Of “Talent Scouts,” “Hunt Clubs” and Predatory Men

Since 2009, when the bodies of eleven women–many of whom worked as prostitutes–were found in a mass grave on the west side of Albuquerque, I’ve been researching and reporting on those still-unsolved murders. So as news of a prostitution ring here in New Mexico broke last week, I couldn’t stop reading about the investigation–and wondering about the 200 women reported to have been drawn into the ring.

On Wednesday of last week, the Albuquerque Police Department arrested the former president of the University of New Mexico for involvement in an online prostitute site called “Southwest Companions.” F. Chris Garcia, a 71-year-old Albuquerque resident, author and professor emeritus, had been interim president of the university in 2002-2003.

According to a post at Albuquerque’s alternative weekly, The Alibi:

[Lt. William] Roseman said at a news conference today that Garcia was a moderator on the site, along with six other men. There were levels of involvement for new customers, he said, starting with a probationary, moving to “verified” and then to “trusted.” In order to leave the probationary phase, men would have to have sex with a prostitute, he said, and then the prostitute would send an email describing the act and fee to the moderator. …

The organization also included a seven-man hunt club, a group dedicated to finding new prostitutes in nearby cities, Roseman said. New Mexico’s 2008 human trafficking law may come into play, he added.

Roseman said it’s unclear whether Garcia made much money moderating Southwest Companions. In the days preceding his arrest, Garcia was attempting to pull down his posts and delete all connection to the site, said Police Chief Ray Schultz.

Wait, what was that? A seven-man hunt club?

According to another story, in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Garcia was known by the username “BurquePops”:

According to an arrest affidavit, a confidential informant told police that the role of ‘BurquePops’ was ‘to locate females outside of the ones already posted on the website for the acts of prostitution,’ and that he had gotten ‘about 20 females’ to join Southwest Companions for acts of prostitution.

(As an aside, the New Mexican‘s headline for the story is inappropriate, to say the least. “Hooker scandal snares UNM ex-president”? How about “UNM ex-president accused of snaring and exploiting women”? Too many words, I know.)

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the slant of the coverage. Publicly, people often view prostitution with disgust or derision. (Or just plain ignorance, believing that “loose,” sex-crazed women are out on street corners tempting hapless men.) Meanwhile, the news media has a tendency to treat it like a joke–using words like hooker or call girl and ignoring the fact that many prostitutes are drug-addicted women trapped within a cycle of poverty, abuse and despair.

In the course of reporting the West Mesa murders, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about how some of Albuquerque’s women actually become involved in prostitution–and how vulnerable they can then become to violence.

During a 2010 interview, founder Lisa Simpson of Crossroads for Women–a nonprofit that offers housing along with counseling, life-skills classes, group therapy, vocational services and family services for women who have been incarcerated–explained to me the connection between homelessness and prostitution among her clients. The women Crossroads serves are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse, have mental illness and addiction issues and most have been victims of domestic violence. It’s hard for them to escape their homelessness, and abusers and criminals prey on them. Many then turn to prostitution.

“The women that we’re working with generally are engaged in prostitution either to feed their addiction or for a roof over their head,” Simpson told me. Once women maintain their sobriety and can support themselves financially, they no longer resort to prostitution: “It wasn’t really a career choice, you know?”

So while some news stories have referred to Garcia as a “talent scout,” [PDF] let’s just dispense with the euphemisms. Those accused are innocent until proven guilty, but anyone actively seeking to bring new women into a life of prostitution is more likely to be a predator exploiting desperate women than a scout “discovering” talent.

When The New York Times reported on the situation, they quoted Lt. Roseman as saying “This was about sex,” because the clients had “too much to lose” to go looking for street prostitutes. “They needed a safe place where they could go to do this,” said Roseman.

And that’s the clincher for me. Men needed a safe place to exploit women? What about the safety of those women?

The serial killing of prostitutes is well-known in the United States.There have been clusters in New York; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Lawton, Oklahoma–just to mention a few spots–and of course right here in Albuquerque.

But it’s not just murder, either. In 2004, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study of mortality rates in women in prostitution in Colorado Springs. And the results weren’t pretty.

As the excitement surrounding the arrests inevitably dies down, some stark realities deserve everyone’s attention: Some 200 women had been desperate enough to be recruited into a prostitution ring. And some 1,400 male “clients’ in New Mexico willingly played a part in that.

Comments

  1. Excellent – and you are so right when you say, “the women are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse, have mental illness and addiction issues and most have been victims of domestic violence. It’s hard for them to escape their homelessness, and abusers and criminals prey on them. Many then turn to prostitution.” We need to look at the predators in these situations, and it is not the women who are providing the service out luring hapless men, it’s the monsters like Garcia.

