Over the years, I wrote a few columns about a woman I called “Posie,” who plied her trade along Patapsco Avenue down in South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Her trade was feigned affection swapped for cash, even-up.
I thought about Posie when the prostitution story recently broke about Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots. Between Patapsco Avenue in Brooklyn and that strip mall massage parlor in Jupiter, Fla., where they busted the 77-year-old Kraft (who is Jewish) for solicitation, there’s more distance than just separate un-zip codes.
There’s a separate code of conduct as well.
When I knew her, Posie was a sweet-tempered, slightly zaftig woman in her late 30s who said she charged around $20 an encounter. But the kind of encounters varied. She’d stand outside the 7-Eleven on Patapsco Avenue, she said, and wait for guys to circle the block a few times and then pick her up.
Some of them weren’t even interested in sex. The description that stays with me through the years was her account of the lonely old guy who only wanted her to come home with him and listen to Mario Lanza records together.
We’re told that Robert Kraft’s dates lived a different kind of life, one not of their own choosing. And “choosing” is the big difference between Posie’s life and Kraft’s young ladies.
His women are described as immigrants from China who were given phony stories about new lives with legitimate spa jobs in America. There are reports they lived in this “spa” called Orchids of America, sleeping on massage tables, cooking their meals on hot plates in the back, and forced to have sex with as many as a thousand men a year.
“This is not about lonely old men or victimless crime,” said Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. “This is about enabling a network of criminals to traffic women into our country for forced labor and sex.”
Half a dozen years ago, I worked on a report for the Abell Foundation on such trafficking in Maryland. About 400 state officials gathered back then to talk about a dangerous new age in which the classic notion of prostitutes and street-corner assignations was being replaced by computer-savvy pimps and johns; by a thriving network of online sex advertising; and by outwardly respectable establishments such as hotels whose officials seem to turn a blind eye to such activities.
And young ladies – some barely into their teens – were pulled into this world and couldn’t find a way out.
Much of the Maryland talk wasn’t about women from China or other distant places; it was about American girls. As one federal prosecutor told me, “These are girls from every kind of background, economically, racially, ethnically, all over the place. Some from good families, some not. Often there’s sexual abuse at home … and the girls run away, and they don’t begin to know how to survive on the street.”
Years ago down in Brooklyn, Posie made her choice of profession in her 30s. She was a school dropout with no discernible work skills, who figured she was making the best of a bad deal.
Many of today’s prostitutes are different. The U.S. Department of Justice has estimated more than 250,000 girls and young women at risk, while Shared Hope International, an anti-trafficking organization, estimates the average entry age for female victims of trafficking is 13.
Compared to Posie, today’s prostitutes live in a different world. Robert Kraft considers himself a man of the world. He’s not a lonely old man. He’s a guy taking advantage of captives who can’t figure an escape route, so they can run for their lives.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.