live in a world of mendacity, which is dishonesty. We learn early that
most people live lies. Some we accept willingly or even eagerly. The
worst lies, the most degrading lies of all, are the ones we tell
ourselves. I read this at a time in my life when I had learned not to
feel. I had learned the lies, and how to build the wall so that no one
would know the real me. I kept everyone out. I had entered the world of
is a very educational field. Iíd like to share with you what I learned
from this so-called occupation. Not the part everyone sees, but the part
I dared not show anyone, mostly myself. In prostitution, I felt the loss
of power over my own life. I learned about degradation, sadness, anger,
hurt, loneliness, and fear. I had no self-esteem. I pretended to be
happy and care free. I also pretended not to care what anyone thought
about me. I told myself that prostitution is an occupation, just like
any other. I told myself that everyone commits an act of prostitution in
one way or another.
in prostitution are conditioned to protect those who are benefiting from
them financially. Prostitutes protect at all costs, to the very end,
whether that is death, drugs or at the very least, jail. I lived this
life for over twenty years, ending up in Durango Jail in Phoenix,
Arizona in 1989. With the support of the people I came to know, I came
to know myself, to believe in myself, and realized I had a mission to
completeóto offer support to other women like me who were trying to
leaving jail eight years ago, I have earned my degree in Chemical
Dependency Counseling, and work in a field that on a daily basis
witnesses women empowering themselves by making life changes. I used to
believe that prostitution was going to better than nothing. But better
than nothing turned into years of despair and hopelessness for myself
and many other women. I read an article from a paper in Tennessee
entitled, ďJail Offers A Respite From A Dangerous Life.Ē Itís
true; the jail docket is a kind of emergency room for the criminal
justice system. Part of the daily flow of cases are women involved in
prostitution; not the pretty Hollywood portrayal, but drug-addicted,
sick women with physical injuries. In Nashville, Tennessee in 1860, the
census listed 207 women as prostitutes. That number increased during the
Civil War, when military officials put 405 prostitutes on a steamboat
bound for other cities. They were shipped back to Nashville because no
one else wanted them. More than 100 years later little has changed.
Prostitution is still around, citizens are still demanding that
something be done about it, and itís still ďnobodyís problem.Ē
Phoenix, women are mandated to do fifteen days jail time on their first
prostitution offense. They can be sentenced up to six months in jail for
three or more offenses. Yet, the process of recovery is not limited to
fifteen days to six months or even a year. Realistically, we are looking
at a minimum of two years of very supportive intervention for recovery.
Recovery requires a great deal of work, and getting community support is
its own challenge. Women in prostitution are a group of people society
has shunned for years.
work with Catholic Social Services of Phoenix. The agency was started in
1933, in response to a need for professional human services in the
expanding urban area. Over the years, the agency has grown from its
foundation programs for counseling, emergency assistance and adoptions
to numerous others, including refugee re-settlement. We have
immigration, residential facilities for children, foster care, domestic
violence and emergency shelters. With over 125 employees, our agency
today is a well-respected service provider with expertise in working
with populations representing many different races, cultures and
House was created in the Phoenix Durango Jail, born out of my
frustration with the lack of services for women wanting to move out of
the dead end life of prostitution. Upon release from jail, I continued
to conduct twice weekly support groups from Durango while reclaiming my
life. The jail program has grown in response to the needs of these
women, and now includes a variety of support services.
1995, Dignity became a program of Catholic Social Services of Phoenix.
Catholic Social Services presented a proposal to the City of Phoenix for
a new and innovative program, specifically designed to offer women
involved in prostitution alternatives to their way of life. Dignity was
awarded a Neighborhood Block Watch grant that funded life skills
classes, a telephone hotline, counseling, and hope.
with our Dignity program in the County jail, we now publish a quarterly
newsletter, Sorry, Weíre Closed.
This newsletter is aimed at the community and women still involved in
prostitution. It provides them information on how prostitution affects
the community and the women themselves. It is also a forum for the women
to display their creative and artistic talents in the "Creative
Corner." We print educational pieces on various aspects of
prostitution, such as how prostitution is a domestic violence issue; the
tactics of pimps, and the revolving door syndrome. Also included are
resources available for women wanting to get out of prostitution and
stories from the women sharing hopes, dreams and frustrations. These
stories enable the public to see the human side of women caught in this
trap and for the women in prostitution to see a way out.
addition, we opened a hotline, where women needing help or resources can
call. We received funds to provide transportation for women leaving jail
to reach a safe place, counseling or support meetings. We also
collaborate with other community providers to offer an ongoing 8-week
series of life skills classes for women. Life skills training topics are
decision-making, problem solving, goal setting, assertiveness and
self-esteem, effective communication, stress management, conflict
resolution, ethics and values.
experience in the past year has proved that the Dignity programs are
embraced by the community and by the women they are designed to serve.
Each month, an average of eighteen women attend per group attends the
program in jail. Our life skills classes have twelve to fourteen
attendees per session, and are growing in size with every rotation.