  2. Christine Heinrichs says:

    Let me get this clear: these men, including at least one prominent community leader and educator, used the internet to create a way for them to exploit women sexually while maintaining their stature as pillars of the community. Thanks for bringing your perspective to these crimes, Laura. How much else is going on?

  3. Violence and sexual exploitation of women is deeply embedded in our society, as evidenced by the language/euphemisms used to report this and other news stories on prostitution. At the core here is America’s warped Puritan backbone belief that women are sluts who tempt men. The other half of the equation is the growing objectification of women as sex objects that are required to service men’s all-important, uncontrollable sexual desires–and the backslapping attitude that men’s sexual conquests are to be lauded/admired.

    Thank you for putting this story–and attitudes about prostitution, the men that feed this industry and Garcia’s role here–in proper perspective.

  4. I’m sorely disappointed at how blatantly this article misses the mark. The way the author categorizes every party so dichotomously – there are either stupid, confused women or conniving, scheming men – I find infantilizing and insulting. Even when it was pointed out that other factors, notably economic agency and a lack of access to adequate services, led to the decision to house and feed oneself through sex work, the author seeks to further marginalize sex workers by painting them as confused, nameless victims who were tricked into something outside their understanding. And in possibly the most egregious error of the: the author apparently did not do enough research to realize the difference between street-based and internet/indoor-based prostitution. Why else would there be a quote from someone who works with an entirely different population? Well, unless you don’t know the different, that is.

    It sounds like the site that they were running screened clients – possibly the most important factor to make sure sex workers stay safe in the industry – and searched other advertising sites for new members. If an article really does call for increased safety for sex workers, it’s inappropriate and reckless to then criticize those safety mechanisms. If this author wants to write about prostitution with so much authority, it might help to interview someone who understands the industry. Without acknowledging that sex workers have a voice, agency, and an interest in commenting on their own profession, it simply leads to further marginalization and invisibility.

  5. All of the sex workers were consenting adults. There is no evidence that the men who paid them did them any harm. The men had to be careful and covert for the same reason gays had to be careful back in the 1950s. They were persecuted because of sex with consenting adults.

    If it is true that some of the sex workers had histories of abuse, that fact is irrelevant to the sex work, because it happened before the women became sex workers. The sex work did not cause that abuse. I once heard a rape victim say that she chose sex work because with sex work she had total control, the antithesis of rape. If you are saying sex work is bad because some of the people who do it were victims of abuse, then anything that abuse victims do is bad. If abuse victims get psychotherapy, are we going to outlaw psychotherapy?

    How many scarce resources did law enforcement waste investigating these consenting adults? Think of all the violent crimes they could have solved, or prevented, with those resources.

  6. Allow me to say, because I am a NM escort and know SWC, that this article has got most of it Wrong. Garcia did not recruit women into the business, he only brought women who were already in the biz in other states, into New Mexico to see a closed group of clients. Zero exploitation was happening.

    For the most part, SWC served as a message board. It did have ‘alerts’ as to vice stings and also problem clients. No one, not the owner of the site or anyone else took money or favors, not even for advertising, it was completely free of charge.

    There is a huge difference in levels of sex work. It’s not some dirty thing as is painted here in the big picture. Women would be shocked at how many of their husbands are seeing some type of sex worker, whether it be a massage with Happy ending to a Full service Girl friend Experience or a Dominatrix. The demand is high, so naturally, supply is high as well. Most of us are college educated, have families even. It astounds that someone like this author who claims to know so much, really knows so little.

    SWC was a safety net. It served the community on the high end of the industry and was not some kind of pimping ring. The media destroyed many peoples lives through this circus they call justice.

    The punishment surely did not fit the crime, and no one has been charged with anything yet. It was all about the political aspirations of a few.

    • F. Chris Garcia says:

      Thank you, “Nobody.” As you wrote, this article has many, many falsities, mistakes and errors in it.
      However, people with closed minds pay no attention to facts.
      By the way, the New Mexico Supreme Court, on February 6th, 2013, affirmed the ruling of the NM District court that no crime was committed.

  7. As a woman who was prostituted for ten years I am very grateful for this article.

    A group of us trafficking/prostitution survivors have joined together to form a leaderless international online network for survivors of trafficking/prostitution. Joining our voices makes it easier for us to speak the truth about prostitution and makes us harder to ignore. Women in prostitution experience the same levels of trauma as the victims of state-sponsored torture. In other words — prostitution causes the same effects as torture.

    http://www.survivorsconnect.groupsite.com
    http://www.stellamarrundercovercallgirl.wordpress.com

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