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Women on the Avenue

A cop I knew used to refer to prostitutes as women on the avenue and treat them with the respect he felt that all humans deserved.

He figured they were just people trying to get by with what God gave them and held no animosity toward their business.

He arrested them when he had to because that was his job, but he never called them whores and always offered them a chair in the booking room.

That was not, however, a prevailing attitude among policemen toward prostitutes. Crimes against them were too often dismissed with the acronym “NHI"--no humans involved.

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It was generally accepted that if a hooker was raped or murdered she got what was coming to her unless it was a high-profile case or serial murders were involved, thereby precipitating media attention and police response.

That attitude may be changing, and part of the credit has to go to a prostitute named Danielle and a detective named Greg Stone, who first made the news last month.

Women who sell sex on the street are among society’s most vulnerable creatures, and crimes against them often go unreported because, by current statute, they’re committing a crime in the first place.

Faced with that reality, Danielle had to think long and hard about going to the police after she was brutally raped. But when she did, Stone, who believes that a crime is a crime no matter who its victim is, went to work.

Sixteen days later, he arrested a man suspected of being a serial rapist, and the avenues became a little safer for the women who walk them.

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The situation has engendered a degree of hope among those working on behalf of prostitutes that, at the very least, hookers might start getting the same kind of police protection afforded everyone else.

“It’s about time,” Norma Jean Almodovar said the other day in her Northridge apartment, disinclined to shower the LAPD with any credit for sexual enlightenment. “They should have been doing it for years.”

Almodovar is executive director of the Southern California chapter of Coyote, an organization working to decriminalize prostitution. Once a civilian traffic officer for the LAPD, she quit in 1982 to become a hooker and wrote a book about it, “From Cop to Call Girl.”

Outspoken and articulate, Almodovar won’t say if she’s still a call girl but calls herself a whore as a political statement to describe her oneness with the women on the avenue.

“I say women, all women, deserve police protection,” she said, challenging the notion that prostitutes get what they deserve. “When a prostitute is beaten, cops say if you don’t like it, get out of prostitution. Does that mean when a wife is beaten she should get out of marriage?”

The quick response to Danielle’s complaint surprised her, Almodovar said. She was encouraged by the fact that a prostitute’s report was taken seriously and an arrest made. No one dismissed the case out of hand because Danielle was a prostitute.

To the contention that prostitutes are safer in jail than they are on the streets, Almodovar adds: “There are as many dangers out there for cops are there are for hookers, but no one is arresting them for their own good.”

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A 14-year member of the LAPD, Greg Stone admits that there are those in the department who will laugh at or dismiss a prostitute’s complaint of a crime committed against her, but he isn’t one of them.

“You may be a suspect today,” he told me, “but if you’re a victim tomorrow, I’ll help you. A crime is a crime no matter who it affects.”

Stone, a member of the sex crimes detail for the robbery-homicide division, is distressed at the notion that some officers on patrol might tend to ignore a prostitute’s complaint.

He wants women on the avenue to know that he’ll always listen to them.

“If someone kisses off your complaint,” he says, “come to me. I can’t bear the burden of everyone else’s conduct, but by my own conduct I can try to change a prevailing attitude one person at a time.”

He adds: “The NHI rule doesn’t apply in my world. I don’t dismiss anyone as nonhuman.”

In Miami, the right of a woman to trade sex for anything she wants, whether it’s money or dinner and a movie, has become a feminist issue. A lawsuit seeking to legalize prostitution compares it to a woman’s right to have an abortion.

In L.A., we’re just trying to make the streets safer for everyone, including hookers. Those who believe prostitutes are people with rights will support it. Those who don’t will fight it.

And the women on the avenue will keep on selling what they have.

Al Martinez can be reached through Internet at al.martinez@latimes.com


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