"Donna" has spent most of her life as a prostitute. She started sleeping with men for money at 21 and didn't quit until last December, at the age of 57.
She remembers walking King Street, back when it used to be Madison's seedy red-light district. "I hate to glorify it," she says of that era. "There was a lot of money out there, a lot of girls making a lot of money."
Donna - a pseudonym - is not without a sense of pride about how she did her old job. "I could turn a man on just like that," she says. "And I could get them off right away. It was a big thrill."
But there were plenty of less glamorous aspects to the job. She was arrested more times than she can remember. And she was also occasionally beaten up, robbed and threatened.
"I just got tired of giving blowjobs, screwing men and getting knives held to my throat," she says.
The ways that people go about selling and buying sex in Madison have changed vastly in recent years. As the business has moved online, where it is largely free from law enforcement scrutiny, streetwalkers are less common.
"Streetwalking is a small part of the sex trade," says Sgt. Jim Dexheimer, who heads the community patrol team for Madison police's south district. The police want to keep it that way, directing the lion's share of their attention to this small part of the problem.
The south precinct's community police team last year made a concerted effort to target prostitution in the Badger Road area, one of the city's most persistent red-light districts. This initiative, says Dexheimer, has greatly curtailed street prostitution, as intended.
But police have done little to address the selling of sex through other channels - escort services, massage parlors, even kept-women arrangements. Their motto seems to be: Out of sight, out of mind.
Dexheimer says it's clear to him, from reading ads on websites like Craigslist and Backpages, that "there are some horny people in this city looking for connections all the time." But, he adds, "If it goes on between two consenting adults in private, it's not a problem."
Ruth Ann Bauhs was walking down Badger Road in her neighborhood one day this year when a motorist yelled out to her.
"I'm 70, and I had a truck drive up and say something like, wasn't I kind of old to be selling my body," she remembers. Bauhs lives on Sequoia Trail in a neighborhood that has constantly fought the stigma of prostitution. And police efforts, until recently, have largely been ineffective.
The traditional method of combating prostitution in Madison, says Dexheimer, has been to hold sporadic stings in areas where streetwalkers hang out. Officers would gather on a designated night and decide whom to go after, prostitutes or johns.
The stings would lead to many arrests but did little to curtail the problem. When the cops used a female officer to pose as a prostitute, it was "just too easy," says Dexheimer. "We'd do it and arrest 20 johns in a night, but it didn't seem to have any effect at all." There would be just as many customers back the next night.
The south side of Madison has long had a disproportionate amount of prostitution. In 2009, city police reports coded 129 incidents of prostitution, 81 of them in the south precinct. In 2008, there were 143 city incidents, with 95 in the south precinct.
Last year, the precinct assigned Officer Jeff Pharo to the Community Police Team to target street prostitution full time. He started monitoring not just the streets, but the websites prostitutes and johns use to communicate. "Jeff was very successful because he became very familiar with the problem," Dexheimer says.
Websites with forums devoted to Madison's sex trade include USAsexguide and Heaven or Hell. Both johns and prostitutes post on these sites. Men post reviews of call girls, report scams and women who have cheated them, share their experiences, and seek advice.
"Can anyone direct me to an ad or supply me with contact info on any providers that are pregnant or are at least lactating," one member wrote in June. "Seems as though this fetish is hard to come by around here."
Another warns, "Do not waste any penny on the girl named LINDSEY.... Photos are totally fake. She does not worth any penny [sic]."
Pharo monitored these sites and became familiar with how the trade operates on the street. He got to know most of the people involved in it and where they hung out - all detailed in a report earlier this year, which was obtained by Isthmus.
In the 27-page report, Pharo describes the methods he used in targeting street prostitution. He gives biographical information on six frequent customers and 16 prolific prostitutes. He also lists addresses where prostitutes and johns are known to meet and apartments where they've been known to have sex.
One frequent meeting place is the PDQ on Fish Hatchery Road. The john, Pharo writes, "will provide upfront money for beer and cigarettes, usually $10. The purchase will be made, then the prostitute will pour the beer into a large PDQ cup and take it along to drink in the car."
Customers of prostitutes, he writes, try to "normalize this behavior as a 'hobby.' ...There are a large number of 'Johns' [who] appear to be obsessed with this pursuit and engage in and support other forms of the sex trade."
Pharo's efforts, relates Dexheimer, were much more effective than doing stings. "Jeff had many more arrests than we ever had before," he says. "An equal number of johns and prostitutes."
Between June 1, 2009, and the end of last year, Pharo helped make 57 arrests: 52 for violating the city's ordinances against soliciting prostitutes or loitering for the purpose of prostitution and five on state charges of prostitution. Of these, 28 of those busted were male, 29 female. The youngest man arrested was 19, the oldest 66. The youngest woman arrested was 21, the oldest 49.
