Meet “Maryland” – 2019 Women involved with Prostitution Series

A normal childhood? “Maryland” (name has been change to protect the identify of the individual) doesn’t know that. At age five, she was no stranger to abuse. By age seven, her cousins and uncles forced into alcoholism. They would get her drunk just to rape her. They gradually introduced her to pills that were used to sedate her little body. By nine, casual beatings by her father became her normal. She stopped attending school at eleven because she could barely focus due to her alcoholism. That was also the age she accidentally killed her abuser with a handgun.

At thirteen, tired of being beaten and raped, she took initiative and moved in with her grandmother. Feeling freedom for the first time after a long time, she took up employment. Self-employment. From the beginning, all she knew was sex. Using her newfound freedom, Maryland started selling her body for money figuring she might as well make money off of what she knew.

A couple years into prostitution she started selling drugs for the local drug dealers. Quick runs for cash quickly became her second profession, and the merchandise became her poison. She never thought that she would become addicted to hard drugs like her customers.

By her early 20s, Maryland could be seen moving in and out of the houses of men who used her for sex. She would often find herself in distant and secluded places, not knowing the location or date. She remembers witnessing killings, drug dealings, and rape in the streets of Richmond. In fact, she was raped herself multiple times just being outside. Facing the problem of protection, she needed a pimp to provide her with a roof and direction. However, involving herself with a number of pimps left her beaten on multiple occasions. It was a losing situation all around. Then, she got hooked on crack.

First she used the drug as she prostituted, then she began to prostitute for the drug. Maryland fell under a constant loop: she would get kicked out of her pimps’ houses, go to jail, and run the streets. She remembers sleeping in abandoned houses and wearing the same set of clothes for weeks. Having sex with men in their cars kept her warm during the winter seasons. But it was okay. She felt perfectly fine with her situation as long as she could get her high. The more and more she became addicted to crack, the lower and lower her rates for sex dropped. One of Maryland’s lowest points was selling sex for only $5. Her life was fixed on and endless replay: prostitute, be abused by her pimp, abuse drugs, become homeless, jail, repeat.

This was her life story up until about her mid 30s. She is now 40 and fighting to make a positive difference on the streets of Richmond. As a woman who is currently sheltering five current and former prostitutes in her own home, she wants to one day open up the first center in Richmond for struggling female prostitutes.

Maryland’s story gives context as to why so many other women across the United States somehow end up in sex work. Perhaps the core issue stems from one’s upbringing as a child. Perhaps it’s the early exposure to sex, or abuse. Many theorists have their own complex equation, but it’s never just a single variable. However, the matter of fact still stands: the public should extend a hand towards these survivors and help them rebuild instead of shunning prostitutes and sex workers altogether.

As per Maryland’s recommendation, a simple gesture could mean as little as clean clothes or basic necessities. Receiving care packages sends feelings of love, support, and worth. The nation as a whole has to reverse its negative perceptions of those currently and formerly involved in the sex industry. Our nation has put sex workers in a box in which they cannot escape due to the collective neglect. Because even the word “sex work” is taboo, we turn a blind eye on it and ignore the struggles and abuse faced by those involved in the industry. Their struggles must be addressed instead of being met with ignorance and neglect.

Those who don’t turn their back only give minimal amounts of help, for short amounts of time before prostitutes are sent on their way. Help doesn’t stop at a temporary roof over their heads and medication for drug addiction. Almost all prostitutes have an underlying mental illness as the root problem of their lifestyle. Nearly all prostitutes and sex workers have mental illnesses such as depression, multiple personality disorder, and anxiety. Without counseling for help with mental health issues, nothing is fixed. Without the proper mental health treatment, victims of the industry are unable to function properly and unable to find suitable work. There is an extreme lack of help for prostitutes and former prostitutes due to the stigmatization of being associated with the sex industry. Hopefully something will change.

~~ Written by Jared Hall, VCU Homeland Security Student