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Stripping Her Life Away

By Chrystal Graham • Aug 7th, 2011 • Category: Lead Story, People

Editor’s note: This article contains subject matter and language that some readers may find offensive.

By Chrystal Graham

It was a cold winter’s night, and most people in the city were either snug in their beds or on their way home. Tameka, meanwhile, was looking for her next john, wearing nothing more than lingerie and black knee-high boots at 2:30 a.m. She was desperately trying to flag down a car in hopes that she would find a guy to help pay her rent. She charges $20 for oral, $30 for sex, and $50 for “half and half.” This is how Tameka makes her living.

She never planned this life, but as her story shows, falling into prostitution can be dangerously easy for a young woman in the city.

Choosing not to share her last name, Tameka, 24, says she began prostituting just two years ago. She used to work in retail, at Banana Republic, but the money she made was never enough — especially not for a young woman craving her independence. She had been living at home and going to college full time, but quickly grew tired of being dependent on her mom and her mom’s new boyfriend. Tameka moved out three years ago, when she was 21.

She had always dreamed of being an actor and a model, and pursued her ambitions with abandon. She went on many auditions, but auditions don’t pay, and living on her own it was difficult for Tameka to keep up the routine. She stopped going on auditions, dropped out of school, and started working full time just to keep her head above water.

She still fell behind in rent and was threatened with eviction.

One day she met an older gentleman who was interested in dating her, but the interest was not mutual. She began using him for his money just so she could pay her bills on time, and for the short amount of time they were together, Tameka started acting and modeling again. But soon it became clear to the man that he was being used, and he broke up with her. Tameka was back to square one.

She needed quick money to pay her bills, but would not let go of her dreams to act and model. Some people told her she had a great body and she should try exotic dancing.

“The guy I guess that broke me into this was Pretty Ricky,” she says now, almost three years later. “I did a nude modeling gig for him and got paid $900 for it. He was tellin’ me that I could be makin’ this kind of money and even more dancin’,” and she soon began working at strip clubs. It was faster money than any 9-5 job she could get, she says, and paid more than the retail or minimum-wage jobs she was used to having.

In love with this glamorous lifestyle, Tameka began living above her means. “I bought everything from pretty clothes to party with and hot heels to match, to puttin’ a down payment on a nice Mercedes,” she says. “So I had to pay insurance, car payments, and rent, and the money I was makin’ wasn’t really doin’ it for me. So I needed even more.”

She explains that many strippers don’t go home with all the money they make on a given night. They have to share it with the bouncer, the deejay, and everyone else working at the club during their shifts. So by the end of the night a stripper might be walking home with very little.

If you ask most girls that dance how much they make, they might say about $1,000 or $2,000 a night, she says. But according to Tameka, they aren’t being truthful. “The b*tch would be lyin’ half the time if she said some sh*t like that,” Tameka declares from experience. “She probably would mean on a good night, like if there was one guy that spent a s*itload of money on you or you were dancin’ for a bachelor party or somethin’.”

To compensate, she says strippers usually do sexual favors for the people who run the club or turn tricks on the side. Tameka, initially, would not go that route, but again, the money called. She adds that because of the strenuous length of their shifts, there is “a ton” of drug use backstage. The slope is slippery.

She would not confirm if she used any drugs, and maintains her conviction that her situation is temporary. “This ain’t somethin’ I want to do for the rest of my life,” she says. “I know one day I’m gonna be a famous actress. So I’m just doin’ what I gotta do right now. At least I’m not strugglin’ no more.”

Just before she got evicted from her apartment for a second time, she was offered to do an adult film, using an alias and a wig. She accepted and got paid $500, which was just around the amount she was short for rent that month. Before she’d ever had sex for money, Tameka says she opposed to it. But after doing it once, she says she developed a whole new perspective. “I thought by doin’ it I would be disrespectin’ myself as a woman,” she says. “But then I realized I’m makin’ money off these fools! Sex feels good anyway and I’m gettin’ paid for it, so why not?”

She says, at this point, that she would do whatever it takes to make money. After all, she’s done it all already.

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