I got email this morning from a reader who had just finished Doc and who was kind enough to take the time to tell me how he reacted to the book.
“I have been a police officer in Wichita, KS for 24 years,” he wrote, “and know a little of the politics and day-to-day grind that takes its toll on the men and women in that job field. I think you hit the nail on the head portraying Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil and Bat in that light. We also, still, deal with a bad prostitution problem that shows so well in your portrayal of some characters in the book. Seems not much has changed in 130 years.”
I have written about prostitution and very young women who’ve done time on the street in several of my novels. There’s Sofia Mendes in The Sparrow, Maria Avoni in A Thread of Grace, and Kate Harony in Doc, for example. A psychiatrist might have a more baroque explanation for why this theme shows up in my work, but absent extensive psychoanalysis, I would say that it’s simply my recognition that in many times and in many places, prostitution is the only way a young woman on her own can make a living.
In yesterday’s edition of Cleveland Plain Dealer, there was an article with the arresting headline “Nuns set to blitz sex traffickers who exploit the Super Bowl.” That certainly snapped my bleary eyes open first thing in the morning, and I hope you’ll take time to read it as well.
A coalition of nuns and their supporters are putting public pressure on hotel chains that profit from the sex industry. Because of the nuns’ influence, Hilton Worldwide, Wyndham Worldwide, Millennium Hotel (in St. Louis), and the Carlson companies (which include Radisson Hotels and Country Inns and Suites) now train their employees to recognize signs of trafficking on their premises; to document and report suspected criminal activities; and to make anti-trafficking information available to “guests,” who might be looking for a way out of the life.
Sex trafficking devastates its victims, who are mostly very young women and children subjected to gross human rights violations, including rape, torture, forced abortions, starvation and threats against their families if they go to the police. Many of the girls working at the Super Bowl will have been imported from foreign countries, some duped with promises of good jobs in the United States, others kidnapped or purchased outright. And some will be runaways from American families, many of whom have been subject to incest before they began working for pay on the streetcorner. As the nuns’ coalition states, “We unequivocally affirm the dignity of every human being — including victim-prostitutes, who rarely evoke much sympathy.”
John Henry Holliday speaks for me as well when he says, “They break my heart, these girls…” If you have reason to suspect that someone is being trafficked, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Cleveland can help you to help. Get in touch with them, and they’ll tell you what to do next.