Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Behind closed doors

Casey stopped working the streets four days shy of her 18th birthday.

The Madison native, now 25, had originally been laid over in Chicago on her way to a modeling gig when an older man enticed her out of the bus station. In search of money, drugs and attention, the 17-year-old agreed to turn a trick for him, as she had seen friends do in the past. She wasn’t even the youngest girl the pimp picked up at the bus station that night.

One trick turned into another, and more after that, as the days blended together. The exact details of the ensuing months are hazy for Casey, who preferred not to use her full name. She was using heroin, she said.


But she remembers vividly the day she stopped working the streets and returned to Madison after a john sexually assaulted her at knifepoint. The incident was a precursor to the larger emotional toll prostitution continues to take on her.

“It goes a lot deeper than … you originally anticipate,” she said, her voice growing soft at the memory.

Once she turned 18, Casey began exchanging sex for money again, this time as a call girl for escort services and through her own advertisements. She quit the lifestyle for good after she started working with a Madison program to help women with histories of prostitution.

Last summer, Madison police began noticing a higher number of prostitutes in the West Badger Road area, a South Side neighborhood near the Beltline between South Park Street and Fish Hatchery Road. In a March 29 sting operation (“enforcement action” in police jargon), undercover police dressed as prostitutes netted 10 men there for trying to solicit sex. Prostitution-related arrests in Madison are on the rise.

But Casey, who has been involved in prostitution through print advertisements, online communities and a massage parlor job, said these types of prostitution are more prevalent than the street-level crime Madison police target. They can occur anywhere, including the University of Wisconsin campus and residence halls, where Casey has made service calls.

Prostitutes are increasingly practicing their trade behind closed doors, agreed Jan Miyasaki, director of Project Respect, the Madison nonprofit where Casey receives counseling. Crack houses, escort services and hook-ups made over the Internet have all opened additional avenues for prostitution, she said.

“To the extent that this sex industry is growing everywhere, Madison’s keeping up with it,” Miyasaki said. “You don’t have to walk on the street to get a date anymore.”

Running a sting

The recent sting was part of a larger effort to combat street-level prostitution in Madison following higher numbers of prostitutes working the West Badger Road neighborhood, police said.

According to department records, total arrests on prostitution-related charges, which can be issued under state law (criminal charges) or city ordinances (civil charges), increased from 65 in 2006 to 73 in 2007. City citations grew from 14 to 48 in the same period. Police have attributed the rise to both increased activity and enforcement.

The March enforcement effort yielded similar numbers of arrests as the last sting on West Badger Road in Nov. 2007, which resulted in the arrest of 12 johns, one of whom was a UW student.

The enforcement tactics are designed to keep johns away — city ordinance citations carry a fine of $676 for first-time offenders — and indirectly address the drug trafficking that often comes with prostitution, according to police. Prostitutes themselves are usually taken into custody and fingerprinted before being released (the South District has a file of around 50 who typically work the area).

“We’re focusing on where we can get the most bang for our buck and address the drug problem,” said Lt. Stephanie Bradley Wilson, the South District officer who organized the March sting.

The pimps who are behind most of the street prostitution galvanize violence and drug use in neighborhoods, according to police and local officials.

Sting methods are simple: When a john approaches one of the undercover officers walking the area and offers to pay for sex with money or other valuables — common incentives include cigarettes or crack — uniformed officers stationed nearby make the arrest. No tawdry dresses or high heels are involved.

“You know, it’s funny. People watch too much TV and get this picture of a woman in fishnet stockings,” said former South District officer Susan Krause, who organized the November sting. “Prostitutes wear jeans and a sweatshirt and carry a backpack. There’s nothing glamorous about it.”

In the North District, police have also worked with a neighborhood watch group to curb activity in the area around North Street and East Washington Avenue, once a hotbed for prostitution. South District officers are starting a similar program.

“Is it dying down? It’s hard to say, but as long as people in the neighborhood report it, it’s hard for a prostitute to work at the street level,” said Sgt. Charles Weiss, who was part of a November sting on North Street that produced no arrests.

Krause said that since November, six women formerly known as West Badger Road regulars have either been reunited with their families or have returned to school or the job market.

A misplaced focus?

But while the recent enforcement may have improved quality of life in two neighborhoods where residents have complained of finding used condoms on their driveways or even in their basements, Casey and Miyasaki said it misses the sordid underworld where the majority of prostitution in Madison occurs.

It’s a problem of perception, Miyasaki explained, since street-level prostitution is in the public eye.

“Poor neighborhoods and poor tricks get the most publicity,” she said.

Ald. Tim Bruer, District 14, whose district includes West Badger Road, disagreed, saying, “In terms of sheer numbers … where the problem is epidemic is on the streets and tied to drug dealers and certain areas.”

But Casey said more prostitution takes place — and more money changes hands — through Internet and print advertisements for call girls.

“A lot of times the police turn a blind eye to that,” she said.

