This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
The experiences of prostitutes have been missing from studies of violence and rape, as has the problem of violence from studies of prostitution. Interviews here with 16 street prostitutes, most of whom are crack users, reveal an enormous amount of rape and violence against these women. Further, it is found that rape myths generally discussed in the literature uniquely come together around prostitutes to fuel both the violence and the devaluation that allows us to ignore such violence. Themes emerging from the interviews include: that people often see prostitutes as unrapeable; that no harm is done; that prostitutes deserve to be raped; and that all prostitutes are the same. This paper sees violence against prostitutes as an extreme case that sheds light on violence against women generally.¹
Against the Wall, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
An average night--
Two cars park, flood lights on, spotlights on the women. The street is short, industrial. They park separately but within minutes and yards of one another.
No cars sit on other streets. The area is empty in the late hour, truckers sleeping in cabs.
The women, lit by the cars' light, apply makeup on the lip of a loading dock. They take their time.
Getting into idling cars is determined by how badly they need heroin: they wouldn't do this sick shit otherwise. It's a small gift to themselves, dignity, to dress up, primp.
They talk about men they'll go with and men they won't. The advice to each other, and experiential tales, a form of superstition: you go with a guy that looks too good and you'll end up dead.
There are men who will slash and men who will run you over with a car. Rape or force if you don't want intercourse or blow job to go bare back. Obviously.
The cars park for minutes and minutes, accustomed to, or unbothered by, being ignored.
A police cruiser drives down the perpendicular street, slows to look at the lit figures against the industry, women the officers have arrested before for prostitution and drugs.
The patrol car turns, passes the women, front windows slide down. The floodlight cars remain immobile.
An officer hand-beckons from inside the cruiser. The man in the first car holds up a GPS. He is lost. Trying to reorient. The police car moves on.
The men in the second car switch places on approach. One man teaching another how to drive. The police car moves on.
The first car leaves slowly, returns in 30 seconds. It does circles, drive-bys. One time, two times, three times.
The second car leaves, returns in 3 minutes, hazard lights on.
The first car, back a fourth time. Windows down.
The second car now next to the first, a mangled line.
They switch in their impatience, once, twice. The hazard lights still blink.
This is what the men later say about the women they surround:
Acronyms and terms, in order of appearance: BBJ = bare back blow job; CBJ = covered blow job; WSW = white street walker; BSW = black street walker; LSW = latina street walker; LE = law enforcement; Jackson = $20
Women of the industrial street, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.