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.
This article examines the subculture of violence thesis as it relates to female street sex workers in Miami. Interview and focus group methods were used to study the intersections of childhood trauma, drug use, and violent victimization among 325 women. Using targeted sampling, crack- and heroin-using sex workers were recruited through street outreach into an HIV-prevention research program. Interviews used standard instrumentation and focused on drug-related and sexual risk for HIV, sex work, violence, childhood trauma, and health status. Nearly half of the respondents reported physical (44.9%) and/ or sexual (50.5%) abuse as children, and over 40% experienced violence from clients in the prior year: 24.9% were beaten, 12.9% were raped, and 13.8% were threatened with weapons. Consistent relationships between historical and current victimization suggest that female sex workers experience a continuing cycle of violence throughout their lives. The policy and research implications of these findings are discussed.¹
Moses, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
The man introduces himself to women as Moses. He has a soft smile and bends his head bashfully. His mannerisms, his air of gentleness, standing in an area most known for dealing, pimping and other contests of masculinity between young men, are surprising.
Teenage girls wearing little pose nearby. Boyfriends/pimps stand under awnings, watching these girls, their money for the night. An apartment building's door is open for drug sale.
Moses waits outside of the corner bodega to talk, set away from the packs of people, always polite and with a wave.
He holds his smile a little too long, speaking with a slowness than leaves his words and eyes vacant.
It feels discomfiting for Moses to be in this space, a space where stabbings and arrests happen, this man of seeming naiveté and goodwill. There is a wrongness about it.
Not different in all things, he does flirt. The telltale signs are there: eye movements, the compliments to a woman's looks, his tendency to speak to a woman who's particularly new or young, his willingness to drop tasks or other conversations in order to do so.
In his odd parade of innocence, he sometimes get phone numbers from women.
This, comparatively to other things beholden to the corner, is benign.
On the spot where Moses stands, another man, Peanut, deals and smokes crack, a man who needs more and more of the drug that took him Upstate. In total, he's taken over a decade of prison time for drugs, assault and robbery.
In wake of his anger, people stay away.
At odd intervals, he throws beer bottles against walls, at people, in the street, the rest of the block becoming a silent film left to move in time. He is an explosion.
Some of the women wearing little show up with bruises. They got them from Peanut. Sometimes they stay with him, having no other choice. They seep inside the dirty entryway to his room half a block down.
Eventually, physically or mentally, the girls disintegrate.
When new girls come around, Peanut is Moses, just like that.