“[The police] are really not pushing it the way that they could,” she added. “Nobody’s attacking the ones that are making the real money,” such as call girls advertised in the phonebook, who can make $300 an hour, she said.

According to Casey, other types of prostitution occur through loose networks maintained in print and phonebook advertising, Internet communities, bathhouses and massage parlors. She herself has offered various services through print and online advertisements and at a massage parlor in Belvedere, Ill.

In all of these ventures, actual prostitution isn’t explicitly mentioned, but almost always implied, Casey said.

“The service won’t tell you straight out (to offer sex), but they know that you’ll figure it out,” she said. “You won’t get work if you don’t put out.”

On a recent phone call to a newspaper advertisement for a “Blonde bombshell, sexy, clean & waiting for you!” in the “Miscellaneous Services,” “Sarah” hinted at further bargaining, although she refused to go into details over the phone. She declined to elaborate both before and after the reporter revealed his identity.

“As long as you behave right and everything goes right, full service is included,” she said.

‘It’s not our role’

According to downtown alder and Dane County Assistant District Attorney Mike Verveer, the Geisha Bath House on East Washington Avenue and the Rising Sun massage parlor on West Main Street have longstanding reputations for practices that may verge on prostitution.

“I think everybody realizes they’re kind of brothels in a way,” Verveer said, although he said he hasn’t received any specific complaints. “It doesn’t seem to have any impact on the quality of life of my constituents.”

In 2007, police responded to one call about an unattended child in front of the Geisha Bath House, but found nothing, according to department records. Since the beginning of 2007, officers have responded to 56 calls at the Rising Sun’s address, which is located near several bars. Only one was listed as prostitution-related, in which a man’s wife tracked his vehicle’s global-positioning device to the establishment, and no charges were filed.

Employees of the Rising Sun and the Geisha Bath House declined to comment.

“With the call girls, dating services … these girls are prepared to go further, but none of that is prosecuted in our community,” Verveer said.

“Frankly, I agree it should not be a priority for any of us involved in law enforcement,” he added. “Open-air prostitution is what impacts the quality of life.”

Krause and Weiss noted that local police don’t have the resources to investigate prostitution behind closed doors, and Krause said such enforcement doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction.

“Whether or not we deal with street prostitution, it doesn’t draw us away from the other types,” Krause said. “As beat cops, it’s not our role to deal with that.”

The Milwaukee Police Department, on the other hand, has investigated escort services, Internet sites and phonebook advertisements in addition to street-level prostitution, according to Vice Control Division officer Lt. Joseph Erwin.

“It’s a different way of doing business,” Erwin said. “We look at it all the same, as a violation of the law.”

“We’re aware of what’s occurring there,” Weiss said of Internet venues like Craigslist, where prostitution is advertised in euphemistic terms. “There are things [the police] can do, but I can’t go into specifics.”

Prostitution on campus

Casey and Miyasaki also noted that prostitution can penetrate the college bubble, including at UW-Madison and other system schools.

“Campus isn’t immune, even if people think it is,” Miyasaki said.

The UW Police Department has only made prostitution arrests in the UW-Madison Arboretum, where johns have occasionally brought girls in their cars after the park is closed, according to Lt. Eric Holen.

But Casey said she has turned tricks in dormitories and at fraternities at UW-Madison, although she admitted the college scene is a less lucrative market and, therefore, not as active.

“A lot of girls don’t want to see college guys,” she said. “They don’t pay much and they try to get the most out of you.”

One college student adjusted his clock to swindle her out of extra time, Casey said.

For some female college students, prostitution is a means of quick income, Casey and Miyasaki added. Casey had a friend at UW-Whitewater who worked some of her way through school by exchanging money for sex, she said.

“It’s a simpler decision,” she explained. “A couple of calls a week, you get your rent paid.”

But Miyasaki cautioned that even prostitution on campus is no less of a “women’s issue.”

Police encourage women they arrest and those that come to the weekly drop-in meals to begin counseling through Project Respect. Counseling focuses on how to get out of prostitution, rather than dwelling on the woman’s past, Miyasaki said.

“It’s like talking to war veterans,” she explained. “Sometimes they want to talk about it. Sometimes they’re just trying to get on with their lives.”

After six months of counseling, many women fall back into their old lifestyle, but Miyasaki estimated 60 percent don’t return to prostitution.

“I had a survivor of juvenile and adult prostitution tell me that she would rather scrub a toilet with a toothbrush than ever go back to the lifestyle she had been living,” Jan said, describing a Project Respect participant who has since found a job as a janitor. “Only she could know what that was like.”

Although Madison does more prostitution outreach and prevention efforts than most cities, the community also needs to address the root causes of the problem, Miyasaki said.

“It’s just responding to poverty, homelessness, health insurance — all those things that contribute to a woman being desperate and having no options,” she said.

Casey’s story

Casey’s first foray into prostitution started with the promise of a modeling gig and ended in a stranger’s garage.

