Gangs Contributing To Rise In Prostitution
County supervisors are calling for tougher penalties for human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation as new details emerge about the impact street gangs are having on teenage prostitution in San Diego. We speak to Ana Tintocalis about her reports on the connection between gangs and prostitution. We also discuss what local law enforcement officials are doing to crack down on gangs who prey on teenage girls.
Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News Reporter.
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you are listening to These Days on KPBS. Street kings in San Diego are big business. Their most lucrative endeavor is selling drugs, but a close second is selling women. Law-enforcement officials say local banks are now heavily involved in prostitution is a gross as commodities that can be sold over and over again. KPBS reporter and Ana Tintocalias says this is one of the most disturbing chapters of her series of San Diego gang stories and good morning.
ANA TINTOCALIS: Thank you and good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now is prostitution a crime that fits easily into gang life?
ANA TINTOCALIS: It really is. gangs make money through illegal criminal enterprises. They always have. And I think prostitution and pimping has always been in the mix, just not this extreme and as blatant as it is right now. And so gang members are all about making a quick buck and that's exactly what prostitution is. However, with selling drugs or selling weapons executing members who run the risk of getting caught. They are the ones who get punished and sent away. With prostitution, they are removed from it all. The girls are making the money and money is going into the kinks. But the gang members themselves are distanced. So they are making the money and they are doing it through these girls and in that they are able to fund their other criminal activity so it really is kind of the perfect marriage.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now as you said we've heard about pimps making money by selling drugs and prostitution is a little bit new at our conception of local street gangs. How do gang members of this criminal trade.
ANA TINTOCALIS: It's really kind of the second disturbing part of this that gangs thrive off of the control that they have of these women. And so, they share their secrets with one another. What I was talking to San Diego police and other folks about this you know the pimping lifestyle really is glamorized in our pop-culture society. There's numerous, pimp my ride, the TV show, you got that, you have a multiple numbers of shows about it. You have thousands of songs so it's also kind of a recruitment tool one of the deputy district attorneys that I talk to who is really aggressively prosecuting the skate pants, her name is Gretchen Means, she talked a little bit about how they share their knowledge.
GRETCHEN MEANS (RECORDING): You are not born with the knowledge of how to pimp like you are not born with the knowledge of how to sell drugs. Someone has to teach you. We found a lot of resources and letters to and from gang members to other team members when they are in custody or in prison and they are telling each other how to pimp. They are spelling out their game. They are mentoring each other. It's just been a really powerful tool for thinking in that it fits the pimping lifestyle fits really well into the gang structure. In terms of tomatoes and power and control and intimidation. The same tricks that the abuses over a prostitute are the same things that he does out with the neighborhood and with other people.
ANA TINTOCALIS: And it's also, again this fits into the lifestyle and it makes sense to gang pimps, because again when you're dealing drugs you have that physical transaction. You might have to go to a drug aspirin with smuggling weapons you might have to go to a point at the point of entry where you do that. The only connection a gang has to a prostitute as a cell phone. And they just get away with a lot easier.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how much money do street gangs make from prostitution.
ANA TINTOCALIS: I mean that's the other huge draw is that the Spencer may keep the money. I was told by San Diego police that one prostitute can make between $502,000 a night. That's on the streets. When these girls get posted online, which gang members to the person posts the girls online make it even more money so typical pimp has about 125 girls. So that pimp is putting out two girls tonight, that's $30,000 a month. And that's, in the girls don't see a dime of that money. That's what Gretchen means who we just heard from said, the girls don't see a dime of that money. The money goes and gets funneled through the gangs to pay for drug sales. And weapons. Another kind of human trafficking kind of businesses. So pimping and prostitution has become a huge pipe financial pillars for these groups and in fact you know, it's not just, this business is not just kind of isolated here in San Diego. These gang members take their girls outside of the city and the traffic them around all over Southern California to Santa Ana, to Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, there is huge, they call them circuits and a ticket even outside of the state. Chicago, Texas, Georgia the girls were taken out of the element because the pins don't want the girls to get to comfortable on alcohol bill for national city Boulevard. They want to keep them on their toes they don't want them to form relationships with anyone. So they will take them out and force them to have sex with other men in other states and they will bring them back but that again is super lucrative for the gay members.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with KPBS reporter Anna Tintocalis and talking about the latest installment of her series gang stories about pimping and the local gangs here and the very lucrative business of prostitution. And how are young girls lured into this life?
ANA TINTOCALIS: It's a really, it's fascinating but it's also really sad psychology. It's really like a domestic violence type of situation. But gang members are really adept at picking out vulnerable women. Many of these women have been sexually abused in the past. They may have never had a father figure, they come from broken homes, they would have mental, psychological issues and gangs prey on them and they became difference between these two camps, there is the fitness band and the gorilla pimp. The dispute is someone who makes you fall in love with him he will buy you things and take it to restaurants you will take you around in his car, he will get to know your family and slowly but surely this relationship forms but then it takes a turn for the worse and that this person is putting this grill out on the streets. And you know I've been told by these girls these pimps were my world, they were my everything. I would do anything for them. The Gorilla primp is worth the extreme and it's actually quite scary where they resolutely can grab a woman, a girl from the street they will rape her, they will isolate her from all her friends and family and she is forced out on the street and she's told that if she tries to leave, all of that will happen again in these and other gang members will join in on this kind of sexual assault so the girls are completely inferior, but for the gorilla pimps and the fitness pimps it doesn't matter it's all about making money, they don't care what kind of damage they have on these young people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you spoke with one of the girls I think you call her Elena.
