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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Letter to Jovana Lara with ABC News Los Angeles

That's kind of an outline of my background.  If you look at the clips at I invite you to look at the one speaking about a "brothel" I was supposedly operating.  However, the news commented that I had a "warehouse close to the police station that have surveillance equipment and security".  What this was in reality was the first "safe house" for adult trafficking victims.  The only other program that existed back then was the one opened up in 1979.  This was because groups like Covenant House, Boys Town, etc. were either refusing to admit prostitutes - or there were issues of the staff and/or residents sexually abusing them.  There were horror stories of young women being led into kitchen's after dinner - and then raped by 1/2 of the residents and/or even staff in some treatment centers.  There was of course the accusations against Father Ritter for supposedly abusing the male prostitutes while he ran Covenant House.  There just weren't the appropriate services for them in the "runaway" shelters back then.  So Lois had opened CON in 1979.  Leaving me wondering what to do with the adults.

When Linda Lovelace stepped up in 1980 and said she had been forced to film "Deep Throat" on a mob financed film by her pimp while no one stepped up to stop her - the public didn't believe her.  I watched as audiences "boo'd" and even yelled "liar" at her.  So I knew in the early 1980's we had no allies and nowhere to turn.  I also found when I called the police - they would hang up the phone on us or threaten to arrest us.  When I started having anxiety attacks and fainting - I kept going to $250 an hour psychiatrists who told me that "no such thing existed" and then would try and lock me up for "psychiatric observation".  I had actually started college when I was 16 to work towards my psychology degree.  So what little I did read in college textbooks about us was pretty much we were "junkie prostitutes".  The issue was back then about the same as if I came to you today and said "we need to find a way to help stop these aliens from abducting our women".  That's how we were received.

Now I didn't have time to "raise awareness".  We had the Grim Reaper, the Hillside Stranger, the Green River Killer, and of course the traffickers targeting us because who were we going to call to stop them?  The cops?  I really enjoyed the movie "Frozen Ground" because it really showed how we were treated back then by law enforcement.  It was open season on us and the predators knew it.  So I put together that warehouse thinking that if there was shooting at least stray bullets wouldn't hit any kids.

But of course how do I explain this to a court?  They of course had no evidence this was a "brothel" because it wasn't.  But I had other people who wanted me in jail where I believe I would have been murdered to silence me.  Mind you reporters like Gary Webb who have now spoken out about Iran Contra were probably murdered for speaking out.  Rick "Freeway" Ross talks about how he was set up also by an informant to life in prison to silence him.  In my case - they had nothing on me so they threatened to charge my mother with pimping me to force me into a plea bargain.

I spent some time waiting to make sure I could speak out completely without legal backlash.  I also then put together a board of "mentors".  People who knew not only about the founding of AA but also a deep  understanding about how to create social change.  I studied the civil rights movement with ex-Black Panthers and I also studied with holocaust survivors on what happened with how Hitler used propaganda.  I took classes at the East West center about how Gandhi would only wear cotton made in India to produce change.   So when I stepped up onto that talk show stage in 1987 - I was ready!   I came on promoting of course the first hotline for adults - and also telling the public this kind of thing was real, was happening to American men and women, and that not everyone in the sex industry was a "Happy Hooker" I further said we needed to stop arresting these victims who also couldn't speak out because they also knew they wouldn't be believed.

Ex-mayor Tom Bradley was a true visionary.  Knowing how long it takes to changes things politically - he just just donated us a room down at City Hall.  He then appointed someone from each dept. from the police, to sheriff's, to probation, social services, etc.  You have to realize that just in 1986 - there had been a group trying to push a Bill that was calling to "quarantine" prostitutes on an island as a "health risk".   So we were also viewed as "disease carriers" then.

Now I ask you - how is an HIV positive prostitute supposed to stop working when she has a pimp forcing her to work?  Also, how is one supposed to get tested when to be honest is incriminating herself?  Also, condoms were considered "evidence of prostitution" so pro's weren't carrying condoms.  What to do?  Tom helped me get someone from UCLA, and the CDC as well as the Health Dept. together.  They also got an office down about Highland and Santa Monica over where many transgender and gay prostitutes street walked back then because they didn't have cars.  He had the police suspend all "criminalizing" and declared condoms were not to be considered "evidence".  The first test of sex workers was horrifying. They showed an 80 percent positive rate of infection.

