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Prostitute Anonymous: Tales of the Street from a Former Cleveland Madame 

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"They might say, 'Oh this is my boyfriend,' or, 'He's the only one who ever told me I was pretty," said Walsh in a phone interview with Scene. She also stressed that traffickers' manipulation tactics have evolved roughly at the pace of technology. "They lure them in. They establish trust."

"And for so many of these people, we've kind of dismissed them as prostitutes," Walsh continued. "But the average age that young people are lured into prostitution is 12 to 14. These kids grow up and then all of a sudden they're 20 or 22 and this has been their life. The trauma keeps them from getting back into school and into a different career path. So who do we jail? It's the kids who we didn't recognize as kids early on."

That's one reason why a special docket is so important.

Under the new arrangement, Cassidy and a treatment team will put together personal plans for individual victims which could include: Shelter, trauma counseling, substance abuse treatment and other services. With the aid of the prosecutor's office and law enforcement, Cassidy hopes that this might eventually help target traffickers themselves.

"Maybe we can save a few lives," the judge says.

***

Summer was watching 48 Hours in her living room a week or so later. She loves the crime shows, and said for the most part they're an accurate representation of the police officers she's encountered over the years. Two notes about police in Cleveland, though.

1) Because it's often the same prostitutes going in and out of jail, the same women corralled along Lorain Ave.'s continuous hubs, officers occasionally just ignore offenses they see. This is in many respects a courtesy.

2) They've got no problem verbally abusing prostitutes and drug addicts. Summer said she's been called "whore," "slut," "bitch," the works. Recently, when a man was overdosing in her living room, the cops arrived and immediately started asking, in rough language, where the drugs were. They didn't even care about the man foaming at the mouth at their feet.

(It's not like men OD in Summer's living room regularly. She's been raising her two children responsibly, taking classes, living off money from one or two big-ticket medical settlements — but tendrils of her former life have haunted her recovery).

Summer was by and large skeptical that Judge Cassidy's docket and the coordinated efforts therefrom will have any appreciable effect on prostitutes themselves around here. Though the docket would seek to rehabilitate substance abuse, diagnose and treat mental health issues, provide shelter, counseling for trauma etc., what Summer said is necessary is a prostitution recovery center specifically for prostitutes and only prostitutes.

"Call it Prostitutes Anonymous," Summer said. "That's what they're addicted to, more than the drugs. It's more addictive than any drug I've ever taken. It's the thrill, the getting in and out of cars. Drugs are easy to give up, by comparison. Drugs cost money."

Summer, who's only 39, said she spent 23 years cleaning herself up. She said no woman is going to change until she wants to herself. And some women, Summer mentioned (acknowledging that the comment might be perceived as controversial) were just born to do this, to be prostitutes. Look at them, she said: In and out of jail, not a single tooth in their head, body beaten down, face and hair an absolute mess, and they're still hooking. These are women in their fifties.

Summer told me to just look up and down Lorain Ave. She said that's always been the hot spot in town, from Ohio City all the way out to West Park. She said you can always tell the hookers by their bent necks, walking forward, looking back, with a haywire jilt in their step. Around West 54th St., Summer said, the most desperate of them will perform oral sex for $5.

Summer never worked that way. Being well positioned between a wealthy benefactor and a kingpin meant she always did all right, money wise. When she needed a fix in the worst way, she said, she would sometimes scam clients with a fake purse trick — collect payment to "go pay a driver" while leaving a cheap empty purse (purchased at Goodwill or something) in the hotel room, and then taking off with the John's money — but stopped, fearing retaliation.

***

The night before Danny disappeared, after a long shower, Summer talked with him about what was next. She was going to get clean, shape up, turn herself in. She had an assault charge — or some stupid warrant, she can't remember — to her name at the time and wanted to get straight. Danny was gonna go legit too, start focusing on his business and run it the right way. They had money to last them forever. She remembers Danny dropping her off at a White Castle the next morning, and that was the last time she ever saw him.

It's still tough to talk about him, even after all these years. She hated the way she found out about his disappearance — detoxing in County — and hated the way she was handled afterward by a feckless suburban police force. She hated that evidence she brought forth seems to have been disregarded: Money stolen and items sold from Danny's house by another woman he was seeing, the fact that his skeleton was unearthed in the backyard of his business associate's father's home... She still thinks about him, about his death, and about those halcyon, criminal days, and mourns.

But she's got a life to live these days. Best she can, Summer tries to keep the past in the past. Up in her attic, Summer showed me a box full of journals, Mead notebooks alive with her ballpoint cursive. The language (from the '90s anyway) articulates a desire to become drug- and man-free. There was an equivalence between drugs and men that she kept returning to. Summer knew she had a weakness for both, she wrote, and an inability to wrest control of her life from them.

In many ways, that's what made her successful in the escort trade. She knew the impulses of her girls, knew what to watch out for, knew how to interpret and intuit their dark days. Maybe that's what makes them keep coming back.

Last week, a girl approached Summer and asked if she could work for her. Summer, for better or worse, still talks about women like she's selling them: "Triple-D boobs, all natural, stacked on top." Summer looked her up and down and knew she had men who would pay, who would want her bad. But she just shook her head.

"I don't do that anymore."

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