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The oldest profession unmasked: Take a peek inside local prostitution 

Editor’s note: DJ Dalton’s name was changed to protect her anonymity.

DJ Dalton is a prostitute living in SLO County. She turned her first trick 11 years ago, and turned two tricks yesterday. She’s been arrested for prostitution on several occasions and currently advertises herself on a website called Backpage.

If you call her up and she likes what you have to say, she’ll meet you and engage in sex acts for $200 to $300 an hour. She’s a mother and grandmother, attractive and obviously intelligent. She’s also technically a criminal in constant fear of being found out by acquaintances or arrested in another law enforcement sting.

A car insurance bill triggered her first trick. She’d left her husband of many years and had been talking to men on Yahoo Chat.

click to enlarge JUST A CLICK AWAY:  Websites like Backpage facilitate prostitution all across the country and here in SLO County too. - SCREEN CAPTURE FROM BACKPAGE.COM
  • SCREEN CAPTURE FROM BACKPAGE.COM
  • JUST A CLICK AWAY: Websites like Backpage facilitate prostitution all across the country and here in SLO County too.

“I was newly single and looking to meet new guys,” Dalton explains. “One guy I met through the personals, we were talking about some of our sexual escapades and I told him a couple of stories, and he said, ‘Well, how much do you charge for that?’ And my jaw dropped to the ground and I said, ‘What are you talking about? How dare you!’ I wanted to slap him in the face for suggesting that, but I just got up and walked away.”

Then that insurance bill came due, and she didn’t have the money. She was attending college at the time, working on campus for $7.25 an hour. She was a single mother.

“I gave him a call and said, ‘Hey, you know, if you’re willing to pay me, we could do that.’ He was the only guy I saw for the first month, and he saw me once or twice a week. I definitely got my insurance bill paid from that.”

Soon Dalton was advertising her services, getting calls offering her $200 an hour.

“ … $7 an hour—$200 an hour? You know. The choice was obvious,” she says.

Did the sex feel different?

“What surprised me about it was the fact that the guys respected me more when they paid for it than when I gave it out for free. That’s what hooked me to it—because of the respect.”

Dalton became pregnant in her teens and never married her child’s father, who beat her regularly. Their long relationship was marred by constant domestic abuse. Dalton also had a long marriage to a man who “never laid a hand” on her. She remained faithfully married for many years, but that relationship also eventually ended. Before and after those two long relationships, Dalton describes herself as being “promiscuous.”

“Personally, I think [a prostitute’s lifestyle] is a sexual orientation. When you’re in junior high school and you’re coming of age, you pick out the ones that are going to be gay, you can tell which ones are teases, which ones are going to be frigid. They were calling me a whore before I was even sexually active. It’s like society pegs you,” she says.

Was this a self-fulfilling prophecy? Dalton isn’t sure. 

“I was raped when I was, like, 7 or 8 years old, and that’s when I started feeling dirty. I remember that was the first time I felt horny when the guy—a friend’s older brother—was kind of flirting with me. I felt a tingling down there. I didn’t know what it was or anything. Kids are sexual beings, they are, but it’s usually just kids with kids. It’s only a problem when the kids explore with adults,” she says.

Does she think of herself as a victim?

“I never felt like I was a victim … well, let me think about that,” she says, stopping herself. “To answer that question, yes, I do at times feel victimized, but I do feel [that] in this job, I have a lot of control to prevent [me from] being victimized.”

A pattern

SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow believes there’s a pattern in Dalton’s and other prostitutes’ stories.

“What’s interesting is she identified trauma and victimization when she was young,” Dow noted in an interview in his office alongside Assistant DA Lee Cunningham. “Almost without question, the young women who are pulled into [human trafficking] were victimized at a young age.”

Dow pointed to the recent case of Oscar Higueros Jr. and Richard Scott Brooks, who were convicted of pimping and sodomizing a 17-year-old girl in Los Osos and Cayucos. Brooks received 60 years, and Higueros’ sentence is still pending, but he’s facing life in prison.

“The evidence came in that case that she’d been molested by her grandfather at a very young age—I want to say 3, 4, 5 years old—and when she finally disclosed that victimization to her family, they essentially blamed her for his committing suicide after she disclosed it,” Dow recalled. “So not only was she victimized horribly sexually, but then the familial relationships that she should have been able to trust and come to her aid instead further victimized her and made her this broken individual who was more susceptible to her being later victimized again.”

Dow added that an expert who testified in that trial about abuse and victimization would probably see Dalton’s history similarly.

“She was already devalued based on her victimization in her youth,” Dow said. “I think if she had not been victimized [as a child] and young woman, chances are she would have had a higher degree of self-worth and would have refrained from getting into that.”

The sting

Dalton seems to fluctuate between thinking of herself as a victim and believing that she’s in control. In one moment she boasts about her instinct for discerning a good client from a bad one—she judges his voice and demeanor. In the next she laments her inability to avoid the law enforcement sting operations that have targeted her through her online Backpage advertisement.

She also believes that each time she was busted, she was purposely targeted by law enforcement. One arrest came two weeks after she called police, alleging that she’d witnessed a uniformed officer committing a felony.

“They didn’t do anything about it and two weeks later I was busted,” Dalton claims.

In another instance, she says she told a cop she knew that he should stop going to work drunk.