Utilization of the phone line for information and referrals has steadily
increased. Three hundred copies of our last newsletter were printed and
distributed to interested individuals and groups.
who prostitute are comprised mostly of women who face insurmountable
socioeconomic barriers to becoming contributing members of society
through legitimate employment. These women are at risk for poverty,
violence, poor health and drug abuse. Data gathered from the Phoenix
Police Department and the City of Phoenix Prosecutorís Office states
that in 1996, a total of 1,508 women were arrested for prostitution or
commercialized vice in the Phoenix-Metro area. Unlike domestic violence,
women used in prostitution are criminals under the law. We believe
intervention strategies must work within the criminal justice system to
create alternatives to the revolving door of incarceration, substance
abuse and dependency upon the pimp who controls a prostituteís life.
has proposed a one-year pilot program to work with the court system to
offer first time offenders the opportunity to interrupt the downward
spiral associated with prostitution through a 36-hour intensive
education program. The City of Phoenix Public Safety Committee supported
implementing this program and the City Council approved. Laws were
changed, and now women arrested for the first time on prostitution
charges are given the option of doing fifteen days in the county jail or
attending the 36-hour Dignity Diversion Program. Women who successfully
complete the program will have their charges dismissed. The length and
content of the Diversion Program is a result of considerable
deliberation. It is believed it must be long enough to explore certain
issues in depth, yet short enough to create maximum impact for women
whose lives are unstable and transient.
substance abuse is not a specifically targeted topic, factors leading to
and perpetuating this problem are integrated throughout our curriculum.
We strongly believe that most participants in the Diversion Program
could benefit from drug and alcohol counseling, and stipulate that
concurrent substance abuse treatment by community providers be an
adjunct component for individuals dealing with drug and alcohol issues.
House believes that prostitution is the last piece of the puzzle to the
battered womenís movement, and women escaping prostitution deserve all
the resources and protection that any woman leaving an abusive
relationship has or should have. One of our responsibilities is to
educate the public that prostitution and domestic violence share many
my experience, women getting out of jail with no resources, or women
trying to leave prostitution feel their only choice is to return to a
life they know.
have a lot of information on how to work with women who are victims,
because how we work with women is really important. If a woman has any
kind of skills, she can, with little support, go ahead and move on, and
use an empowerment model to get healthy. A woman who has been extremely
victimized, hurt from childhood and now in prostitution, is harder to
work with. She needs to work step by step; she needs to be guided along
and she needs huge amounts of emotional support.
could not bring women who have been involved in prostitution with me to
this meeting, but I asked the women in jail I work with to send their
thoughts. They were more than happy to give their comments and share
their feelings. These are excerpts from their letters:
are the obstacles to women and girls leaving prostitution?
have been a stripper or prostitute in one shape or another for the past
16 years. I have two little boys ages 1 and 3. I want a way out, but the
lack of services keeps me from getting out of prostitution."
do not have enough shelters or places to detox and there are almost no
inpatient treatment programs. The half way houses charge at least $200
to get in. Where do we get this kind of money without turning a trick
and starting our addiction all over? Fear of failure, poor education, no
communication skills, no social skills, no spirituality, major PTSD
(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) issues, lack of support and therapy.
Lack of social services, lack of resources to help women get over the
trauma of prostitution, rape, incest, and emotional and physical abuse
make it almost impossible to change."
can the harm of prostitution to women and girls be made more visible?
to jail, juvenile centers and try to reach the young girls just getting
into prostitution or who are at risk for it. Have more women in recovery
work with us. There are commercials for ďsay no to drugs,Ē drunk
driving, no smoking, why canít we have commercials on no more
prostitution? Show what it looks like to have run into a crazed trick
and give numbers to call for support and help. Have billboards on
stopping prostitution. Walks and marches to protest the harms. Local
news and TV stations to do public service announcements. Have survivors
go to schools and colleges and lecture on the harms and myths of
woman that has been in our jail program stated that she has been robbed,
kicked, beaten with fists, knives, guns, coat hangers, baseball bats and
boards, either by a trick or her pimp. Each girl knew someone who has
been murdered while in prostitution.
have a short poem that really depicts how we work with women and how
be fooled by me.
be fooled by the face I wear.
I wear a 1,000 masks and none of them are me.
is an art thatís second nature to me, but donít be fooled.
Godís sake donít be fooled.
give the impression that I am secure, that all is sunny and unruffled.
confidence is my name, and coolness is my game.
the water is calm, and Iím in command.
I need no one.
donít believe me please.
surface may seem smooth, but my surface is a mask.
lies no complacency, beneath lies the real me.
frightened, alone, I panic at the thought of this weakness being
frantically create a mask to hide behind,
nonchalant, sophisticated facade
help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.
yet this glance is my only salvation and I know it,
is, if it is followed by acceptance and caring.
the only thing that will assure me of what I canít assure myself,
I am worth something.
I donít tell you this, I donít dare.
afraid youíll think less of me,
youíll laugh at me,
your laugh will kill me.
I play my game, my desperate game with a facade of assurance without
a trembling child within.
begins, I pray to mass, I idly chatter to you everything that is really
nothing of whatís crying inside of me.
when I go into my routine, donít be fooled by what I am saying,
listen carefully to hear what I am not saying.
House is making history for women in the state of Arizona. Many of our
lives have burned or been demolished and there seemed no where to go.
But like the Phoenix bird rising from the ashes, we CAN begin to live a
new life. A life with self-esteem and dignityóbecause what we have
done is not who we are.