Sex Trafficking of Americans: The Girls Next Door | Politics | Vanity Fair
Sex Trafficking of Americans: The Girls Next Door
The names of all victims and their relatives have been changed. Quotes from Dennis Paris, Gwen, and Alicia are taken from court testimony.
“He called me a stupid bitch … a worthless piece of shit.… I had to tell people I fell off stage because I had so many bruises on my ribs face and legs.… I have a permanent twitch in my eye from him hitting me in my face so much. I have none of my irreplaceable things from my youth.”
—From the victim-impact statement of Felicia, minor prostitute-stripper enslaved by trafficker Corey Davis.
“Prostitution is renting an organ for ten minutes.”
—A john, interviewed by research psychologist Melissa Farley.
“Would you please write down the type of person you think I am, given all that you’ve heard and read?… I’ve been called the worst of the worst by the government and it’s going to be hard for you to top that.”
—Letter postmarked June 27, 2008, to Amy Fine Collins, from Dennis Paris, a.k.a. “Rahmyti,” then inmate at the Wyatt Detention Facility, in Central Falls, Rhode Island, now at a high-security federal penitentiary in Arizona.
The Little Barbies
In the Sex Crimes Bureau of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, in the pediatric division of Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center, in the back alleys of Waterbury, Connecticut, and in the hallways of Hartford’s Community Court, Assistant D.A. Rhonnie Jaus, forensic pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper, ex-streetwalker Louise, and Judge Curtissa Cofield have all simultaneously and independently noted the same disturbing phenomenon. There are more young American girls entering the commercial sex industry—an estimated 300,000 at this moment—and their ages have been dropping drastically. “The average starting age for prostitution is now 13,” says Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (gems), a Harlem-based organization that rescues young women from “the life.” Says Judge Cofield, who formerly presided over Hartford’s Prostitution Protocol, a court-ordered rehabilitation program, “I call them the Little Barbies.”
The explanations offered for these downwardly expanding demographics are various, and not at all mutually exclusive. Dr. Sharon Cooper believes that the anti-intellectual, consumerist, hyper-violent, and super-eroticized content of movies (Hustle & Flow), reality TV (Cathouse), video games (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), gangsta rap (Nelly’s “Tip Drill”), and cyber sites (Second Life: Jail Bait) has normalized sexual harm. “History is repeating itself, and we’re back to treating women and children as chattel,” she says. “It’s a sexually toxic era of ‘pimpfantwear’ for your newborn son and thongs for your five-year-old daughter.” Additionally, Cooper cites the breakdown of the family unit (statistically, absent or abusive parents compounds risk) and the emergence of vast cyber-communities of like-minded deviant individuals, who no longer have disincentives to act on their most destructive predatory fantasies. Krishna Patel, assistant U.S. attorney in Bridgeport, Connecticut, invokes the easy money. Criminals have learned, often in prison—where “macking” memoirs such as Iceberg Slim’s Pimp are best-sellers—that it’s become more lucrative and much safer to sell malleable teens than drugs or guns. A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a “righteous” pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings.
“There are basically two business models: manipulating girls through violence—that’s called ‘gorilla’ pimping—and controlling them with drugs,” says Patel, who prosecuted the case of New York–based trafficker Corey Davis, a.k.a. “Magnificent.” A high-living, highly educated pimp who kept the slave master’s manifesto The Willie Lynch Letter and the Making of a Slave in his Mercedes, Davis, Patel says, made sex slaves out of, among others, a 12-year-old runaway and a university coed on a track scholarship. To force them to do his bidding, Davis allegedly sliced a girl in his “stable” with a box cutter and stomped others into submission with a special pair of Timberland boots—a technique known as “Timming.” Another female, a 15-year-old patient of Dr. Sharon Cooper’s, was zipped into a duffel bag and deposited by her pimp on a six-lane highway. The pimp of Caroline (a former Connecticut 4-H Club member) plucked out her fingernails one by one until she passed out from the pain. Natalie, an ex–Catholic schoolgirl rescued by gems, was from the age of 13 tortured or beaten with water, belts, chains, even a bag of frozen oranges. “Pimping,” Natalie says, “is not cool. A pimp is a wife beater, rapist, murderer, child-molester, drug dealer, and slave driver rolled into one.”
