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12) Back to the pimps

Back to Quito (2009-2013), the capital of Ecuador, nestled high in the Andean mountains. Back to the streets, back to my fieldwork. Pimps. It was difficult to discern the exact nature of the women's relationships with their partners. About half of the women on the streets lived with partners, whom they called "husbands," and their children. They never got legally married because weddings are too expensive and they did not see the point. The other half were single mothers who did not have stable romantic relationships. I did not meet any classic Hollywood-type pimps who controlled the assets of a group of women. The "pimps" I met were simply abusive boyfriends, who demanded that their partners earn a certain amount of money daily. (Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency). But all sorts of relationships existed on the streets and each one was idiosyncratic with its own trajectory. Certainly, not all of them were abusive, but I would say intimate partner violence ran rampant on the streets. I witnessed plenty of it with my own eyes--I always thought, if that's how these women were treated in public, what happened behind closed doors?!? Some of the women worked as the breadwinners of their families out of choice. For Santiago (all names have been changed), my unofficial bodyguard, and his partner, Carolina, they had an agreement in which he acted as the "stay-at-home-mom," while she supported their family. It made the most sense, logically. Previously, Santiago supported the family by robbery, muggings, and pickpocketing on the buses and trolleys, but it was too risky. He could get caught and thrown in jail. Who would then look after their special needs son, Francisco? Carolina opted to work as the breadwinner because she felt empowered earning her own money, but also, she did not have the patience or skills to look after Fransisco. Santiago was a loving and doting father to all three of their children, but he was particularly smitten with Francisco. They were inseparable. Santiago could anticipate his son's every need, even though he was completely nonverbal. As mentioned in a previous post, Santiago even brought his son along when scoring base. Carolina also liked earning the money so she could consume more base than Santiago. She would earn money and buy it as she worked, rather than wait until the end of the night when she would faithfully bring home a modest supply for her and Santiago to split. But Carolina insisted that she always bought Francisco's diapers and the family's food first, before spending money on drugs.

I met a couple other men who were also "stay-at-home-moms," shuttling their children to and from school and cooking for the family as their girlfriends/"wives" worked. Santiago seemed proud of his role, which at first perplexed me, given the gender norms of Latin American society in which "machismo" rules the streets. I would think he might be ashamed to be dependent on a woman. But he wasn't. He reveled in his role. Carolina would frequently get resentful though. She had been working as a sex worker for almost a decade and at times she cried to me, wishing she or Santiago had had more education to get jobs in other industries. Some sex workers' partners or "pimps," as I called them, hovered around the streets all day, sitting in the cafes and restaurants of the neighborhood to keep an eye on their women. They would rule with an iron fist--keeping meticulous record of how many clients their women serviced throughout the day and expecting their money to be given to them after each session. There were some pimps that made high demands on their sex worker wives and it was clear that their women lived in fear. These men were very controlling and would expect their women to come and "check in" with them frequently. One might think that these pimps might get jealous of their sex worker wives, but that was rarely the case. In some instances, these pimps even controlled which clients their wives could service--their women would have to ask permission first before initiating a session with someone. These women, who were genuinely scared of their partners, would gather in groups with other sex workers and seek solace in one another. They leaned on one another for emotional support. All of the sex workers had a client base and indeed, they spent much time building their clientele. They would have the same men return repeatedly. Some men had regular appointments with certain women on specific days. These faithful clients were called "husband clients." At times romance would spark. This could be dangerous for those sex workers with partners, especially those women with pimps. But more on that later.

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