Escaping a life
Sisters Offering Support
and a young girl's story helped
a woman change her life
It took a troubled 14-year-old girl to show Marces Hall how she had ruined her life -- and how she could fix it.
"The girl had been arrested for prostitution. I could see the road she was heading down. I saw a lot of myself in her," said Hall. "I talked to her about my own experiences -- how I'd hit bottom."
In listening to the girl's story and counseling her, Hall realized that for 23 years she had been struggling to escape prostitution, and had known all along that she had the power to change her life, if only she could summon the courage and resolve.
Marces Hall: Former prostitute hopes to put an end to the recruitment of youths into the commercial sex trade.
She credits Sisters Offering Support with making the difference in her life. "They loved me until I was able to love myself," said Hall. "I think back and wonder how anyone could put themselves through all that. Today I can look in the mirror. I found me -- and I'm not a bad person, either," said Hall. "I've definitely come a long way."
Hall is now the Youth Prevention Program coordinator for the organization, helping to educate youths about the dangers of the commercial sex trade. Her aim is to put an end to recruitment and the exploitation of children in the sex trade. "One of my biggest dreams is to open a transitional house for girls here. They will have a safe place to go, because that is the No. 1 worry on the streets.
"It's important to teach them how to avoid recruitment and to define the myths and realities," she said. Too often, films and music videos promote a glamorous image of "pimps and hos" in flashy clothes with the cars and jewelry to match. Films like "Pretty Women" and "Risky Business" show rewards of money and independence, but Hall said, "It's really all about a person having control and power over you."
Hall visits schools and a meets with community groups, sharing her firsthand horror stories.
"I'm a strong believer in what I do. I never thought my life could change," said Hall. "People want to sweep it under the rug, but it's happening. It could happen to anyone. I wish I had been educated as a young girl.
"There is a story behind every face on the street," she said. "It's a tough life but leaving it is even tougher."
Hall's life has been free of prostitution, drugs and alcohol for 4 1/2 years. She never believed that "everything happens for a reason," but now she says that maybe she "was supposed to deliver the message. I'm not looking for pity when I tell my story."
HALL'S SAGA began when she turned 16 and met a handsome, older man.
"My parents were going through a separation. I had really low self-esteem at the time," she said, noting that pimps target girls or women who seem naive, lonely, homeless and rebellious. Girls coming from abusive home may not have a realistic view of a "normal" relationship, and at first the attention from the pimp convinces her to "be his woman."
"There is a lot of seduction involved," said Hall. Her pimp would say things like, "I've seen you in Glamour magazine. You are so pretty." Hall enjoyed being treated to fancy restaurants and other luxuries. "He took me to the mall, bought me little trinkets and gave me lots of attention. Eventually, he got me fake IDs, and I was out clubbing with the grown-ups."
Hall was shocked and disgusted to eventually learn her mate was a pimp. "He assured me that he would never treat me like that. He wanted to marry me, buy a house and have kids. ... I was dreaming of the white picket fence."
Then he asked her to go on a date with some guy, claiming his girls had left him because they were jealous of her. The introduction to prostitution arose when her "boyfriend" became "pressed for money." He told her, "If you love me, you will do this for me."
"He took me to a hotel room, gave me a condom and told me what to do. I was a virgin at the time. I met this old man and it was horrible. I think I held my breath the whole time," she said.
"Just this one time" turned into a daily regimen. By the time most commercial sex trade workers find out what is happening, it's difficult to leave. "We were so afraid to call the cops," she said. "Pimps threaten both you and other family members. And you get so tired walking in high heels all night and having sex with 10 to 20 guys a night. All you do is eat, sleep and go to work."
YOUNG GIRLS ARE easy to fool into believing that prostitution is safe, fun and glamorous. They become trapped when they are led far from home, with no means of escape. Hall's pimp took her to Hollywood and told her she would "be rubbing elbows with the movie stars."
"The reason you don't see local girls in Waikiki is because they are sent somewhere else to work," she said.
Hall tried to escape, but her pimp found her at a bus station. "He pulled me by the hair and then beat me with a wire clothes hanger.
"I yelled, screamed and pleaded. ... I didn't want to do it anymore. I just wanted my mom. But he told me I was contaminated and nobody would want me."