Over time, Pharo noticed a drop in complaints about prostitution in the district. He also watched as postings about street prostitutes online declined significantly on USAsexguide.
In July 2009, there were 30 posts about street prostitutes, but by last December, there were only five, with three posts complaining about the lack of street prostitutes. This month, there are no posts about street prostitutes. However, discussion about massage parlors, escorts, strip clubs, rip-offs and the media continue.
Dexheimer says the work done by Pharo - who's now in a different district - was eye-opening for the police department.
"Jeff's work showed it wasn't just a late-night problem. It was almost 24 hours a day," Dexheimer says. "People were complaining there was a morning rush with prostitutes out at 7 a.m. We had kind of stereotyped the problem."
Badger Road became a thoroughfare for prostitutes for a number of reasons, Dexheimer says. It's on the border of the city and town of Madison, and it isn't particularly well lit, creating "a lot of shadows to hide in." It also goes hand-in-hand with the drug market, which operates out of nearby homes.
Dexheimer credits Pharo's work with greatly curtailing streetwalking, saying cops have on recent occasion driven around for hours looking for streetwalkers without success. But he knows it's only a matter of time before they'll be back.
"It seems we're working against the tide," he says. "We can suppress the problem for a while. But as long as the drug trade is happening, it's going to continue to be a problem."
Though neighborhood resident Bauhs agrees that police seem to have curtailed prostitution, she continues to see streetwalkers in her neighborhood.
"If you know what you're looking for, you can find them every day," she says. "When you see the same woman getting dropped off all different hours of the night by different cars, different guys, you know pretty well what's going on."
"Beth" started selling herself along Badger Road back in 1996. She had lost her job and was addicted to crack, which gave her comfort after two of her children died.
"It was hard to sleep with strangers," says Beth. "But I did so many drugs, I was so numb."
Asked who her customers were, she says bluntly: "you." By which she means: anybody. "A husband looking for a little excitement," she says. "Someone looking for companionship or love or just someone to talk to for a little while."
Beth, now 45, says she became friends with many of her customers, who would sometimes take her out to eat and saw her as a person, "not just a whore." Other customers were simply mean. "Some like to humiliate you. Some want to see what they can get you to do for $20," she says. "I would still have manners and demand respect. I was what you'd call a polite prostitute."
Though Beth admits she sometimes still has sex for money if she runs into an old client, she largely gave up prostitution in 2007 after meeting Jan Miyasaki, director of Project Respect, a nonprofit that does outreach to and advocacy for prostitutes in Madison.
Miyasaki says women turn to prostitution for a number of reasons. Often they are poor, addicted to drugs, and have a history of sexual and domestic abuse. "Not every woman has the same story," she notes. "Some people need money and are poor and have limited options."
Miyasaki put Isthmus in contact with four former prostitutes on the condition the paper not publish their real names.
Two of them, Donna and Beth, were street prostitutes. A third, "Jill," operated mainly via escort services and the Internet.
When Jill was 8 years old, she was sexually assaulted by her friend's father, an event that triggered a lifetime of problems. She didn't get along with her family (who wouldn't believe her when she told them about the assault) and frequently ran away. She began doing heroin by the time she was 15.
At 17, she was waiting for a bus in Chicago when a stranger talked her into working for him as a prostitute. She began walking the streets. Once, a potential customer kidnapped her, binding her in duct tape, putting a pillowcase over her head and driving her miles away.
"He raped me and made me believe he was going to kill me," Jill says. "But I made him feel sorry for me. I got him to let me go."
Shortly afterward, she came to Madison "because I felt it was safer here, and it is." Here she worked for escort services and, later, on her own through the Internet.
Jill continued to work as a prostitute even after she'd had two children and quit using drugs. "I wanted money for my kids," she says. "I wanted to spoil them but I was working minimum-wage jobs."
Most of her clients were white men, though she had a few women too.
Now 27, Jill quit for good a couple of years ago. "Originally, I did it for the thrill of it and because the money was good," she says. "But I couldn't keep going on with it and be happy with myself."
She also admits she was no longer making the money "I thought I was worth."
A fourth woman Isthmus talked with sold herself in a way that is less well known but, according to Miyasaki, not all that unusual. The woman, "Lisa," was addicted to heroin and a "rock 'n' roll lifestyle." When her husband died of an overdose in 2006, she says, "I didn't know what to do. I was used to this certain way of life."
She knew a man who paid women to live at his house. She says he is a sex addict who loves to have women around all the time, sometimes to have them sleep with his friends. He paid her $100 a day just to stay there.
