When I finished writing The Iron Collar, the 3rd Joi Sommers Mystery, my teaser at the conclusion of that book was the opening scene in Slay the Dragon. The sickening discovery of the sex-trafficked child's body gives urgency to the book from the very beginning. My intention, as I researched a very difficult topic was to synthesize the material a way that men and women who have more delicate sensibilities would feel comfortable reading. I wanted to give Detective Joi Sommers and her partner a bold topic, a complex plot and like always to depict the duo as the flawed human beings they are. My editor has assured me that I have accomplished that task, "Your theme was a tough topic to tackle. You did it well taking the time to educate the reader on the subject." However, for me, often I had to put the research down and clear my spirit, for hours, for days and even for weeks.
I live a block away from a strip of territory on the South Side of Chicago where sex work is real and flourishing. Years ago, when one of my gorgeous daughters, then a recent high school graduate, had a job at UPS, I regularly had to wake up at 1:00am to wait with her with a big walking stick to keep her safe and deter men who pulled up in their cars at the CTA bus line, requesting she service them. It was degrading to her and I thought of other girls who had to endure this kind of treatment without a fierce momma bear with a stick to run interference.
Once an avid runner, a hip joint injury ended my running and I developed a habit of walking in the very early morning, between 5:00 and 5:30 am before dressing for my job at Chase Bank. I disguised my feminine form with oversized black sweats, combat boots a hoodie and a black puffy coat. Carrying a walking stick length of black PVC pipe I walked in the coolness of the early morning. I saw my sisters getting into cars with plastic bags that I was told held Listerine mouthwash and sometimes condoms. Each time I passed I said either audibly or prayerfully, "be safe Sis." My thoughts were ignoble. I knew that there for the grace of God, go I. I was a single mother, trying to house, feed and clothe 4 of my 5 children to adult hood with little money, growing feet and a neighborhood where children were joining gangs rather than social clubs. I remember one early morning walk when one of the "regulars" approached me crying, saying that she had been raped. She asked me to call the police. I did so without judgement and waited while officers arrived. Once I saw they were treating her respectfully, I continued on my way. I pondered the thought that even if a woman is selling sex, she has a right to determine the manner and type of service she gives and she also deserves to be paid.
I still live in the same neighborhood, my children are productive adults and yet there are still women who sell themselves and are sold as human chattel. The reasons women are trafficked are as old as time and reflect the perverse appetites of people who can coerce or force women, men, girls and boys into sexual submission, into sexual slavery. The topic is difficult to stomach, but I believe that it is a topic that deserves to be discussed.
next topic - Stand guard over your children's screens