Pornography and other forms of commercial sex has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. Its high visibility via Internet has desensitized many to pornography and prostitution that have been described as occupational alternatives for women with low-paying jobs, and as sexual liberation in that it exploits "johns" as well. In fact, "It's all about someone else controlling you. ... There is no independence," Hall said.
Mail-order brides are accepted as another way to "seek love," but it is little better than prostitution, Hall said, because "you are buying another human being."
She said men like the power involved in buying a human being who can be made to do almost anything. "The commercial sex trade is built on the exploitation of human beings to support the fantasies of others," Hall said.
The recovery process is difficult for the battered women. "The majority of hookers hate sex. It's hard to get in a normal relationship -- you never look at men the same way again."
Hall had her share of horrific near-death experiences. "It's like playing Russian roulette with your life," she said. "Every time you get in a car or go into a hotel room, there was no guarantee what would happen." Often, individuals are used in ways that are bizarre, painful, disgusting and occasionally fatal.
On one occasion, a john handcuffed and beat Hall with a broomstick until she passed out. "When it finally broke, he stabbed me with the splinters. Afterward, he placed her, open wounds and all, in a bath of salt water.
Another john took Hall to a field, raped and beat her and left her for dead. Her pimp "told me to clean myself up, get back on the streets. I was mortified. The handsome guy I once knew looked like a mean animal who was foaming at the mouth."
Beatings became routine. "If he rolled by, I needed to be smiling and always look happy," she said. "I have known so many girls who died at the hands of their pimps or customers.
One of her worst experiences was identifying a friend's body at the morgue. "It was a body with no head, but her clothes were in a bag, so we knew it was her.
"I tried to commit suicide several times. I began drinking and smoking crack to numb my body."
It was the only way she could cope with the physical, sexual and emotional abuse. "I needed drugs to get courage. I didn't want to live. I figured if I die, my next life would be much better."
WHEN HALL MOVED to Hawaii, she started working in strip clubs and dealing drugs. "One day, the DEA kicked my door in and took me to jail."
Hall was sentenced to 10 years but served only 23 months. "I was scared to get out of jail. I didn't want to go through this anymore."
That's when she met the 14-year-old prostitute whose story allowed her to see the mistakes she had made in her own life. At the same time, Hall recognized, painfully, her addiction to drugs and alcohol when she went through withdrawals. "I was hallucinating. I thought bugs were crawling all over my body." She checked into a drug rehabilitation center after her release.
Hall had no contact with her parents after she left home at the age of 17. Her mom passed away while she was in prostitution. Her father died in a car accident en route to her mother's funeral. But she has reunited with her nine siblings and two children, who had been adopted and cared for by her sister. "Later, I told them my story so they knew why I wasn't around.
"I thought they would reject me, but they opened their hearts. It's a miracle when you stop doing drugs. The cloud clears, and you can finally see things in front of you," she said.
Sisters Offering Support can be reached at 941-5554 or visit www.soshawaii.org
. To reach the CSE Recovery Support Group, call 949-1795. The 24-hour crisis line is 220-1501.
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The warning signs
Many girls are drawn to commercial sexual exploitation to make a "fast buck," according to Marces Hall. They may not be aware of what they need to do in order to make that money, she added. Manipulation, lies and false promises seduce young girls into the field of prostitution. Recruitment happens everywhere -- including birthday parties, at the mall, on school campuses, at the library, bus stops and at clubs or parties.
Parents can look for the following warning signs of commercial sexual exploitation:
>> Changes in appearance, dressing more provocatively.
>> A much older boyfriend or is extremely protective of her new boyfriend.
>> Using an alias or inquiring about fake IDs.
>> Involvement or interest in nude modeling, dancing or other sex-oriented services.
>> Skipping school or dropping grades.
>> Having unexplained money or gifts or stops asking for allowance from parents.
>> Packing a change of clothes when going out.
>> Dropping old friends for a new group of friends.
>> Staying out late.
>> Lying about where she is and what she is doing.
>> Excessive use of drugs and alcohol.
>> A "friend" gives her a pager or cellular phone.
>> Spending a lot of time in Waikiki or at the mall.
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