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Woman relates a life lived in society’s shadow

Woman relates a life lived in society’s shadow

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(In the wake of Davenport police arresting more than 25 men and women for prostitution in the past two weeks, reporter Brian Krans interviewed a woman involved in the illegal business of prostitution.)

Anabelle was 26, with three kids and a minimum-wage job, and couldn't pay her bills.

So the unwed mother made what she calls the ultimate moral compromise: she became a prostitute. Anabelle went from working as a junior high school teacher’s aide to working in a so-called “massage parlor” that in fact was a front for prostitution.

Now, more than 20 years later, Anabelle (not her real name) still walks streets, earning half of what she once did.

A life of prostitution has come with a price. Though she eventually married, the marriage didn’t last. Some of her children, now grown, hate her, she says. And she’s been in jail.

"The social ramification of my behavior has been devastating to my family," she said during a recent meeting at a local restaurant. "If I would have known full circle what I know now, I would have stayed at my nasty minimum-wage job. I can't make yesterday better. I can't change it."

Now in her late 40s, there are creases in her face as she described life on the streets. Anabelle said she grappled with the moral implications of her decisions.

In the beginning, Anabelle said she made a lot of money. Today, more women are on the streets, undercutting each other's prices. It's a cut-throat business, she said.

"As the cost of living goes up and up and up, the price (a prostitute can charge) has gone way down," she said as cigarette smoke drifted from her mouth into her short brown hair. "I've seen beautiful young girls, I mean really attractive women, sell their body for 20 bucks. They're not asking for more."

She blamed the economy, noting that when more blue-collar workers were working, things were better.

"I see desperation. What I've seen is the average woman that had a blue-collar man taking care of her is now desperate. They don't have the income at home they used to," Anabelle said.

In the 1980s Anabelle was married for a time, but she continued to work until 4 a.m. at a massage parlor while her husband played Mr. Mom. "That didn't last long," she said.

"When you choose to hustle, it's just like choosing a job. If you choose a job you have to be there," she said. "It's how you make a living."

Anabelle’s family knows and doesn't approve. The man she now lives with at an area motel also knows.

"It's very difficult on relationships. I have a gentleman friend that works real hard, and he's willing to provide for me, and every now and then I know that he's really concerned what I'm doing while he's at work."

When she's not working, Anabelle said she does the things everybody does -- laundry, cooking and cleaning. She said she enjoys a good book and likes to spend time with her grandson.

"My home life is a lot more normal that people would expect."

The spoon in her cup of tea stops clinking when she talks about her future. She leans back in her chair, agitated, as she talks about her third, and most recent, conviction for prostitution. She's been arrested for prostitution seven times.

Anabelle is out on bond while the charge, an aggravated misdemeanor, is being appealed. She's looking at a third two-year prison sentence, something she said doesn't fit the crime.

"I don't think prostitution alone should get you incarcerated in prison. I think it should be fines. You make money selling your body, you should pay money. But I'm not in charge of anything," she said.

"I can get convicted on reputation alone. What goes on in the courtroom has nothing to do with what goes on in the streets," Anabelle said. "The odds are against me. I don't feel like going away for 30 bucks, 50 bucks."

Anabelle walks the streets, usually dressed in blue jeans and a sweater in winter. She'll make eye contact with a man, and if it's returned, there's a brief conversation.

"There are a lot of men that just want good companionship.”

There aren’t any safety nets protecting prostitutes. Anabelle said she's been seriously hurt three times.

"I guess I look pretty confident because most of the time people won't mess with me," she said.

Recently, one of her friends was thrown from a moving vehicle. She said it scares her to know some people think one less hooker is a good thing. "Nobody wants to be a missing (prostitute) that no one misses at all."

Though law enforcement officials may disagree, Anabelle believes prostitution is a victimless crime. She sees recent police crackdowns on downtown Davenport as a threat, not help, to the community.

"If you eliminate prostitution, you put a lot of people in harm's way because there is no place for people who are sexually frustrated to turn."

Anabelle said she's different from many prostitutes, because drugs aren't the driving force in her work.

"Don't get me wrong, I get high. I smoke enough weed to be polluted. I smoke a little crack here and there," she said.

After an hour-long conversation about her life, Anabelle was tired.

Asked how long she would continue to walk the streets, Anabelle replied, "Until men don't find me attractive anymore."

Staff writer Brian Krans can be reached at (309) 786-6441, ext. 271.

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