Taking on the pimps
Two former teen hookers are living in fear for their lives. They have fled their pimps and are in hiding, awaiting the day they can help send to jail the man who lured them into the glitzy and violent world of prostitution.
Brave pair are fighting back
Nicole filed charges against her former pimp last July. He has come for her twice since, kidnapping and beating her. Nicole and her family have fled for their lives.
At two secret locations in British Columbia, two former child prostitutes are hiding and steeling themselves to bring down their pimps.
I talked to both girls when their paths crossed in a Vancouver transition house recently.
Before and since then, Vancouver vice squad detectives have been moving them around town and throughout B.C., trying to keep them safe and out of sight of their pimps until their dates in court. I don't know where they are now.
They are almost as frightened as Anne Dion's daughter, who 12 days ago changed her mind at the last minute and refused to testify against her pimp after repeated intimidation, as reported in this column last week.
The two teens are scared because the men they're trying to put away are as vicious as they are cowardly.
Their pimps are just as likely to follow through on threats to beat or kill them as they originally were eager to woo and recruit them.
The pair are two of 15 Vancouver prostitutes who are awaiting the trials of their pimps, trials they've triggered by agreeing to testify and enabling police to lay charges.
All 15 are in the midst of a terrifying period of too many months between the laying of charges and the start of a trial. The lengthy court wait allows too much time for threats to build and, as a result, more cases will collapse, say police.
"These pimps are ruthless," said Vancouver vice squad co-ordinator Sgt. Jim Campbell. "Even when we put our restraining orders on them, they disregard them, or they get others to pressure the girls who are testifying."
The trials instigated by the two teenagers on these pages will begin soon. I am not permitted to say exactly when, just as I can't legally name them or their pimps in any pretrial article that tells their stories.
Meet, first, "Nicole," 17.
Her pimp, "Blair," kidnapped her in Vancouver last year and now her family has to move house for their own protection. Nicole was with Blair as "boyfriend and girlfriend" for two and a half years and then as pimp and hooker for a year.
She filed charges last July and, a few weeks later, just before her 17th birthday, he went for her when she was walking to the store from her mother's house.
He pulled up in his 4X4 truck, jumped out and dragged her in.
"He said I put him through so much pain and suffering that he wanted to watch me get beaten.
"He said, 'I'm going to take you to this house in Vancouver, and they're going to beat the shit out of you.'"
As he was driving fast along 1st Avenue, Nicole opened the door and tried to jump out. He held her by her ponytail, her feet dragging along the road.
"He took me to that house and nobody was home and I got out of being beaten by saying, 'I love you, I love you. I want to be with you. I'll do anything you want. We'll go back and get the rest of my clothes and everything will be fine.'
"So he made me work the next day on Franklin Street, and he followed me and my dates everywhere."
The next day, she said to him, "Oh, god, I'd better phone my mom. She's probably really worried that I didn't come home last night."
He let her use the telephone and Nicole told her mother quickly in Mandarin: "This guy has me. Call the police. This is the phone number. I can't give you the address over the phone because he'll recognize the name of the street in English, so get the police to track down the number."
When the police came, Blair grabbed her and took her through the back yard, under a wire fence and into the neighbor's basement.
She heard Blair's dogs barking, and said to him, "The dogs are going to get killed. The cops are at the door. I'll go talk to them. I promise I won't charge you. Don't worry about it."
He believed her and let her go outside. She told the police what was happening.
They looked for Blair but couldn't find him. He got away and there wasn't enough evidence to add kidnapping to his pimping charges.
But in October he got her again. He took her to his mother's Coquitlam apartment, which was empty because she was away on holiday.
"He slapped me. He punched me in the face and stomach. He pulled me by the hair. He made me perform oral sex on him.
"He grabbed a knife and held it to my throat while he phoned my new boyfriend and told him, 'I got her now. She's mine. She's never going to come back to you.'
"I got away about eight hours later. I don't want him to get me againŠ"
Then there's "Lara".
Lara met the man who would become her pimp at a Vancouver nightclub. She was impressed by his charm, good looks and glamorous friends. 'Oh my gosh, what a life,' she thought.
When she met "James" last August at Level 5, a club on Hornby Street, she didn't know he was a pimp.
She was impressed. "He was very charming, very muscular, a very smooth and good-looking Jamaican guy."
She was equally impressed by his friends and their lifestyle.
They dressed and looked as if they had money to burn.
"It was very exciting and very seductive. The girls struck me as so beautiful. Oh my gosh, what a life!"
Shopping with the girls was a stunning experience for an impressionable teenager.
"We'd be some place like Holt Renfrew and one of the girls would say, 'OK, our limit today is $5,000. We can't spend any more than that -- OK, girls?"
"The money itself is like a drug. It's very addictive."
The girls and guys, who were also snappy dressers, hung out at the best clubs in Vancouver where the doormen and service people jumped at their every whim.
"Prostitutes get VIP treatment because they spend obscene amounts of money.
"You look like a million bucks and you feel like a million bucks.
