Although my childhood had been a chaotic and difficult one, I could never have forseen that I would one day be subject to arrest. Prior to my involvement in prostitution, I would have scoffed at the idea that I would be arrested for any reason. That changed as soon as I became active as a streetwalker, since here in the U.S., this is illegal for ladies who work as prostitutes. As soon as I began, I knew this issue would eventually catch up with me, no matter how discreetly I conducted myself. And as I mentioned in my previous essay, to be arrested means to experience shock, fear, and humiliation.
I had been turning tricks for perhaps three months before my presence on the street became known to the local police. When they first interrogated me, they would simply issue verbal warnings, telling me to stop what I was doing. I learned to keep moving, not to conduct business on one corner for too long, and to walk around for a bit, rather than remain stationary.
However, it was inevitable that I would get picked up. Police officers assigned to this detail would rove about in unmarked cars, picking up girls who would then be placed under arrest for “publice nuisance”. California Penal Code section (370.) reads in part, “… Anything which is injurious to health, or is indecent, or offensive to the senses…as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood…is a public nuisance.” Indecent? Offensive to the senses? This is yet another way in which prostitutes are relegated to the rubbish heap, as if we are somehow less than human.
One night, about four months on since I first started turning tricks, an unmarked police car stopped in front of me. Two policemen got out and told me to put my purse on the ground, which I did. One of them told me to put my hands behind my back. I felt a flash of panic and fear, but of course, I complied with his order; he then handcuffed me, telling me I was under arrest for 372. PC (this reads in part, “Every person who maintains or commits any public nuisance…is guilty of a misdemeanor.”) Never had anyone place handcuffs on me before, and this was a very distressing experience. I was guided into the backseat of the car where three other girls were sitting, also handcuffed and looking miserable.
After the police finished typing their paperwork at the police station, they transported us to the local county women’s jail. We were searched for contraband and hustled into a large holding cell. Many hours later, I was processed and released; several weeks after this, I had to present a ticket to the court, where I paid a small fine.
It was also shock to be arrested by an undercover police officer posing as a customer. I have developed very good instincts in discerning whether or not someone might be a plainclothesman, but of course, it’s not possible to be accurate all the time. This incident was rather scary, because this arrest meant I was now a “known prostitute”; although solicitation for prostitution is a misdemeanor, any subsequent arrests could result in jail time. (The attorney who represented me advised pleading guilty to “disturbing the peace” in order to avoid a prostitution conviction on my record.)
To arrest people for prostitution is a waste of police resources; how people wish to earn a living should not be the government’s business. And for those of us working in prostitution, the ordeal of arrest…of being placed into filthy holding cells…to be threatened with serving time in jail just for trying to make our way in the world…to be treated as a “public nuisance” – I truly believe this is violation of human rights. Is this the way so-called civilised society should treat people? We have a long way to go, haven’t we?
– Marie Brown (Silky)