By Jim Winter
Modern society has two images of prostitutes. On the one hand, it's a sleazy profession generally undertaken by women trying to support a drug habit. Eliminate the habit, and the woman can reenter society. The other image comes from movies such as Pretty Woman, the hooker with a heart of gold in charge of whom she services. Perhaps a darker version of this comes from Lawrence Block's Scudder series, where Elaine uses prostitution to build up her savings.
In either case, we're looking at women who choose the profession. Many cases mirror these two images, perhaps without the romanticism of the latter. More commonly, however, is a much more disturbing scenario - that of the woman coerced into prostitution.
It's become a frequent story on the local news. A young girl is lured into a prostitution ring and either coerced into servicing clients or outright kidnapped. It may seem hard to believe, but this is a modern form of slavery happening right here in the United States today.
The most frequent situation involves immigrants, legal or illegal. Because these people often don't know the language very well and don't know the local laws, there are those who can use the threat of deportation or jail, never mind torture or death, to force them to work.
India is a hotbed for this sort of slavery. One local church in Cincinnati has partnered with an organization in Mumbai to rescue teenage girls from human traffickers. The girls are spirited out of the brothels (which are a far cry from the legal brothels in Nevada, Holland, and Germany), taken to a halfway house where they learn to readjust to society, and assisted in reintegrating into society. The rescue plan has had the added effect of attracting police attention to the brothels. Because someone is actively extracting young women from this form of slavery, the police in Mumbai now see an opportunity to directly intervene and bring down the traffickers.
It's a little more difficult in Western nations, where slavery as an institution is looked at as a relic of earlier centuries. The signs are usually a combination of missing persons reports and web sites offering "personal services." If the women are local, the police might pick up on it. If the women are immigrants, particular illegals, there is very little documentation to serve as a clue.
A manager I worked with at my last company is married to a Cincinnati cop who occasionally finds himself volunteered for this duty. I've seen him a couple of times on Cops and Police Women of Cincinnati. To his wife's horror, the latter show featured him as a decoy in a prostitution sting. So yes, all of Cincinnati has seen Amy's husband in his boxers. (For his part, he prefers to talk about his episode of Cops, which featured him on patrol and in uniform.) Such stings are often some girls' only chance of getting out of bondage. Frequently, however, the best defense is to go after the johns. They might think that it's a victimless crime, since they believe they are paying for consensual sex. The reality is just as often the exact opposite.