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Trading Sex for Money, Drugs, Survival: What It's Like to Be a Street Prostitute

The lives of street prostitutes who have sex for money to survive are very different than our idealized images of 'high-class' call girls.

When you say the word “hooker,” the image that comes to most people’s minds is a white girl like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman or the highly paid call girl in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, the former New York governor. She may have made a few wrong moves in her life but she’s likeable with a heart of gold and will straighten out if given a second chance. We don’t necessarily forgive her for accepting extra money for her “favors” but we understand it.

The story is very different for survival prostitutes who work the streets and get in cars because of drug habits. Their lives are less Pretty Woman than Monster, the story of Aileen Wuornos, for whom hooking was a kill-or-be-killed situation and who was herself put to death in 2002 in a Florida state prison.

Survival prostitutes are the most easily and frequently killed of all women. They lack the glamor of call girls and “victimhood” of trafficked women since their pimp is their drug habit itself. They have been abandoned by their families, their communities and the other people on the street. Even law enforcement and social services slighted them until recently.

The author spent time as a survival prostitute driven by her drug habit until she found recovery in a 12-step program. This is the first excerpt from a diary she kept while getting in cars.

A Car Stops: A Streetwalker's Diary

A car stops. I get in. He tells me what he wants and we agree on price. He drives me to an abandoned warehouse and we park by the weed-covered loading lock. He is in his 30s; Hispanic; says he's a machinist. We make the exchange. I get the money. I am back on the corner I left minutes earlier, with crisp ones in my pocket. NEXT!

I was high as a kite when I got in the car and now I'm higher still. Every time things go right and you get a normal guy, not a nut, a cop, a non-payer, it feels like the world is your stage. Money, control, drugs, dudes, drama, excitement, attention, sex, nightlife "love," glamor -- I slam!

The dude is high too. Like me, he's relieved he didn't get robbed or stabbed or attacked by unseen accomplices, what used to be called the Murphy. Sure his wallet is lighter and he risked arrest and having his car impounded. But he got away with it -- and doesn't even feel like he cheated on his wife since it was just oral sex.

I do this for drugs but it's also what I do when I'm on drugs. You couldn't do it straight because you'd think about the dangers, disgrace, your parents and your teachers. Plus when you're high getting in cars is fun! You're dressed up, people "like" you and you're making a huge hourly wage. You even wonder, in your drug haze, why all women don't do this.

I look good. I may be hooked on meth, alcohol and cigarettes, I may not have eaten a nutritious meal for a year, I may not have been to a doctor or a dentist for five years, but the long legs with high heels, the emaciated torso and the big hair is stopping traffic. The straight women give me hate looks.

"Your husband will be late for dinner," I want to say to them but I never have. The worst I've done is on a Saturday night when the dates come down my street, I'll say "hi" to a cute dude I don't know just to watch Muffy or Mindy or whoever the hell is on his arm lose it and ask him how he knows me. "Honest, I've never met her," he insists.

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