I explained we couldn't get them to quit without housing, food, jobs, school, etc.  He got a grant issued that allowed us to hire ex-sex workers who were HIV positive as "outreach workers".  He helped a porn star, Sharon Mitchell, get a special medical degree so she set up AIM.  AIM was the exclusive medical testing site for the porn and sex industry for many years.  They shut down about 10 years ago.  But back then - they were it.   We set up a special process where prostitutes, sex workers, porn performers, were all asked "do you want to leave"?  Those who said "yes" - found they could go out the back way. Through there - they got housing, education, counseling, etc.  Their pimps were then walked out the front door by security.  We didn't focus on prosecution of the pimp because we had victims who needed to not be stressed because back then if you were a female victim you were usually dead within one year.

The jails were packed and no guard wanted to touch the prostitutes.  Sybil Brand back then had 2000 inmates - 1800 of who were prostitutes. The transgenders were sleeping on the floor in the dayroom.  Tom got a house that we were able to put the males into that were HIV positive.  He found an empty drug program and turned it into the first residential program where we focused on the HIV positive and pregnant.  It was in the old Via Avanta program.  The Mary Magdalene Project got the prostitutes without major drug or mental health issues.

These programs were so successful that at the end of the first year - the studies were coming out less than 6 percent positive for HIV infection.  Which was unheard of.  That was less than "straight' non-sex workers.  Which gave Joe Conforte, the owner of the Mustang Ranch legal brothel, an idea.  In 1988 - he embarked upon a campaign to expand brothels into California on the premise that it "eliminated HIV".  No one would go up against Joe but our program - so we duked it out about his rigged fake medical results he'd bought and at the end of the year - no brothels were allowed in California.

These programs were so successful I was asked to bring them back to Pennsylvania.  Mind you this was before we had federal recognition for sex trafficking.  How we paid for services was this - to take care of about those 1800 prostitutes - it would cost  the county about $1,000,000.  We took $350,000 and for a year ran the "Program for Female Offenders" in Allentown.  This took off and a program was also started in Vancouver - the first ever in Canada.

I came back to Los Angeles in 1991 to have my baby, get married, etc.  My now ex-husband was also an ex-pimp and prostitute who became a drug counselor.  I spent those years helping Mission College set up the first ever training program for counselors, social workers, etc., on how to work with this community effectively.  Realize that before we came along - if you were a prostitute in the system you were previously viewed as "hopeless".  They weren't staying clean, nor staying in the programs, because much of the time the trafficking issue was ignored.  Meaning their pimp would often drag them back.  That or the fact they couldn't speak about these issues - made it impossible for them to get, and stay, clean.

In 1994, we started hearing about child sex trafficking where the kids couldn't get to Children of the Night.  This was going on in Nebraska - and again before this issue had federal recognition.  All most people remember was me leaving Los Angeles again to go set up some houses in Nebraska.  There was no internet then, no cell phones, no small video cameras - it was a different time.  This is where i met Johnny Gosch's mom and we did a lot of good work back there.

In 1996 however, the calls we were getting needing help to get out of legal brothels.  You have to put into perspective these women had no cars, there were no cabs out where these brothels were, and it was literally ILLEGAL for them to leave on foot in most cases.  We had helped one woman escape who was on the Sally Jesse Raphael show - and she spread the word.  Soon we had the madam at the Mustang out of the trade and clean and sober.  We got Joe shut down and chased out of the country.  But literally these brothel owners would sic the police after these women.  The only way out was if someone literally drove up to pick them up and got them out of there.  There was also no bus from one end of the state to the other and didn't exist until 2012.  So we had to cover the whole state.  This is why you see a lot of clips about us from 1987 until the early 1990's and then it drops off dramatically.  The reason is because the Review Journal which is most of the media in Nevada is designed to basically support the sex industry there.  Remember that state was covering up a lot of dead bodies back then - literally!