The twisted odyssey on the rough streets of Chicago doesn’t seem to fit the unobtrusive young woman. Casey appears to be a worldly cynic and naive youth at the same time, the tough wisdom of experience tempered by her mere 25 years, much of them spent outside of school and the workplace.

Reserved and soft-spoken, eyes darting nervously before making contact, she’s not the archetypal “woman of the night.”

In fact, she said she never referred to herself as a “prostitute” and the word has an archaic ring. The process of exchanging sex for money was never presented in such black-and-white terms by the Chicago pimp or anyone else.

“He fed me a line,” Casey recalled. “He said, ‘You go to the bar and have sex with someone anyway; you might as well get paid for it.'”

“The other part of it was probably I always wanted attention,” she added. Casey had answered an advertisement for a modeling gig and was on her way to Detroit before she was waylaid by the pimp in Chicago.

“I wanted people to tell me I was pretty and stuff like that,” she explained. With prostitution, “there was money and people would tell me anything they thought would make me happy,” she said.

But her time working the streets, where each trick was a trial for the shy teenager, ended after a seemingly normal john put a knife to her throat, covered her head with a pillowcase, bound her with zip ties and then sexually assaulted her.

Casey returned to Madison, where she soon began working for an escort service. She also worked for men she was dating, as well as through phonebook advertisements.

She quit when she had her first son at age 20, a child who was likely fathered by a man who paid her for sex, Casey said.

Casey had always insisted on using condoms, but that was never any guarantee, she said.

“Tricks are devious,” she explained. “They’ll turn you around and try to take [the condom] off while you’re turned around.”

But the allure of fast money, which had always gone mostly to her heroin addiction, tempted her to return to the sordid life of a call girl after her son’s birth.

“The money was good, but it was starting to take an emotional toll on me and my relationships,” she said.

A former client had begun stalking her, and the work began to make her so sick to her stomach she wouldn’t answer calls to the phone number she advertised.

With no addiction to finance, Casey quit for good and started counseling with Respect. She now works in a retail store to support her 4- and 2-year-old sons.

She originally began down the path toward prostitution because of insecurities based in her own childhood, which was marred by physical and sexual abuse, Casey said. According to police and community outreach specialists who deal with prostitution, most women they see have a history of sexual abuse.

Growing up, Casey was sexually abused for years by her neighbor, an older man who was friends with her father. She finally tried exposing him, but to no avail, she said.

“Nobody gets their period at 7 years old, but they assumed I got my period,” Casey said. “When I told my dad, he didn’t believe me, and they made me go over there and apologize.”

Men she’s been romantically involved with, many of whom also were her pimps, also menaced Casey physically.

“I ended up one time trying to turn a trick to make money on my own, because he was giving me, like, five dollars a day to pick between cigarettes and food,” she said of a former boyfriend. “I got myself beat up that time, and he took the money.”

Ultimately, Casey had to overcome her need for attention and acceptance to break out of the cycle of prostitution.

“The biggest thing for me was I didn’t feel good about myself,” Casey said. “It makes you feel better for a minute, but it makes you feel worse later. … A lot of the guys are old enough to be your dad.”

Madison’s sex ring: An exclusive club

Beneath the fa?ade of a growing Midwestern city lies a dense hierarchy of prostitution, according to Casey, who has exchanged sex for money by several different means.

A step above street-level prostitution Madison police have focused on is the kind of escort services, masseuse work and exotic dancing advertised in local newspapers, she said. Many are small operations run by one of the prostitutes.

Escort services generally charge a base fee for a girl to give a back massage and strip, with unspoken additional charges for her to do more.

“If a guy touches you first without saying anything, you assume he’s not a cop and go on to offer other services,” Casey explained.

In addition, newspaper classifieds sections serve as a recruiting center for prostitutes with ads supposedly for modeling and other jobs, Casey said.

“Mostly when they’re looking for adult models, they’re just looking to pay you to screw,” she said. “A couple of guys on there have been doing it since the dawn of time,” including a current advertiser whom she has responded to in the past, she said.

Phonebook ads take a similar tack, but attract a wealthier clientele who often pay call girls $160 for an appointment, plus $300 an hour.

“A lot of girls … start off there,” Casey said. “They’re not old and used up.”

Since call girl advertisements typically include the age and a brief description of the girl at most, referrals are needed to break into the business, especially in online advertisements on Craigslist and elsewhere. The group of men in Madison who frequent call girl prostitutes is a tight-knit group, according to Casey.

“Most guys won’t see you unless guys fill out a reference, like whether you use a condom and what you do,” she said.

Bathhouses and massage parlors, which often serve as de facto brothels, are also exclusive, Casey said. She worked briefly in a massage parlor in Belvedere, Ill.

“[Business managers] keep cue cards of all the clientele,” she said. “If you haven’t been seen, you probably won’t get seen.”

See also: Portrait of a prostitute in The City Within

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