For decades, Melanie Winckler, 51, was a prostitute who worked for just one man, her pimp — a man whose name she doesn’t dare mention out of fear of retaliation or just bad karma.
The Las Vegas woman’s story illustrates the path many women take in entering the sex trade: trust in a man who deceives them, sexually degrades them and uses violence or fear to keep them from leaving.
It all started innocently enough for Winckler. A 19-year-old from a middle-class family in Los Angeles, she met the man in the 1980s, and the two dated for a while.
He told her he was a real estate agent, a businessman. Then he took her to see one of his properties in Lake Elsinore, Calif. En route, he posed the craziest question: “Have you ever had sex for money?”
“Never,” she answered, then added a joke. “Why, you gonna give me some?”
That’s when he backhanded her across the face. Hard.
There was silence the rest of the way.
The house on the lake was dark when they arrived. The power was shut off, and there was no phone. She was confused. Then he yelled, “Did you order the pizza yet?”
Suddenly several men emerged from different rooms. They took turns having violent sex with her, an experience that haunts her to this day. She can barely talk about it, and when she does, the words come in a survivor’s monotone, as if she fears that in elaborating on the attack, she will have to relive it.
The next morning, she was blindfolded, tied up and placed in the backseat of his car while he drove to Las Vegas, where she would begin a life turning tricks and handing her pimp the money.
She learned quickly to stay with him, because he never beat her really hard, at least not to the extent that other pimps beat their “hos,” she said.
“He was the one and only,” she said. “He never sold me to anyone else, and I never chose anybody else. I saw the broken limbs. I learned quick I didn’t want to get beat. The most I ever got was a bruise, maybe, a fat lip, a bloody nose. I can thank him for that.”
“I could have left plenty of times,’’ she said. “But there was a sense of helplessness. That’s what keeps you there, that sense of hopelessness.”
She broke free from the man in early 2000, while he was serving prison time in Florida for a crime unrelated to prostitution.
But hope didn’t return until she met Dan Winckler, a pastor at Casa de Luz, a house of worship in Naked City, a low-income neighborhood in the shadow of the Stratosphere.
They said their vows atop Mount Charleston in November 2009, and now she helps the homeless and spreads The Word.
“If it weren’t for the Lord and Dan,” she says, “I don’t know where I’d be.”
Said Dan, “It’s a tough life she lived through, and it’s almost with us every day, but Jesus has helped see us through it.”
Tom Ragan/Las Vegas Review-Journal