Now, Kristen’s at the point in her recovery where she can leave her residential facility and head home. For her, the idea of living in a sober and safe home is a big carrot. She hasn’t had that since she was 8 years old.
Her blue eyes well up as she talks about how her father began sexually abusing her when she was 9.
“From being out there and what my dad did with me, I had a lot of issues, abandonment issues,” she says.
One night when Kristen was 14 years old, she says she barricaded herself in her room with a dresser up against her door. “He tried to get in,” she says. “The next day I said I was doing wash. I got my clothes, left and never looked back.”
Though she didn’t know it at the time, Kristen, like so many women, traded abuse in the home for abuse in the street.
At first things were OK. She says she met a good man and moved in with him. They had a baby. But then she found her son’s father dead and life slid downhill fast.
“I was drinking a lot to kill the pain. And doing cocaine and meth … I fell in the rut,” she says, adding that her husband had a four-year degree, and she was from the projects. “I never knew to pay a bill, I couldn’t read or write,” she says.
“My sister-in-law, she showed me how to make quick money,” she says, referring to prostitution. “I didn’t even know how to go to welfare.”
Soon, she met a schoolteacher who supported her in exchange for sexual services. She moved in with him. She was doing drugs. For Kristen, it all sort of happened at the same time, like a tornado.
“When things got hectic, I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t get a sponsor, I wasn’t doing any of that,” she says. “So I’d think, I can handle this alcohol, but sooner or later … it’s not doing it anymore. Then you have a couple dollars, and it’s, ‘I’ll cop a couple of rocks,’ and then you’re off to the races,” she says.
Kristen says now that she’s stopped and is taking a hard look at her life, her mind races with memories and regrets.
As she sits on a back patio at the residential facility in the Northeast, a couple of cats snooze at her feet in the sunshine. She looks relaxed. This haven is less than a mile from where she used to turn tricks, chase highs and dodge death.
“A 70-year-old guy picked me up and paid me. I took care of him,” she begins. “He went to start the car but he didn’t. I said, ‘What are you waiting for?’”
He went to pull a “big barrel Clint Eastwood gun” from the backseat. She wrestled it from him, broke free, ran out of the car and got rid of it.
Then there was the guy who stabbed her in the throat with an ice pick.
“I kicked the door open, and I ran across the street to a house and banged on the window,” she says. A man inside stared at her and didn’t move a muscle except to shake his head.
“’I’m saying, ‘Help me, help me,’ and blood is coming down,” she says. Her attacker came after her before abruptly turning around, slipping into his car and taking off.
“The insane part?” she asks. “I still walked like a mile more, with one shoe on, one shoe off, to go cop.”
DeFusco says the criminal-justice system is backward in how it deals with prostitutes because it focuses on arresting the sellers, not the buyers.
In 2009, the Philadelphia Police Department made 837 arrests for “solicitation for immoral purposes” and only 60 arrests for “patronizing prostitutes.” The majority of the latter were likely cuffed during the special “reverse” sting executed last December when the PPD picked up 76 men while searching for one who had beaten and raped four prostitutes.
Want to know how much sex with a teenager costs? Just ask Mimi. It cost her everything. Two years ago this month, I wrote a cover story that profiled the struggles of the 20-year-old from New Jersey who was two months into recovery after spending five grueling years in street-level prostitution, where the only so-called winners are pimps who earn big bucks off the backs of women and girls.
PW's Summer Guide 2014