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Ex-prostitutes walk tough road to economic freedom amid recession

from – Some prostitutes bear a mark that makes it tough to find other work in any type of economy.

It’s hard to explain away a 30-year gap in your résumé, harder still to explain an arrest record.

A soaring unemployment rate — now at 13 percent in Nevada — makes it difficult for anyone to find a job.

For someone such as Nicole,[pictured] it was nearly impossible.

The 49-year-old is a part-time worker at a postal annex near Reno who spent more than three decades selling her body on Las Vegas streets, in Northern Nevada brothels and elsewhere.

Nicole and other former prostitutes interviewed for this story asked not to be identified by their full names.

Bert, who is Nicole’s boss and asked his name not be used to protect her identity, said 60 others, mostly college and high school students, applied for the cashier job. But it was Nicole’s brutal honesty on her application about the time she spent as a prostitute that made her stand out.

“She had no fear of telling the truth,” he said. “I felt there were too many people with similar circumstances who never got their feet off the ground. I thought, ‘Well, hell, I’ll give her a chance.'”

Bert interviewed Nicole three times before giving her the position. He made it very clear there would be zero tolerance for stealing or drugs.

“If nobody gives these gals a chance, they’ll fail,” he said. “They’re on welfare and on the street.”

When hiring in an economic downtime, it is crucial to make the correct decision the first time, Bert added.

“Rolling into the first part of the recession there was more supply than demand,” he said. “I could get someone younger with a better background, but she’s done well. She appreciates working, dresses right, and I couldn’t ask for any more than that. She gets along with my clientele.”

Nicole was a 15-year-old runaway in Colorado who befriended a stranger for a place to crash. The man traded her to a pimp for $2,000 in crystal methamphetamine. As a young prostitute she was violently raped. As an adult, she lacked financial credit because she never held a legitimate job and eventually lost her children because of her 19-year meth addiction.

Nicole left the life behind in September after being cited by police for prostitution, only one of the more than 20 arrests on her record. After that she sought help from A Scarlet Covering, a Reno-based nonprofit organization dedicated to getting people out of the sex industry.

“I’m scared to death to fail,” Nicole said. “That’s what it boils down to, that I won’t be able to get a full-time job, that I won’t be able to learn skills because of my age because I don’t remember things like I used to. I get tired physically because of things I did to myself and things people did to me.”

Now, she helps take care of a friend’s elderly father for room and board. That, combined with her $300 weekly income, makes her feel respected, she said.

“I never thought I’d be 49 years old and still prostituting,” Nicole said. “I’m like a baby, I have no idea how to do it, how to live life.”

Nicole said she wants to work in drug counseling or help with runaways and is searching for a way to make that happen.

Sharnel Silvey, former madam of the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, founded A Scarlet Covering to help women like Nicole.

“We’re peeling back the layers of the lifestyle,” Silvey said. “We deal with their hearts, minds and souls. We get them skills for a résumé, things they’ve never been offered. Right now we’re getting our ducks in a row and helping them to heal.

“We walk it out with them.”

The nation’s struggling economy also made it difficult for Stephanie to find a steady-paying job.

The 28-year-old Las Vegas resident stopped having sex for money illegally two years ago and joined Hookers for Jesus, a grass-roots ministry that aims to spread awareness about sex trafficking and transition people out of prostitution.

“It’s not an easy change to make, the money is good,” said Stephanie, a mother of two. “It’s hard to go from making thousands of dollars a night to making eight bucks an hour. In the end, it’s worth it. You gain your self respect back. You’re not going out and getting naked with some fat guy who has $500 and who stinks.”

Four years ago, she had a daughter with her then-pimp, but quit the lifestyle, she said, because she didn’t want her child to “think prostitution was OK.”

Once she stopped, Stephanie was only able to hold onto hotel jobs for a few months at a time until the employee background checks were completed and her previous lifestyle was uncovered.

“It’s tough and challenging to quit because the money is so addicting,” she said. “I’ve never been to a job interview where I said, ‘Hey, I’m an ex-prostitute.’ It’s tough to get a job and tough to keep a job because as soon as they find out, they fire me.”

Stephanie is looking for part-time work and working on her associate’s degree to become a paralegal.

Now, about two years after she stopped selling her body, Stephanie faces nine months in jail for old prostitution charges in Michigan.

“I’m terrified right now,” she said. “If I wind up doing any substantial time in jail, I’m going to lose my child-care assistance, and I don’t know what I’ll do with my kids. I’ll lose my funding for college, but I know I can’t keep running from it.”

George Flint, the Nevada Brothel Association’s senior lobbyist, contends those who leave legalized prostitution in search of other employment should not have a tough time telling potential employers about their former jobs. After all, Nevada is the only state to allow legal prostitution — but only in certain counties. There are 24 legal brothels throughout the state in rural counties. In larger cities such as Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City, prostitution is illegal.

“I know women who have left this profession and have gone into corporate management, gotten degrees in library science, finished their education or went to nursing school in Reno,” Flint said. “I’ve known women who have gone on with regular lives without any backlash.”

Annie Lobert worked as a high-class call girl in downtown Las Vegas before creating her ministry, Hookers for Jesus. Twenty years ago, a then-19-year-old Lobert was making $3.70 an hour working for a major credit card company. She was in love with an old boyfriend who was an expensive plane ticket away in California. She started prostituting herself to quickly make money and realized her new profession was “a gold mine.”

She vowed she would never have a pimp, but that didn’t last long.

Lobert began stripping in Vegas “only to pay the bills” when she met a man who resembled actor Denzel Washington. He would become her pimp, beat and kidnap her many times and stuff her in the trunks of cars.

She would hand over her earnings — sometimes $5,000 a night — just to spend time with him.

“It was total slavery,” she said. “I shared him with other women. I lied to police. I lied to my family. You protect the person you’re afraid of because you’re in love with them.”

This cycle went on for years until a cocaine overdose nearly ended her life. Lobert woke up in a hospital room and had suffered a mild heart attack. She still has the hospital bracelet in a treasure box that serves as a reminder of the lifestyle she left in 2003.

She had to explain to employers the 16-year gap in her résumé — a humbling experience.

“I’d start crying,” Lobert said. “I just needed a second chance. I was so honest. I learned people are a lot more loving than you realize.”


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