SWOP Behind Bars (SBB) caught up with Donah Sandford regarding her federal case against Missouri law enforcement, where former police officer Leon Pullen eventually pleaded guilty to robbing and sexually assaulting escorts while on patrol. Previously interviewed by FOX Files investigator Chris Hayes, Donah Sandford shares the full story with SWOP Behind Bars (SBB) of her 2009 experience with misappropriation of power by law enforcement in St. Louis, Missouri.
Content Warning: sexual assault, police violence.
SBB: Thank you so very much for stepping up and speaking out. Also thank you for sharing a photo (below) from when you were young celebrating music and shared voice. We salute your lifestyle clothing brand DRÜGS (Do Right U Gain Success) and appreciate you sharing such a traumatic experience in an effort to raise awareness on another layer of corrupt injustice. In light of the George Floyd case I see you are more interested in coming out about your personal story as it regards to Black people specifically Black women being mistreated by police.
Donah: Yes I am and although I did not participate in the outdoor protest I appreciate you sharing your platform with me.
SBB: I was just watching the 2010 interview with you on Fox 2 St. Louis. It’s apparent that you won your Federal case for ‘violation under the color of law’. If I am understanding this correctly, you traveled from the East Coast to the Midwest, advertising as a companion when a law enforcement officer lured you under the guise he was a client. He then arrested you, and sexually assaulted you at the police precinct?
Donah: I traveled to the Midwest to meet up with a girlfriend to show her the Craigslist / Backpage (CL/BP). An armed detective from a Special Unit lured us to an abandoned house under the guise that he was a client. I drove her there. After extensive questioning and humiliation outside the property, he gave me two choices, “Get naked or give me all of your money”. I told him he could have all my money and he said, “Wrong answer”, without even arresting me or explaining why I was being detained, he immediately ordered me into my car to follow him to the precinct with two officers driving in a marked cop car in front of me and one uniformed officer in a marked car driving behind me so I could not “run,” he explained.
SBB: Are you able to share with us what happened at the precinct?
Donah: When we arrived at the precinct he ordered me to come in. I got out of my truck and saw his colleagues gesture “the coast is clear”, they directed me to walk down to a side door of a small creepy precinct that looked. When I got inside he locked the door behind me with 10 dead bolts on it. He locked all the dead bolts. I was extremely afraid for my life, he made me walk toward the back of the office where he proceeded to push me around and make me take my clothes off. There were cells to the right of me, he said if I didn’t take my clothes off I was going to be locked in the cell. There were filthy dirty desks and cum-stained chairs all around. The office smelled of sex, it was very obvious that other women had been there from the stains on the chairs, the very chairs that he forced me to sit on while he sodomized me. I begged him not to touch me or force me to sit on the chair but he was serious and getting more upset while armed and dangerous. He proceeded to force himself on me after making me throw my clothes in the corner. He pushed me around in a desk chair and threw me against the wall… I tried everything to get him to stop. I don’t want to get into it too much but at the end of it all… I created a distraction to get myself out of there and asked him to give me his number after distracting him. He actually looked for a pen and paper to write his name and number down which would later assist as evidence in the criminal conviction.
SBB: This is so horrifying. CL/BP was shut down as a result of claims BP promoted child sex trafficking. However we are tracking more and more cases of police misconduct against consensual adult workers; especially — though not limited to — minority workers. As a patriotic American we find it appalling that those who take an oath to serve and protect would abuse their position and power by raping escorts. I am so sorry for what happened to you. Being an escort should not include rape or exploitation especially not by law enforcement.
Donah: I am an adult that made a conscious decision to be in that industry. I am a mother, a provider and, most of all, a human being that has morals and financial needs that have to be met like anyone else. Just because I decided to be a companion should not make me a target for injustice. I come from a family that has always fought for equal employment opportunities and civil rights. It’s a shame that the officers that should be protecting us are victimizing us, mishandling us, beating us, raping us, threatening our existence, killing us, violating our civil rights. These cops were having sex parties every weekend and charging people to get in. He is currently serving a 28-year sentence in federal prison. His partner got 5 years’ probation and kicked off of the force. I’m still unclear what happened to the third officer involved. I also got the police station shut down and won my lawsuit in Civil and Federal court.
SBB: So horrifying.
Donah: Yes, totally. Very difficult Very hard. Very necessary.
SBB: Reflecting on the events, do you have any wisdom to share with younger workers who may be exploring sex work, especially in this current political environment?
Donah: Build up a reputation of doing good by people and live by that example. This business was not started to harm others; it was designed to do the exact opposite. Screen your calls as much as you can and stay within guidelines of the law in your state. Be safe, stay healthy and know your worth. properly. I hope to be able to share with you some very effective ways to report and hold the police that are corrupt accountable in the near future. Thank you for hearing my story.
SBB: Thank you so very much for sharing your story and your strength. We ARE stronger together.
SEX WORKERS: STAND UP! SPEAK OUT! FIGHT BACK.
To hear more Donah recorded her story on All In A Days (Sex) Work Podcast