Sidney Ford: Time is now for Baltimore to add a prostitution court
Aug 2, 2007 3:00 AM (1 day ago)
by Sidney Ford, The Examiner
BALTIMORE ( Map, News) - A small group from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, advocacy organizations and neighborhood associations recently visited a community court in Washington. We wanted to learn more about how Baltimore might develop a “prostitution court.” The courts are designed to break the cycle of prostitution-related incarceration and suffering through specifically designed services and partnership with the judicial system.
A young woman who had successfully completed substance abuse treatment and other requirements of her probation stood before one of the judges that day. She was to be released from further obligations to the court, but was clearly still traumatized by her chaotic behavior. Like our best judges, this one praised her worthy efforts, and encouraged her to continue to lead a productive life. When asked if she had anything to say, she whispered, “thank you, judge. Please, just don’t hurt me anymore.”
This notion of being hurt by the system, while also being helped by it, struck a chord with me. I’ve met so many women and girls who are forced into prostitution by circumstances larger than their own personal decisions and are kept there, often in enormous pain, by individuals and systems which in many ways prevent their escape.
Children who feel abandoned and abused frequently run away from home often into the arms of strangers who say they care, but then abuse them. One of our clients, “Casey,” was given to the landlord by her mother each month in lieu of rent when she was 9 years old. He raped her and then returned her to her mother. Casey’s attempts to tell others about this nightmare were unsuccessful. She ran away at 13 and was prostituted by a series of men and women “high class” pimps who ran a lucrative escort service in Las Vegas, and then by street-level pimps here in Baltimore. Eventually, however, Casey healed enough to leave “the life.”
The prostitution court, with specially trained judges, prosecutors and other court personnel, and the inclusion of experienced service providers, may represent the only hope that many of Casey’s sisters have to lead a life worth living.
Law-abiding citizens rightly want the scourge stopped; women living through the on-going trauma that is prostitution want to have real choices and change. However, without adequate housing, effective substance abuse treatment, trauma-focused mental health counseling, life skills training and appropriate health, education and employment resources, the women may continue to believe the lie that they must “service” the men who troll for illicit sex in some of Baltimore’s most desperate neighborhoods.
Prostituted children (and others caught up in human trafficking) must be rescued and correctly labeled “victims” in this deadly game; women involved in prostitution deserve the chance to prove they can rise above their circumstances.
From a practical standpoint, re-incarceration of such individuals is expensive, far more so than help for them would be. The total costs haven’t been calculated, but with an estimated $3,500 cost for each arrest and brief incarceration, three avoided arrests a year will save more than $10,000 per person for taxpayers. Success in diverting these nonviolent offenders to treatment and care would also lessen the burden on all city law enforcement systems.
We must rise to the occasion by supporting a prostitution court. It will help to ensure Baltimore’s most vulnerable citizens are given the best help our justice system has available and that communities can thrive without the presence of prostitution.
Sidney Ford is director and founder of You Are Never Alone, Maryland’s first organization for women and children exploited through prostitution and human trafficking. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.