"It was totally against my morals," she says. "But I had a huge habit that I had to support."
It was a depressing house, with five to 10 women, all of them drug users, staying there at any given time. While she lived there, one of the other women in the house committed suicide.
Lisa lived with other men in similar arrangements and grew numb to sex. "It comes to a point where you don't have any emotions," she says. "It doesn't mean anything anymore. It's a shitty feeling. Now when I try to have sex with my boyfriend, it doesn't mean anything. All these [memories] pop in my head and I can't get them out."
While other women became friends with customers, Lisa says it was a one-sided dynamic for her. "I would look at it as a business, but they would look at me as a friend. They knew nothing about me, and I knew everything about them."
After being arrested on drug charges, she got sober and gave up prostitution.
"I have a job. It's a shitty job," says Lisa, who is now 32. "I make $500 in two weeks, but it means more. I don't want to just go blow it on drugs. I want to pay my rent and my bills."
Leaving the life is difficult for many women because they're often dealing with several problems - a drug addiction, a bad home situation, lack of job skills - at the same time. "It takes a long time to completely get out," says Miyasaki. "Prostitution may be the last thing women let go of."
"John" first went to a massage parlor in his 20s, during the 1970s. The parlor was about to be shut down, and a buddy wanted to go before it closed.
They went in and the friend selected a woman, but John "was totally disgusted" and refused to participate, just waiting for his friend. Still, he says, "it planted a seed" in his mind.
A few years later, he went to a different massage parlor and this time paid for sex. "It was wonderful," he says. "She was cute, nice. What part of sex isn't wonderful?"
John has ever since been a frequent patron of prostitutes, even when he's in a relationship. Contacted through USAsexguide, he agrees to meet with an Isthmus reporter to talk about his experiences.
Sitting on a bench one afternoon in Orton Park, John is dressed in a white shirt and slacks and looks like he could be an insurance salesman or college professor. There is nothing sleazy about his appearance. He's 56 and has a gray beard.
John has thought about why prostitution thrills him but has a hard time articulating it. Human sexuality is just too complicated.
"I would say the attraction is convenience, laziness, riskiness," he says. "There's an element of domination or superiority in some way. God knows if we'll ever figure it out."
He says the most he's paid for sex is $150 an hour. The least? "I'm too ashamed to say."
John no longer goes to street prostitutes or massage parlors; the risk factor is too high for him. "You don't know who you're dealing with or what their motives are going to be."
He's never been arrested or robbed, though he had one close call after picking up a prostitute off the street. She told him she had a knife and threatened him. "It was a game of chicken," he says. "She wasn't going to get out of my car." But after he called the police on his cell phone she fled, and John drove away before the cops arrived.
Right now there are three women he sees regularly. "I might have regulars or they might have me," he jokes. He considers all of them friends. "They all seem comfortable that when we part company, we've all had an enjoyable time."
One is a college student; another has a regular job and escorts on the side. He'll take them out to dinner or lunch. "I helped one girl's mother study for a professional test."
He explains how the negotiations usually go down. If a woman has an online ad, he feels reasonably certain she's not a cop, since that would be "tantamount to entrapment." When they meet, he waits for the woman to touch him before going into details. If they meet on the street, he waits until the woman gets in his car before talking business: a police officer will try to negotiate from the curb.
Not surprisingly, John thinks prostitution should be legal: "You'd have less crime, better control and a safer situation for both the customers and the girls," he says. "It's like marijuana - is it worth the enforcement, and how do you enforce it? You can round them up, but soon there'll be a new crop out on the street."
Sgt. Dexheimer admits that focusing only on the sex trade on the streets ends up punishing the poor disproportionately.
"What ends up happening is we have a biased approach," he says. "We end up targeting the lower-class, less sophisticated prostitutes and johns, ones who don't have computers."
Some police officials would like to go after the online trade, but Dexheimer has little interest in doing so. "I don't have any complaints [about online prostitution]," he says. "What's the point? To arrest someone just for fun? It's a difference of philosophy about the use of resources."
Police spokesman Joel DeSpain says the department has in fact occasionally gotten complaints about online prostitution. "But there are more complaints about prostitution on the streets and the drug trade that goes with it. Everyday people don't see as much of the online activity and don't complain about it."
Miyasaki says she understands why police focus on streetwalking, because it creates unsafe neighborhoods and threatens families and children. But she is concerned about the welfare of all women involved in prostitution.
"That problem requires a change in community and societal attitudes much more than a police response," she says. "Police can't solve that problem alone."
Miyasaki thinks the solution involves creating educational opportunities, affordable housing, drug treatment and jobs. "It's sexual exploitation of women," she says. "We have to respond to it as a community as we did with domestic violence or rape."