulevard. “I really like the money,” she says.