As Arlington ponders exclusion zone for prostitutes, a former prostitute tells how she's turned her life around

ARLINGTON -- Danielle was 36 when she went from being a stay-at-home mom to a homeless prostitute.

After losing custody of her school-age daughter to her ex-husband, she turned to narcotics for comfort. A drug abuser since she was 15, she soon was smoking more than $300 worth of crack cocaine a day to stay numb.

To pay for her addiction, Danielle turned to prostitution, having sex in cars or in inexpensive Arlington motels along Division Street and Texas 360 near the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Six Flags and now Cowboys Stadium.

It was a dangerous life. One john snapped -- screaming obscenities, pulling her hair and then choking her until she blacked out. Another tried to lock her in an isolated area where she might not have been found for weeks.

"There have been times I know I have been lucky to escape with my life," said Danielle, who spoke with the Star-Telegram on the condition that her real name not be used to protect her family. "I'm very glad I didn't have to make my mother go to my funeral."

What happened to Danielle is why Police Chief Theron Bowman, just months before the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium, is trying to persuade city leaders to create a "prostitution exclusionary zone" aimed at protecting the millions of visitors who eat, shop and attend events in the entertainment district.

Areas where prostitution tends to thrive become magnets for other crimes such as robbery and assault, Bowman said. And, while prostitution may not appear to be highly visible in that area at the moment, it will become more obvious as the number of tourists going to the entertainment district grows.

"We believe that with the millions of people concentrated in our entertainment district and with the level of investment there, it is probably important that the folks who are coming to our entertainment venues ... are not pulled off into a corner or solicited by prostitutes," Bowman said.

The zone, which would be the first in the state of Texas, would allow Arlington officers to arrest convicted prostitutes and their customers if they were caught in the area without a permitted reason.

"It will take us another 100 years to get rid of the problem using the tools we have at our disposal now. By disrupting this market, we hope to make it too expensive for prostitutes to operate in this area," Bowman said.

The zone

Arlington police reviewed prostitution offenses over the past four years and determined that most of them were concentrated generally north of Abram Street between Center and Collins streets and off Texas 360 near Avenue J and Lamar Boulevard.

The Police Department's recent efforts to reduce prostitution in that area have included electronic billboards warning visitors about high-crime areas along Texas 360 as well as publishing prostitutes' mug shots on the police website.

Undercover stings conducted by police targeting customers have resulted in 319 arrests there in recent years. Bowman provided mug shots of some of the prostitutes to the City Council and revealed that some of the women were infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and had lengthy criminal histories that included theft, drug possession and multiple prostitution arrests.

Under Bowman's proposed ordinance, anyone convicted of a prostitution-related offense within the past two years would be notified that they would not be allowed within the proposed exclusionary zone, which encompasses the entertainment district, for one year.

Those notified would be given a map that shows the zone's boundaries and a list of reasons they would be permitted to visit the area, such as going to work or seeing a doctor. Individuals who are arrested in the zone without a permitted reason which would be charged with a Class C misdemeanor offense similar to criminal trespass.

Other cities -- such as Reno, Nev.; Portland, Ore.; and Wichita, Kan. -- have established similar zones to tackle prostitution.

'Prostitution central'

The full council has not discussed Bowman's proposal, but some members are not convinced that creating an exclusionary zone is the best way to fight the problem.

"What I am concerned about is we are labeling an area of our city as 'prostitute central,' I have trouble with that," said at-large Councilman Robert Shepard, who is on the committee reviewing the proposal. "Now I've got a map that is going to end up in the Star-Telegram that says, 'Here are all the prostitutes, folks.'"

Motel owner Bob Patel said that prostitution was much more obvious when he bought the Fiesta Motor Inn on Division Street five years ago, but that he still deals with the occasional working women who either try to flag down customers near the motel entrance or rent a room.

He's been fighting to improve his motel's clientele and reputation by working with Arlington police, giving vice officers free motel rooms to conduct john stings. At least 10 prostitution arrests have been made there so far this year, according to the Police Department's website.

Patel said he and his assistant manager, Lynn Davis, also refuse to rent rooms, which run $40 a night, to known prostitutes and their customers. The wall in the motel's front office is plastered with copies of driver's licenses of people on the no-rent list.

"I don't allow prostitution. I don't want those kind of people when we have so many visitors coming here," said Patel, who is fixing up the motel, within walking distance of Cowboys Stadium, and hopes to raise rates closer to $150 a night when Super Bowl XVL comes in February.

Councilman Robert Rivera, who also sits on the committee, said creating a zone is not necessarily bad for Arlington's image. Instead, he said, he believes that it will send a clear message that the city will not tolerate prostitution.

"It is better than ignoring it and not admitting there is a problem there? It is better to face it and move forward with it and eliminate it?" said Rivera, who represents southeast Arlington.

Off the streets

Now 49 years old, Danielle left prostitution and her drug addiction behind five years ago.

This month, she graduated from nursing school with her mom and her two adult children cheering at her side. With family support and renewed faith in God, Danielle said she is moving beyond her troubled past into a future where she can help others in need. She is now searching for a job as a nurse, and she knows that it will be a struggle with her criminal background.

"I always looked at prostitution as my way of doing what I needed to do to get drugs without hurting people. It's not true. I devastated my family," she said of her 10 years on the streets. "One of my biggest regrets is putting my family through that torment and torture, not knowing if I was alive."

While Danielle spent time in jail for various drug charges, she was never arrested for prostitution. She says it will take more than increased enforcement to stop prostitution in the entertainment district.

She now spends her free time talking with prostitutes, sharing the story of her transformation and handing out toiletries, clothing and Bibles when she can. "The whole time I was out there, not one person approached me and offered me a kind hand," she said. "I want to be the one to do that."

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639