Says Krishna Patel, “I’d always dismissed the idea of human trafficking in the United States. I’m Indian, and when I went to Mumbai and saw children sold openly, I wondered, Why isn’t anything being done about it? But now I know—it’s no different here. I never would have believed it, but I’ve seen it. Human trafficking—the commercial sexual exploitation of American children and women, via the Internet, strip clubs, escort services, or street prostitution—is on its way to becoming one of the worst crimes in the U.S.”
With her high cheekbones, long chestnut hair, and trim physique, former detective Deborah Scates, of the Hartford Police Department, looks less like a medal-decorated cop than like a champion equestrienne, a previous avocation that carried her all the way from her native Colorado to Vienna, where she learned to handle Lipizzaners. “I was lucky enough to study in Austria just after they opened up the riding school to allow females,” Scates says. “They hadn’t known that women could control stallions.”
After moving east and marrying, Scates worked as a construction-site manager. When her two children entered middle school, in the 1990s, she enrolled in the Hartford Police Academy, with the objective of becoming a mounted officer. Not long after she joined the force, Hartford disbanded its mounted-police unit. Assigned to vice, she worked undercover for 10 years, busting dope dealers, gang members, prostitutes, and pimps. Several years ago she sustained injuries in a head-on crash during a narcotics-related car chase. “The hardest part was missing work,” she says. One of her career coups was the bringing down of the Alpha Club, a brothel that had operated undisturbed in Hartford for 25 years. “A judge asked me, ‘Why go after prostitution?’ And I answered, ‘For one thing it’s against the law.’ ” The case was successfully prosecuted in March 2004, and a framed check for $346,104, the amount Scates secured for her department in the asset forfeiture, was hung in Hartford’s police headquarters.
During a routine reverse sting in Hartford on August 18, 2004, a man approached Scates (who was acting as a decoy), asking for a blow job. “He said he knew how much I was worth, and offered me $20.” Once Scates, who also modeled in her youth, informed the john that she was a cop, he tried to bribe her with tickets to a University of Connecticut basketball game and team paraphernalia stashed in the back of his four-by-four. The man in search of fellatio, it turned out, was UConn’s assistant basketball coach, Clyde Vaughan, who, it emerged, had a history of similar arrests out of state. Scates, who “used to do 50 johns a night,” never wore provocative apparel to conduct these operations; “my clothes would then have been submitted as evidence, and the issue of entrapment would have been raised.”
That same summer, Scates was out on Hartford’s Wethersfield Avenue, in the south end of the city, this time working a sting in which a male colleague impersonated a john. A girl got into the male cop’s unmarked vehicle, propositioned him, and was promptly dispatched to Scates for processing. The prostitute caught in the vice unit’s net was a fragile, ghostly, almost child-like blonde. Barely five feet tall and scarcely 90 pounds, she was strung out, desperate, and terrified. “This girl did not fit in with the Hartford streets,” Scates says.
Scates tried to get information from the girl, but “she was too high,” she says. The girl took the lady cop’s name and phone number, put them in her pocket, and was sent to Community Court, which in Hartford processes up to Class A misdemeanors. Gwen, as the girl was called, was put on ice at the York Correctional Institution, in Niantic, for two weeks to dry out, ordered to attend a women’s holistic-health seminar and a 14-day counseling program, and eventually placed with her Aunt Lucy, her only relative in the area.
Late one afternoon, Detective Scates received a call from Community Court coordinator Chris Pleasanton, who said the girl named Gwen attending the counseling class was in hysterics, afraid for her life, convinced that someone was coming after her.
Scates met again with Gwen. “She was telling me how she had been shot with heroin and raped, how men would come in and have sex with her. And I thought, Yeah, sure—I thought she was trying to talk her way out of the program. Then she mentioned the name ‘Rahmyti’—a name I’d known since my first day on the force—and her story started making sense. And she told me about another girl, Alicia. So I started looking into the allegations”—a thorny undertaking that would consume her attention for nearly four years, and, Scates says, “change my life, and how I am a police officer.”
Officer Deborah Scates of th