Prostitution exploits vulnerable members of our community physically, emotionally and chemically. Both women and men find themselves in a sub-culture where they are made to be increasingly more and more dependent on their pimps. Oftentimes efforts to turn their lives around are simply met with more physical abuse, or threats to withhold drugs upon which these women and men have become dependent.
Don’t ever let anybody tell you prostitution is a victimless crime. The victims are the prostitutes themselves.
In our City Code, a first time offense for prostitution carries mandatory jail time. Based on our high recidivism rates (the rate of committing the crime again after release from prison) it’s undeniable that our prison system does not rehabilitate. And in the case of prostitution, it’s predictable that the women and men will simply return to that lifestyle, and often to their original pimp after release from jail.
In an effort to touch the lives of these victims in real and meaningful ways, I and my staff at the Ward 6 City Council Office have put together what’s called Project RAISE. This stands for Responsible Alternatives to Incarceration for the Sexually Exploited. It’s a diversion program that gives eligible prostitutes an option to stay out of jail, enter diversion and begin to put their lives back together. Last week we conducted our 4th RAISE. As has been true on each previous time, many women chose diversion over jail. Women chose the option of freeing themselves from the cycle of exploitation that grips too many for too long.
We put the program together in cooperation with Southern Arizona against Slavery, a group of sex trafficking survivors, TPD and City Court. Also involved are the Tucson Women’s Commission, the DOVE Diversion Program and some committed volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of others. Because of this group, over the 4 RAISE events we have conducted, an estimated 10-15 women have chosen to rejoin their families and turn away from the exploitation they had been enduring.
These days prostitution takes place largely over the internet. That is, prostitutes post invitations on-line for escort services, massages, or other enticing activities. Plans are made to meet in a local hotel room. The ‘old style’ streetwalking isn’t how it works any longer. What has remained the same is that those involved are kept in the life style through fear, intimidation, the need for drugs, or by raw physical abuse. Project RAISE offers a way out.
Tragically, we are seeing young girls being used in this trade. In our last RAISE we were fortunate to bust a ring in which 3 youth were rescued from their adult pimps. In a rare win, the pimps were arrested and booked for trafficking of minors. It’s my hope that the girls will take advantage of this second chance and show the courage to step away from the abusive situation they were in.
Prostitution exists throughout our community. It hits the economically vulnerable. It hits all ethnic groups. It hits both men and women. Our Project RAISE offers those who come into the program a chance to be treated in a way that validates them as a person, and not as a commodity to be bought and sold. It offers hope.
I’m grateful to the partners who have joined us in this life changing program. In the days ahead more lives will be touched by the work of the RAISE effort. This Holiday season, love your kids and give thanks that by the Grace of God, they’re safe and treasured in your home.