In 2010, at age 20, after six years of engaging in sex work to survive, I was arrested and charged with pimping, pandering, and exploiting a minor who was over 16 years old. In 2012, I was convicted and sentenced to 30 years, with 14 to be served in custody, and forced to register as a sex offender. As my public defender so appropriately described it, I was depicted by the media as a sort of Guido the Killer Pimp and accused—I maintain falsely—of terrible acts befitting only a terrible person.
It’s well known that police target sex workers, criminalizing their means of survival and contributing to sex offense-related convictions and statistics. In particular, police target BIPOC and LGBTQ sex workers—especially the many disenfranchised, ostracized, and homeless teens and young people engaged in the trade for survival. These sorts of arrest patterns by law enforcement only act to control bodies, cater to the public’s hunger for spectacle, and pad conviction rates, all while furthering a general rhetoric of perversion and predation.
No one seemed interested in the facts of my case, nor in my long history of childhood sexual abuse and compulsory sex work—least of all the police and the media. I didn’t know at that time that I was fulfilling a narrative around crime and sex offenses. Nor did I know about the vicious re-incarceration cycle of the registry and potentially lifelong monetary peonage to the criminal (in)justice system.
But I do unfortunately know one thing now: Sex offender registries are debt traps that cause mass homelessness and mass incarceration. After years estranged from society and divorced from a solid employment history, the cost of rebuilding a life from rubble and debris is exorbitant (housing, furniture, vehicle, insurance, food, clothing, medications and medical expenses, etc). And that’s without factoring in registry and parole/probation-related costs.