From the Cradle to the Street

Girls as Young As 11 Are Selling Themselves in New York. Stopping Them May Be Difficult, But Helping Them is Almost Impossible.

Also last year, the Queens district attorney's office created Operation Plaza Boys, a task force that monitored the movements of pimps and prostitutes in the Queens Plaza area of Long Island City, once a hot spot among young girls. In October, the operation led to the arrest of 10 suspected pimps, three of them for promoting prostitution of minors.

Those who have left the business say they have no intention of returning to it. "I learned my lesson, I sure did," says Kia. Now a ninth-grader in Brooklyn, she is concentrating on catching up on her studies. "I regret what I did. All of it. I don't want anybody to go through what I went through. The streets are not worth it. The streets are no joke."

Snow says she hasn't turned tricks since January, and she now works as a peer counselor at the girls mentoring program. It's a big change for her, because she's never held a steady job. "It's a daily struggle, and every day I want to quit and go back to where I was before," she says. "But when I think of the money and how empty it made me feel, all the struggles now are worth it. My life may have been empty before. But now, even if it's stressful, it's full."

"Snow," no longer turning tricks, says she got $80 from her first john: "Money is power. That was all I had at the time."
photo: Sylvia Plachy
"Snow," no longer turning tricks, says she got $80 from her first john: "Money is power. That was all I had at the time."

When the Voice spoke with Peaches in February, she said she didn't want to hit the streets again now that she'd found a stable foster home. She had proudly hung a calendar on her bedroom wall and was keeping track of her next appearance before a judge by crossing out the days that had passed. "I'm counting through to my next court date so that I know I did good," she said then, beaming. "Like today, I did good. Tomorrow, I'll do even better."

But one morning in late March, Peaches went to school and never came home, her foster mother says. In April, the Port Authority police called to say they had detained Peaches. Now she's locked up in a facility upstate.

Lloyd says that during the time she was missing, Peaches had written to her from Pennsylvania. In her letters, she told Lloyd of the difficulties she faced adjusting to life off the streets. "She said that she just felt misunderstood at home and that it was a big adjustment to her to have curfews. She wasn't happy at school. She didn't feel like she was fitting in," Lloyd says. "Everything in her life has pretty much gone wrong. I don't think she was ready to accept that things had settled down for her."

Peaches' foster mother says she hasn't given up hope, but she knows the girl's struggle may be far from over. For so many of New York's most unfortunate cases, the tough life of the streets seems to be the only one they know how to live.

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