At the ripe old age of 23, Keeki has seen it all.
The whole seedy underside of the world of prostitution. For more than 10 years, Keeki (her
street name) has sold herself as a streetwalker. She has sold sex over the telephone, and
she is now "for sale" at a brothel, hiding in back rooms and basements in
She has been robbed, raped, beaten and busted yet
she is really not interested in seeking out a different profession.
Keeki has been arrested for prostitution and related
offenses more than 90 times in the past 10 years. So often, in fact, that she has lost
"Id say that 80 or 90 times is about
right," she said. "Who can remember?"
She likes working in a brothel. "Its more
protected," she said. "I dont touch the money (except for her
"salary"). Im not walking the streets at 2 or 3 a.m. in some dark, empty
neighborhood, and theres less chance that Im going to get a black eye, or get
beat out of my money by some jerk in a fancy car."
Keeki walked the streets of Flushing, Elmhurst, Jackson
Heights and Long Island City from the time she left home in late 1987 until she "went
indoors" to a sex-by-phone service in 1993. That job, though more comfortable,
didnt last, she said. Too much pressure and too many "weirdos" where she
cops load mattresses seized from brothels onto a Police Department truck for disposal.
Keeki ended up in a brothel after she agreed to let
an "organizer" pay her bail following a 1995 arrest. She was picked up by Queens
Vice cops for prostitution and held in jail after her record came back with an outstanding
warrant for a prior robbery/assault conviction.
"I had to book from the island (Rikers Island),"
she said. "Cant make no money in that place. There you give it away just to
survive," she added.
Keeki agreed to work off the charge by working in a
brothel. "It took some time to get used to," she said. "But now its
not that bad."
Keeki said she has learned a great deal more than
she expected about the men who seek out women in brothels. "Its a lot
different than on the street," she said.
She has learned that many of her "customers" are
not driven so much by sex, but by a lust for companionship a warped need to belong.
"A lot of these guys want to talk," she said.
"They talk about their wives and children back home, about what they did last weekend
and about work." Sex is definitely on the menu, she said. But first, the men often
try to establish a bond.
"I guess that makes them feel less lonely, and like
theyre not doing anything wrong," she said.
Queens Vice cops round up prostitutes taken
from a brothel and wait for the bus that will take them to the precinct for arrest
Keeki dresses the part each evening, usually in cheap
lace or spandex. She then enters a large room where she may be one of six or more
prostitutes who sit in a circle on chairs positioned around the perimeter of the room.
The men, who range in age from 16 to 60, come from a wide
range of backgrounds, she said. There are no racial or social barriers among these
purveyors of the flesh.
"Theyre white, black, Hispanic," she said.
"Some are well dressed and some are dressed like pigs."
To most of the men, their marital status doesnt enter
into their decision to pay for sex, she said. Of the dozens of men who walk through the
door each night, only "one or two" seem to feel a twinge of conscience. They say
they really should just go home to their wives and kids.
"Of course, there are always one or two men who make
flesh crawl," Keeki said. She described them as "creeps" or "big
"They come in flashing gold and wearing expensive
clothes," she said. "They always offer extra cash to girls who are willing to go
for something different once they get us alone.
"Some girls take it, some dont. I tell them to
get the hell out," she said. "Theyre the ones who beat you."
Each night the lights are dimmed and rock or Spanish music
plays softly in the background. The men walk around the room maybe two or three
times "checking us out. Then they walk over and reach out for one of us, and
we take them into a back room," Keeki said.
"Its kind of like a supermarket it can be
a real kick to see who they pick."
The rooms are scantily furnished, most containing a twin
bed (with or without sheets), a small nightstand filled with accessories body oils,
lotions, massage cream and, in some instances "toys." The men are supposed to
use a condom (a $1 charge is added to the price of the girls services for the
prophylactic). But some men just refuse to use them.
"Its not worth arguing over," Keeki said.
"Just get in and get out is what I say. Everything is a risk."
Money earned at the brothels isnt bad, Keeki said.
The girls get only a small percentage of the payments made by their customers, but they
are given "not bad" room and board. Theyre relatively free to leave.
Except, of course, for the girls who are working off some sort of "bondage" owed
to the house.
Keeki said she has never come across a girl who has a very
high price tag to pay the house. For the most part the girls who have a debt come to the
house owing only a few hundred dollars, she said. They choose to stay because their living
conditions are okay, and they realize they are better off in a house than walking the
"If you leave the house, where else do you go but back
to the street?" she asked.
In addition to the personal safety the houses offer, the
girls stay because they feel they stand a better chance of avoiding arrest than if they
were on the street.
"It takes longer for the police to find us,"
Keeki said. "And even then, they need paperwork to get in."
What Are They Doing, Where And How Much?
Communities impacted by the plague of prostitution feel the
sting of related criminal activities and a diminished quality of life. They feel it in
many, often unspoken ways:
Take the Queens apartment dweller whose children run
to the door when their bell rings.
How do you explain to your kids what the man meant when he
asked for the whores that he meant the folks in an adjacent apartment, not yours.
And what about the youngster who went outside the
familys private home one morning to wait for his errant parents (late again) to take
him to school.
Imagine the parents horror when the six-year-old ran
into the house holding a "balloon" he found on the street outside. The child was
holding a discarded condom. Panic turned to rage as doctors told the parents their child
would have to be tested for HIV/AIDS for at least 11 years.
These are just two examples of how prostitution impacts on
Prostitutes no longer ply their trade in dark alleys
theyve taken over our streets, causing traffic jams and invading spaces too close to
Theyre brazen, like the young woman who sold herself
from a fire hydrant on one of Queens busiest thoroughfares. Their customers come in
all shapes, sizes and colors with and without a bankroll. One determined john
pedaled his way to a prostitute riding a bicycle.
Flushing is home to mostly Asian-run brothels (massage
parlors), offering time with girls who are working off huge debts they incurred traveling
to the United States. Streetwalkers frequent Prince Street in Flushing where they are
protected by "enforcers."
Asian pimps and madams run most of the "massage
parlors" in Woodside, authorities said. And youll find a number of hookers in
brothels in Glen Oaks, Woodside, Sunnyside and Jamaica.
Roosevelt Avenue was a prostitution playground until a
special team of cops and prosecutors shut down most of the brothels on the strip. Jackson
Heights and Corona offer a change of pace transvestite hookers.
Maspeth and Astoria share hookers who frequent streets,
then take clients to nearby motels. And Long Island City is plagued by streetwalkers. The
industrial part of the area hosts two separate "offerings."
Prostitutes on the north side of the Queensboro Bridge
openly flaunt their bodies, naked or almost naked in dead of winter or heat of summer.
These are women of independent means, unencumbered by pimps.
The south side of the bridge is a different world.
There is a mix of streetwalkers with pimps and brothels
here, and drugs are readily available along with sex.
If youre going to get yourself killed patronizing a
prostitute, this is where it will likely happen, sources said.
The going rate for sex with a streetwalker in Queens is:
$10 for oral sex; $15 for intercourse; $25 for oral sex and intercourse (patrons must buy
a condom for $1). Total: $26. Prices may vary with independent prostitutes.
Time in a brothel can cost between $40/hour to $80/hour,
depending on what you want. Some houses and girls who utilize motels charge from $200 to
$800 for one visit money most of the girls will never see.