"What you have to do to get that feeling is the problem."
It was life in the fast lanes of the city and it quickly went to the 18-year-old girl's head. So did cocaine, introduced to Lara by James, and so did his gifts of expensive clothing and jewelry.
Then he told her how easy it would be for her always to have enough money for this kind of life and its perks -- he could get her a job at a classy massage parlor.
So there she was last October, one month into her Grade 12 year, on Friday nights and weekends, wearing a see-through negligee and rattling off the price list of extras for her typical, fat, fortyish customer:
"It's $100 for a hand release, $200 for a mouth release and $300 for a full meal deal." (I guess these are formal terms in the Swedish massage lexicon.)
The above service is in addition to the $65 basic half-hour charge, or $105 for an hour. The customer had chosen Lara from a selection of "masseuses", which I put in quotation marks because none of them know how to give a massage.
The massage parlor keeps the hourly money and the girls get the money from the extras.
It is noteworthy that, not once in months of customers, did a single one of them ever decline to purchase one of Lara's extras.
"The men know why they're there. And, if not, it's easy to get them interested."
So the massage-parlor customers were all Johns. They were all made to use condoms, unlike James, who wouldn't "because it would make him feel like a trick."
James explained that she had to give him all the money she made because he'd got her the job in the first place and he had "expenses", mostly cocaine and clothes.
"He programmed me. He had this amazing knack of making it all seem normal."
Within a few months, Lara, like most girls in the massage parlors, was able to graduate to being a call girl by the simple process of giving her pager number to enough satisfied customers.
In January, she dropped out of Grade 12 to become a full-time member of the "live scene" in downtown Vancouver. Being "live" means being a prostitute.
Then 18, she moved out of her mother's house in the suburbs and into an apartment with her pimp.
"I think it's important for other kids to know that it can happen to anybody. I cam from a loving home. I had a great relationship with my mother. I still do."
She points out that, unlike many girls lured into prostitution, she had neither low self-esteem nor any history of abuse of neglect.
"I had an open, honest relationship with my mom but, when I got into this, I started hiding things from her, and then I moved out."
Soon she was making more than $2,000 a week for Blair.
Her cocaine habit cruised with her along this career path until, one morning in mid-February, she woke up "and suddenly I couldn't roll over without a hit."
Somewhere in her brain, the programming and drugs hadn't fully taken and a little part of her realized something was very wrong.
She flushed her stash down the toilet and escaped. She went to police to charge him and went home to her mother.
Unfortunately, James knew her mom's address. And the crank calls and threats began.
The tires of their car were slashed and eggs were thrown at their attic window. "A mark is on your head," a prostitute friend told her on the phone.
She's not sure whether that means she has been targeted to be beaten or killed, but Vancouver police are taking no chances and have relocated her far away.
Lara says she won't relax until her pimp is in jail. She'll worry until then about sneak attacks, probably from behind.
"Most pimps are not very ballsy," says Lara.
"If they were, they wouldn't be living off women."
If your child is a hooker --
Here, according to "Lara", are 10 ways to tell whether your daughter has become a prostitute:
Mood changes. Your daughter becomes impatient and angry, as if she blames her parents for what's happening.
New possessions, specifically those unlikely for your child to have, including jewelry, expensive clothing and anything else that she couldn't possibly afford on her allowance or pay cheque.
Change of hours. She'll come home later in the evening and be away more on weekends than before.
New friends, "who will look ritzier because they are. They're criminals. The women will be well dressed and most likely will drive very nice cars. My pimp drove a black convertible Jag."
Old friends. She starts hanging around people older than her.
She doesn't bring her friends around. "It's almost like she's embarrassed by her plain old mom and dad."
Her parents don't meet her boyfriend or, at most, get a very brief introduction. "The pimp doesn't want to get very close. He's afraid of parents."
She starts skipping school. Her absences increase because she's tired in the mornings or she's coming down from drugs.
She starts lying, and then lying to cover her previous lies.
She most likely will move out or run away.
Give us a safe house: 'Nicole'
Where does a 15-year-old girl go in the middle of the night when her pimp beats her and throws her out on to the street?
This is not an academic question. It's a frequent, real-life survival ordeal for prostitutes on the mean streets of Vancouver.
"Often my guy beat me up because I didn't bring home enough money and then he'd send me back out at four or five in the morning,' said "Nicole".
"Where could I go?"
Get to a phone and dial 911, says Vancouver vice squad co-ordinator Sgt. Jim Campbell.
Say that you're being held against your will by a pimp and a squad car will come for you quickly.
If it's not an emergency, call the vice squad at 665-2177 and leave a message on the answering machine.
"We want girls to come forward to sign on their pimps," said Campbell.
"We'll assist them to get out of the business and protect them from their pimps."
But Nicole, who is waiting to testify against her pimp, says that, for some, going to police can be too big and final a step to take in the middle of the night.
She says a safe house for prostitutes should be set up and staffed by people who can give advice to scared girls on the run.