the John Troubles

There’s street level prostitution in this area. On many nights, I can look out my bedroom window and see a woman standing on the corner, no matter what the season. I’ve lived here for almost two years now, and there have been many different women standing on the corner.

This is not some 1980’s t.v. show glamour prostitution – no fur coats, large wigs, sparkly clothing or precarious heels. The women out there look pretty ordinary, at least they do when they first show up. The one who was around the most when I first moved here is gone. Facially, she looked a lot like Janis Joplin, and was in her mid 20’s at least. She was always around – at midnight or 4 p.m. in the afternoon. During the afternoon she would move up the street a little, closer to the Senior’s Center. Anyhow – she just looked like an average woman that you might see at the grocery store or riding the bus. Around the time I stopped seeing her she started having this creepy smile plastered on her face. Her reality was now deeply suspended.

There’s another woman in the area I really worry about. I don’t know if she has schizophrenia or meth psychosis or both. She has an agitated walk. When things are really bad with her she has loud screaming and sobbing confrontations with people or entities who are not there. Her shouting has woken me up more than once. One time she ran through the parking lot behind my yard, and was retching in the strip that runs next to my house. Then I heard what sounded like a phone conversation with a family member. I could hear her telling someone to stop praying. She sounded very upset. This conversation intensified, and she was telling them to stop playing the tapes of her father praying. I had been working in my yard, but I just stayed still – eavesdropping, paralyzed. The conversation got more bizarre. She was sobbing and shouting “They’re stealing your orgasms !” There was no phone, with no person on the other end. Her reactions were completely sincere – gut wrenching emotional pain. I didn’t know what to do. What could I do ? Offer her a glass of water ?

I had previously called directory assistance, looking for some kind of psychiatric outreach, on a night last fall where she was really upset, sobbing and raving. There was nothing. I called the Assaulted Women’s Helpline to ask what I should do ? There didn’t seem to be any resources to deal with this kind of situation. The woman I spoke to said my only option was to call the police non-emergency number. London Police have an astonishingly terrible track record with women who reported sexual assault:

I suspected their empathy would be even lower with a woman in a state of psychosis, who did prostitution on Hamilton Road. But – in this state this woman was extremely vulnerable. I hated calling the police. Someone else had called the police about her, too. She was gone for a few weeks and when she reappeared she was subdued for awhile. Whatever is going on with her seems to wax and wane. There is someone in her life who is making her wear clean new clothes.

Every woman who lives on this residential street has been assumed to be a prostitute, usually when they are doing things like walking their children to school, or walking to or from their job. I’ve been accosted by would be johns while standing at the bus stop, plainly marked BUS STOP, at 3:00 in the afternoon. I had a creep in a car stop to ask me if I was working while I was standing on my front step in the evening, ruminating about my garden plans.

Many johns think they are being discreet by pulling around the corner off Hamilton Road, which forces the woman to have to run a small distance to them. There’s always lone men lurking in idling cars on this street after midnight. Or men dropping off women. There’s colorful condom wrappers blowing into my yard.

I’ve had some strange conversations with neighbours about this. Some of them have the attitude that the women who are doing prostitution are doing this because of a moral failing, as though they are nymphomaniacs. Their attitude is that the women are the problem, and if they would just go away that the area would get better. This makes me deeply uncomfortable.

There is no “Belle Du Jour” empowerment happening here. This is no “Pretty Woman” pygmalion Hollywood bullshit.

I don’t know their life story – it’s not my place to ask – but I am guessing that poverty is their biggest issue. Poverty breeds intense desperation. Mixed in with this is probably addiction, maybe an abusive partner and/or pimp and/or drug dealer. And shame. And entrapment. Probably a dysfunctional family of origin. Probably Social Services and childcare and custody issues. Debt. Precarious housing. Mental illness and trauma. Violence from johns. Social isolation. There seem to be few pathways out. There’s no posters in the area for exit programs or other assistance. There’s a drop in center nearby but it’s only open two evenings a week.

I’m really appalled by the johns, though. Who are the men who feel that any woman on the street is potentially a prostitute ? The ones who pestered me exhibited no embarrassment whatsoever. Why do they think women are for sale ? How come the Janis Joplin woman was limping so badly, for weeks ? Was it because she fell off her bicycle ?

I read a couple of books by women who had exited prostitution. They are grim books, worth reading. “Paid For” by Rachel Moran is really compelling:


“Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade” edited by Caroline Norma and and Melinda Tankard Reist is a collection of writing by women who had been involved in prostitution in Australia, where brothels are legal in some areas.

Many of the accounts start off the same – that prostitution seemed like an option when there were no others. Having no other option doesn’t make this a “choice”. Viewing this as a job was quickly overtaken by the reality of how inherently abusive the clients were, and the power structures that kept women trapped and desperate.

Victor Malarek wrote a book from his interviews with johns. Their sense of entitlement is pervasive. This is also grim reading:

Someone created a site, with excerpts from an ERB (Escort Review Board – like a chatroom for johns). It offers some insight into what these men think of the women they interacted with, in their own words:

Yes, there are also many books about how wonderful and empowering and how radical it is to be a sex worker or sex buyer. Experience is not universal. That could be true for them. Or it can be a lucrative work of fiction.

All I know is that is that I see very little joy going on out there.

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