ANA TINTOCALIS: Yes and I can't turn him disclose because she was coming forward and hurricane pimp is now behind bars but will be released shortly. But Elena she was then asked by this man who was a K member, she knew he was a gang member, but she fell in love with him. In this episode, in this clip that I brought it just demonstrates the risks that these girls take for these gang pimps and she references the couple met in this clip. The first one is a John who she met who became clear that he was going to rob and when she would not give up the money he began to sexually assault her and you know, through, after the ordeal she went back to her pimp to say this, you don't want to go back on the street and the pimp did not care so this is her story.
RECORDED INTERVIEWEE: I have money but I was more afraid of going back to my pimp and telling him I got robbed than actually getting stabbed. It's like ridiculous, but I was more afraid of that, so I told him like I don't have anything, I don't have anything in ages and face down, put your face down I literally thought I was going to get killed there. I told him I had a daughter, had to go home. Finally somebody came by, I managed to open the door and the first thing I do is call him, and he's like so, did you get any money? Go back. Keep working. I'm terrified I'm like no I don't want to do it and he said yeah you have to keep doing.
ANA TINTOCALIS: And that's just one episode. This happens day in and day out with these girls on the street.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line. Anne is calling from city Heights good morning and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you Maureen. Why does everybody always focus on the girls and not the Johns, to understand that men are so twisted that we have such a huge market in sex. Can somebody explain that to me and why we don't focus more there?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I don't know if we can explain it to you but we can tell you what kind of focus law enforcement is giving to the other side of the question.
ANA TINTOCALIS: Yeah, I made law-enforcement really has come and it's been a shift for local law enforcement and that they are not after prostitutes. Thereafter pimps. And what I've been told by police is that it's harder to capture the John's and it is harder to actually physically go out and capture Ito, a prostitute with a John maniac. And so, but the real source is the spams were putting the girls out there. So their whole attack strategy is around the spams now. And some prosecutors are actually, and San Diego is leading the way in this. They're actually throwing the book at gang members for pimping and that's never happened before. Is they've tacked on extra prison time is ticking member has done a drive-by shooting or robbery or beat down of someone else. Now that is attached to pimping and it makes it a felony under California's three strikes rule. So they are really aggressively pushing this and other states are taking notice because it's all about attacking to get members, the gang pimps.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the very interesting parts of the story as we often think of gangs as being territorial but apparently when it comes to making money through prostitution they can look the other way and find some neutral ground for this activity to take place.
ANA TINTOCALIS: There are certain pockets in San Diego County were prostitution takes place in the most common is El Cajon Boulevard which is known as the blade, by gang members and National City Blvd. that's where you see a lot of stuff taking place and normally rival gang members if they are coming in contact with another gang member there's going to be a problem but on these what they call circuits as well, it's neutral ground and gang members can interact if you are a blood if you are a crypt, it doesn't matter, on the streets where you are prostituting girls it's neutral territory and Gretchen Means, she is deputy district attorney, she speaks to that.
GRETCHEN MEANS (RECORDING): You don't see gangs fighting for turf up on the blade in El Cajon Blvd. or national city it's all about the money. And that's the one central source of water spigot that everyone can drink from. You do see pimps fighting because women are resources so they will fight over girls if they think a girl is threatening to leave him and get in the pocket of another pimp that will cause violence and fighting but the blade is neutral territory and they really work together because it's all about the book.
ANA TINTOCALIS: And again another disturbing thing that's emerging rethinking pimps are physically branding their prostitutes, they are girls and their tattoos I've seen them on the chests of these young women with like 2 inch lettering of the pimps name, sometimes it's on the back and it's a form of branding. It's a form of the pimp saying this is my prostitute, you cannot take her. She will be out of pocket for another pimp and girls are trained that they can't look at another pimp they can't even look at another man. They have to keep their heads down when they are working the street and not just speaks to the utter demoralization. These women are totally broken both inhumanity and spirit and they are in fear of their lives and so they are kind of, they are broken, they don't feel like they could get out so they just do it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The situation has gotten so bad that I guess one can say the County supervisors are now looking into this issue. What do they think they can do?
ANA TINTOCALIS: It all comes down to getting prosecutors and officers more legal tools for going after this and I were kind of stealth way, whether it be wiretaps or something like that. Right now it's kind of done piecemeal. You know you arrest a prostitute, you try to find out how the pimp is involved, while the Board of Supervisors has voted to give the whole effort more strings. That, yes we can go after this a little bit more aggressively and that we needed full-time task force looking at this issue and loogang to gain involvement. And so that is moving forward and as I mentioned San Diego is getting a lot of attention, other states are calling this deputy district attorney that I mentioned a Christian means to try to find out how can we do this because pimping is everywhere and the girls are getting younger. The average age now is 12 years old and it's just, it's reached a critical mass with gangs.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know this story actually became very disturbing for you because this is a side of San Diego, side of life that a lot of us don't know very well and don't see very often.
ANA TINTOCALIS: Yeah and I mean, in sitting down with Elena who is a former prostitute who is now trying to distance herself police are protecting herself she has a restraining order against her gang pimp, the stories that she told me were so gratuitous and hard to believe and hard to...
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Graphic
ANA TINTOCALIS: Graphic, that those stories just stayed in my head and then when I met with law enforcement they showed me photos that you could not comprehend what girls are doing for these pimps. And it gets you mad at these men. And it also gets you extremely sad that these women feel like they have no other option in life. You know some of these girls say I just don't feel like I'm worth anything else. And that's again again speaks to the breakdown of self-esteem and self-worth that no human being should feel.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's very important and thank you for bringing it to us, I appreciate getting to hear about this.
ANA TINTOCALIS: Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis a lot of people who heard us talking about this wanted to comment. We don't have time to take your calls but please go online KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up a San Diego school gets kids thinking math. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.