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.
Homeless women experience extensive health risks including physical and sexual victimization. Few studies that have gathered information on homeless persons have reported results separately for women or have compared them directly with men. Research that both investigates antecedents of victimization among homeless women and compares them to those for men is necessary to determine whether prevention efforts must be different for each group. We investigated potential antecedents of recent (past 30 days) physical and sexual victimization in a probability sample of 394 homeless women and compared findings to those for 1159 homeless men. As hypothesized, mental disorder, substance dependence, and engaging in economic survival strategies significantly predicted victimization among homeless women. With few dissimilarities, these characteristics also predicted victimization among homeless men. Although differences in the needs and experiences of homeless women and men must be recognized, both women and men require assistance to establish and maintain safe residences, treatment of any substance use and mental disorder, and alternatives to economic survival strategies that place them at risk for victimization.¹
The women have sex with men because they need money for drugs, because they are homeless. They have sex with men after days spent without a shower, with quarter-sized abscesses that ache, with underwear diarrhea-stained from withdrawal.
The women do not have photos of themselves in lingerie, spread-eagle, retouched. They do not find it sexy to suck a random man's dick. They call themselves addicts.
There is not a chosen occupation.
Men also comment on the women with name and description, to lend enough details for other men to find those on the streets, to serve and find camaraderie in others who seek out Hunts Point for a cheap fuck. Below, the men in power, the women in illness--
Acronyms and terms, in order of appearance: BSW = black street walker; jackson = $20; HSW = hispanic street walker; BBJ = bare blow job; SW = street walker; LE = law enforcement; WSW = white street walker; BJ = blow job; BBBJ = bare back blow job
Takeesha (Desire), Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Takeesha goes on and off heroin and methadone. She lands in temporary apartments, abandoned buildings without electricity. Sometimes she deals. At 12, she was raped by her grandfather, and other men were allowed to enter the apartment to fuck her if they gave her grandfather money. At 13, she ran to Hunts Point. Escape.
Pat disappears into and out of Hunts Point. She enters until she feels herself get too desperate, then leaves to an unknown place to heal. When she's stayed away as long as she can stand to live without drugs, she returns.
Vanessa, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
There are times when Vanessa becomes too high to remember it's winter. She wears something sleeveless in the snow, can barely lift her head to speak.
I have blurred this image. Originally, it was in focus.
Deja, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Deja does not know how to fake love and have sex without cocaine. At 12, she ran away from her foster family and became a woman. A fairy tale is a picket fence, a husband and kids, tupperware. It is a fairy tale, not a dream. Because a dream can manifest.
Nikki, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Nikki looks after the girls on the street. Advice, attention, general care of wellbeing: something special. Mama Nikki. Lately, she gets too sick in the afternoons and can't move. Too much dope that she can't get off of. Methadone isn't enough. Crack makes her day bearable.
Carmela, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Carmela does not like sex with men. They always and only want sex and money. It's not her natural inclination to like women, to love women, but it's what's happened. She could never love a man, never be with a man that way.
She does not like men. She does not like men. Her repetition.
Millie, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Millie took methadone and tried to get better. She bought methadone off the street, tried to lessen her heroin habit. If she did only methadone, she could get her kids back. She tried on her own, had to, on her own.
She died after an infection from an abscess on her arm moved to her heart. Her death was softspoken, her body buried in a potter's field on Hart Island, unclaimed.