Pissing off the pimpsby MATT O'BRIEN
CAR TIRES SLASHED. Phone lines ripped out. The power cut off.
This is the price you pay for trying to help prostitutes in Las Vegas, says Jody Williams.
"There's always an initial moment of intimidation," said Williams, founder of the grass-roots group Trafficking and Prostitution Services. "But the pimps didn't scare me when I was in the business, so they certainly don't scare me now."
For six years, Williams worked as a prostitute and madam in Southern California. After being busted in 1985, she looked for a way out of the business -- with little success. There was Alcoholics Anonymous. And Narcotics Anonymous. But no help for people addicted to the money and power of the sex industry.
So Williams started Prostitutes Anonymous (now Sex Workers Anonymous) in 1987.
"I was in my 20s and making $30,000 a week," said Williams of her work as a madam. "I had more than one house. I had seven cars. Then all of a sudden I have the court system telling me that I have to go straight and get a job for 8 bucks an hour. I mean, I needed a little help wanting to do that and knowing how to do that."
Williams moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 1996, in hopes of helping sex workers here. But she was not welcomed by the cops, courts and nonprofit organizations, she said. They ignored her or told her they weren't interested in her help.
"I have a history of helping sex workers since 1987," said Williams. "I have a reputation. It's not like I'm a stranger, but it was like I'd landed on Mars."
This fall, after the introduction of the Nevada Coalition Against Sex Trafficking, Williams decided to launch Trafficking and Prostitution Services. She said the Coalition Against Sex Trafficking wanted to focus on law, while she wanted to focus on helping sex workers directly.
"I wanted to focus on direct services to the victims," said Williams. "So I just said, 'Screw it!' I'll do it myself."
Williams runs Trafficking and Prostitution Services out of her cluttered condo in southwest Las Vegas. She gets about 10 referrals a week. She, in turn, refers the sex workers to counselors, lawyers and landlords who can give them a safe place to live. The group's website, www.tapsdirectory.org, also includes a resource list and recommended reading and viewing.
"Without Jody's assistance, I might've given up," said Mary, a former street prostitute who was referred to Williams. "It's also nice to be able to talk to another survivor of the industry, to know that she knows what it's like. It's not pity. She's not pretending to understand. She actually knows what it's like on the streets."
Pimps don't seem to appreciate Williams' work as much as the prostitutes do. They've slashed her car tires, ripped out her phone lines and called the power company and somehow had her power cut off, she said.
But that's not going to deter Williams. Eventually, she wants Trafficking and Prostitution Services to be a well-connected network group that helps hundreds of sex workers in Las Vegas, without placing conditions (asking for full names, forcing religion on them or applying pressure to testify against pimps) on them.
"Part of the reason I started TAPS was to get past all the bureaucratic red tape and just focus on helping the victims," said Williams. "That's all I want to do: help the victims."
Matt O'Brien is a CityLife staff writer. He can be reached at 871-6780 ext. 350 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRAFFICKING AND PROSTITUTION SERVICES
Mission: To provide resources to sex workers who want to get out of the business
Services: Referrals, resource list, recommended reading and viewing, and more
Founded: October 2007
More info: www.tapsdirectory.org