“You could smell it on his breath and he was slurring his words. He said, ‘How’s your “work” going, DJ?’ Two weeks later, I was busted again.”

Dow doubted that such retaliation would occur. 

“I certainly don’t think it would happen. I suppose it’s possible, but I really couldn’t comment on that because it’s pure speculation, and I certainly would never, ever, ever condone it. I hope it would never happen,” Dow said. “If it were to happen, it would be an example of someone who shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. I have no way of addressing that except saying it would be shocking to me if that happened.”

Dalton says she’s currently on “decent terms” with the police, and she also believes that after experiencing several stings she’s learned the “red flags” that signal it’s a set-up.

It’s always at a motel, in an out-of-the-way room; the adjoining room’s door has a deadbolt that’s been replaced by a wooden plug to prevent her from locking the door. She also notes there’s always a “prop” in the room—tennis rackets, a putt-putt golf game, a bike. 

“They always say they’re going to dinner first. Usually when a guy calls, he wants it then and there. It’s spur of the moment, not later on in the day. They call you when they’re ready,” she says.

The final signal, she says, is when they demand to know what they’ll get for their money.

“They always try to force you into agreeing to something. Most guys don’t ask that. They know what you’re there for and you know what you’re there for. There’re no questions. That’s how law enforcement blows it.”

Legalize it?

Does she think prostitution should be legalized?

“I don’t think private prostitution should be illegal,” Dalton admits. “They should decriminalize it. I do think it’s unfair to further victimize a victim by prosecuting her because the biggest victimization comes from the cops themselves, playing these games, the stings and stuff. They get paid to sit around and scan the ads and look at pictures of halfway naked women, and call them up. They go through every step of the process right up until you’re reaching for their fly.”

Dow made it clear that law enforcement is less concerned about someone like Dalton—a consenting adult without a pimp—and more concerned with human trafficking of underage girls. He pointed to a recent study conducted by the University of San Diego that shows the average age of entry for women being trafficked into the sex industry is 16 years old and dropping.

“We know that human trafficking networks are working our area,” Dow said. “In fact, a couple of the cases we’ve had involving minors being trafficked into our county—they were trafficked from other northern counties into Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and on into Santa Barbara, sometimes out into the valley and to Las Vegas.”

click to enlarge PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY
    DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN

There’s an ongoing case with four defendants that Dow can’t discuss, but in 2013 he had a case that the U.S. attorney in Fresno ended up prosecuting “that happened here at a motel in San Luis Obispo with two young minor victims.”

It involved two members of the Fresno Bulldog gang. The women had been tattooed with the gang members’ monikers, claiming them as their property.

“They weren’t dating them; they didn’t willingly get the tattoos. They were basically branded with a tattoo marking them as his property. This here,” Dow explained as he pointed to a photo of another victim’s tattoo from a different study on prostitution, “says, ‘I,’ then her name, ‘am the property of Sugga Shaft. All those who come in contact with me are in debt to him.’”

Another photo showed a trafficked woman tattooed with a barcode. This is the real problem with prostitution, and it deeply involves criminal street gangs.

“The gangs have realized now that it’s so much more lucrative than drugs,” Assistant DA Cunningham added. “Though prostitution and human trafficking carries risks with it, the financial return compared with the risks, it’s more lucrative for the gangs.”

Dalton agrees that this type of prostitution is terrible: “Young girls, if they’re under 18, then they’re totally victims. You can’t have sex with an adult when you’re a child and not be a victim. I think pimping should be illegal. I don’t think anyone should ever be able to make money off of exploiting you. Pandering should be illegal.”

The problem with all prostitution is it creates a demand for underage women, according to both Dow and Cunningham. In addition, some women who become prostitutes become traffickers themselves.

Dalton has had women ask her how to get into the life, but she refuses.

“My advice is stay away from it,” she says. “Never under any circumstances do this. I’m not going to help anybody because it’s something you have to have a strong commitment to doing before you can do it in a healthy way … if there is such a thing as a healthy way.”

The danger zone

It’s also an extremely dangerous business. Dow also mentioned the case of Gregory Arthur Erwin of Santa Maria, who in 2013 was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery, rape, making terrorist threats, false imprisonment, assault with a deadly weapon, and burglary after on two separate occasions he arranged liaisons with prostitutes via the Internet only to rape and rob them.

“That’s another case that shows we’re prosecuting the offenders,” Dow pointed out. “In that case, it was violent crimes with a gun, but against two women who self-identified as prostitutes. One of them did say she was pulled into it as a juvenile by a male pimp who she thought was her boyfriend. The other one never admitted that so I don’t know whether she was over 18 [when she started]. I still believe there’s something in her past like we talked about, but we didn’t charge them with prostitution. We saw them as the victims of violent crimes, and yes, they put themselves in a situation that ultimately led to them being victimized, but they didn’t deserve that.”

As for Dalton, she says she’s never been a victim of violence from a client, but she vacillates between wanting in or out of the prostitution racket.

“There are times when I think, ‘Maybe that’s just how I like my sex?’ Multiple partners.”

She has a lot of repeat customers, many regulars she sees weekly or monthly. About 25 percent of her business, however, is strangers who reply to her ad.

“Those are the scary ones, but they’re also the exciting ones,” she says. “You get your adrenaline flowing. I think that’s part of the allure, and that’s part of the orientation too—sex with multiple partners and you want money for it, too.” 

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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