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Debby is tall and blonde and hardened well beyond her 18 years. Tonight she is working Harbor Boulevard, an Orange County hangout for prostitutes and pimps and the small-time punks who peddle their crack and heroin, and tomorrow maybe it will be Sunset Boulevard or San Diego or somewhere else. Debby is a prostitute. The strips look the same after a while, wide avenues melting into an after-hours sea of neon dotted with motels, all-night coffee shops, adult bookstores and seedy bars. And there is.
Lots of guys in business suits and nice cars. Not too long ago it was just another congested commercial thoroughfare slicing through the heart of Orange County from Costa Mesa north to La Habra--a bit tacky but always vibrant, always busy.
Some of the best of Orange County is represented here--Disneyland, the Anaheim Convention Center and the luxury hotels that surround them--but also some of the worst. Drug deals on some parts of Harbor are rampant, cheap motels cater to transients and pimps, and in recent years the boulevard has become a regular and lucrative stop on the national circuit of professional prostitutes.
The prostitution problem has become so serious that the FBI is creating a regional task force to target pimps in Orange County. An FBI spokesman in Los Angeles said the investigation would focus on the groups of women and their pimps who approach their trade like a traveling salesman: one week they are in Portland, Ore. The operation is basically going to be aimed at the pimps and not the prostitutes themselves, the spokesman said. The city of Santa Ana tried to go after prostitutes by declaring them a public nuisance and then barring them from the streets.
A Superior Court judge rejected the plan. A delicate gold chain with a single pearl is draped around her neck and a small black purse is swung over her shoulder. In it is a list of names and telephone s, some cash and a knife. She has been working Harbor for about 3 months. There is a hardness in her voice, a tone that says she has been through this before, but she seems vulnerable too, and just a bit scared. Sure, it can be scary. I pick my dates pretty good. I look for white guys usually, in business suits. All the girls on the street, she says, make sure their customers use condoms.
What does scare her are the occasional dates that turn violent and ugly. She related one incident:. He scared me, really bad. He went crazy, all this yelling and everything. He wanted my money. I had to jump out of the car while it was moving. Scuffed up my knees and legs real bad. On a busy night, women like Debby--some of them children, really--can be found on the street corners of Harbor Boulevard flagging down cars and soliciting business. It is not uncommon for groups of 20 to 30 prostitutes to gather on one corner, at 5th Street or Westminster or Hazard avenues, and boisterously yell at passing cars.
When a police car approaches, they fade out of the lights and into the shadows, some of them seeking the shelter of a hour coffee shop or restaurant. And when the police leave they return, some of them so bold as to al passing motorists by raising their skirts or their blouses. Just 3 weeks ago, police said, there were so many prostitutes at the corner of Westminster and Harbor that their presence created traffic jams as curious motorists slowed for a closer view of the spectacle of so many in one place.
Like Debby, most of the circuit girls are young. A few have been found to be as young as 12, but most are in their teens or early 20s. Debby searches for the words to explain what brought her here, why she has chosen to risk so much for what clearly seems so degrading and dangerous a profession. William Scheer is cruising Harbor in an unmarked white Chrysler with his partner, Cpl. Kevin Brown, a muscular ex-Marine. You have people getting killed. Scheer, 44, is a tall man with a shock of Irish-red hair and a gentle manner.
He has been a cop for 16 years, 5 of them with the vice squad. He has dealt with more prostitutes and drug addicts and fast-talking con men than he wants to remember, and he has been around long enough to remember a time when it was rare to see streetwalkers on Harbor. They wanted to present a good face to the world. So what happened? A lot of them came down here. They came to Harbor and Beach Boulevard and found that business was good. The prostitutes returned in force. Authorities say one of the most popular current circuits includes Tacoma, Wash.
If police launch a crackdown in one city, the pimps move their operations to another. But they are never gone for long. The money is just too good. Perhaps, Scheer said, it was destined that Orange County would make the circuit. The same factors that have put other areas on the map--wealth, a steady influx of tourists and business travelers, a well-lighted thoroughfare busy at all hours--are here as well.
And there is an added attraction to Orange County. Scheer said pimps prefer Santa Ana and Garden Grove, as well as parts of Beach Boulevard in Stanton, because they know that when their women are arrested, they are likely to be released within a few hours because there is no room at the Orange County Jail. Brown spots a rusty Ford with two people in the front seat behind a motel known as a hangout for prostitutes.
She was simply hitching a ride down Harbor. Julianne is 34 but could easily pass for She is wearing blue jeans, a dark sweater and dirty tennis shoes, and she is flying high from a recent injection of drugs. As she talks in a rapid-fire stream of jumbled thoughts and half-truths, she gestures wildly with her hands, alternately laughing and pleading and crying.
Scheer has heard this story before a thousand times. I swear. Straighten up my life. I mean, man, I was a manager in a restaurant once! Scheer tries to calm her, talking to her in soothing monotones, asking her questions, getting the same old answers. You mean how long? Oh, 15 years. I just need a little help, you know. If I got a little help, man, I could go straight. You know? They keep shooting the drug up their veins and going to bed with anyone who comes along until they die of an overdose or AIDS or end up in jail.
Now older and tired and increasingly unable to compete with the younger circuit girls, she says she has resorted to stealing to maintain her habit. Julianne rolls up the sweater over the other arm to the elbow. It is covered with small green heroin tracks, dozens of them, the result of more than a decade of abuse. Debby sits awkwardly in a metal chair at the Santa Ana police substation at the corner of Harbor and 1st Street. She voluntarily agreed to come here so Scheer and Brown can check the records to see if she has had any prior convictions for prostitution.
She is the only woman here this night. Sometimes, when the circuit girls are out in force, it is not uncommon for this small office to be packed with 30 or 40 prostitutes being photographed and fingerprinted. Debby is nervous, and when she answers questions her eyes rarely leave the floor.
There is a story about an aunt in Anaheim, but that proves to be a lie. She is really staying at a local motel, and she produces a key from her right shoe to prove it. Finally Debby begins to talk about her family. She says she is a high school graduate and that one day, perhaps, there is college in her future. If I get the money. Her mood begins to change as she realizes she is about to walk out the door. She smiles for the first time. Debby pulls up her sleeves.Looking for hookers Boulevard California
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Harbor Blvd. Now Part of Prostitutes’ National Map