There was a pretty big push to put a legal brothel where the Mob Museum now sits.  So it took us a while to get that idea show down.  I mean it had celebrities, businessmen, politicians, etc. all pushing for that idea.  It took two things to turn that corner.  One was a campaign where we got big companies to sign letters about how much money they were NOT spending in Nevada because of the brothels there already.  We also had to prepare an economic report that for every $1 the sex trade brought in - we had to show $3.00 going out on social services, lowered real estate prices, over crowded jails, ER's, etc.  We didn't really turn that corner until Obama piped up with a statement about the whole thing.  Then of course we had Aubrey show up at an "off the calendar" hearing with the legislature.  The only person who countered their bid to expand was us - but our survivor told her story which you can hear at   It must have impressed them - because they voted them out and now there's the Mob Museum there, along with the arts district and farmers' market!

By the year 2000 we were rocking.  We were like AA - we had a chapter of SWA in every major city of the USA.  Every Salvation Army or Catholic Charity had a meeting hall for us.  We had the street hookers in their programs, and the escorts would drive in to these meetings in their BMW's and Ferrari's (literally).  In LA we had our porn stars, and in NY we had a lot of madams, and of course each region was a little different.  But essentially we worked with every police, probation, and social services dept. in the country.  This led to the Trafficking Act of 2000 passed.  This was huge because if you were raped, kidnapped, beaten, etc., but were a prostitute - you were excluded from being able to get help through victim services.

Why?  If you were shot by a store owner trying to break into that store - no lawyer is going to give them damages against you.  In the eyes of the law up to that point - we were viewed as "criminals".  The legal attitude was "you got what you got".  Much like how if you were married and raped by your husband at one point - you had no recourse. For us - it didn't matter if you got raped walking to the store.  If you were a prostitute - well then you were pretty much ignored by the system back then.  So much so that when I took  a woman who had been stabbed 51 times into the Hillside Strangler Task Force - we were thrown out.  When I asked why - the cop said "because I can't get a warrant based on the word of a whore".  Meaning our testimony wasn't valid because of being a criminal.

Now to address this - I've always insisted we need to "decriminalize" prostitution.  Otherwise, we're not going to get witnesses to come forward to help prosecute our traffickers because they'll be too afraid of self-incrimination.  Same for them coming forward to help.  It was the same with condoms - who was going to carry them if used against them in court?  We fought really hard to get prosecutors to stop using this so we could get any woman to carry condoms.  Because even a "non-pro" was called a "whore" if she carried condoms. Now to combat this we made a horrible miscalculation.  We went to the porn industry and talked them into doing "soft porn" with condoms to promote "safe sex".  BIG MISTAKE.  What it did was fuel a huge "amateur" porn epidemic to counter.  Luckily this was before the internet - and we were able to correct the situation before many more got infected with HIV.

I got to tell you - all that work to push for "federal recognition" we thought was our payoff.  I had spent $400,000 of my own money because we couldn't get anything paid for by the state because again this wasn't even viewed as "real" back then.  I remember the first trial I testified in as an expert witness against the pimp to explain how they make the victim "think" they're acting voluntarily when in fact not - the FBI couldn't even find a classification for me!

But essentially by the year 2000 - we had a chapter of SWA in every city.  Any reporters working on stores on this issue came to us to interview who they needed.  We had over 190,000 members in our active database then.  If you needed to speak to a stripper who was Jewish with two kids - we had one you could interview.  If you needed to speak to an African American HIV positive transgender - we had it (and still do).  We had worked with five films, and done three documentaries by then - advising just about everyone in the news and media up to that point.  We didn't have a "residential" program because we believed in survivors getting their own houses.  It was safer that way anyway because we found once pimps learned where the houses were - well that's what happened in 1984.  I had rescued a woman from her pimp in Lancaster - and to get her cast out and back home he figured if he got it shut down - she'd have no where to go back.

I knew how to help men and women escape and recover from sex work whether trafficked or not.  That's my forte and expertise. I'm not  political science or history major.  So I was completely unprepared for what took off when this was federally recognized once that Trafficking Act passed.  Imagine it like when the Indian Reservation was allowed to have gambling on even grow pot on their land.   What happened was we created a gold mine and therefore a gold rush at the same time.  I had no idea what was to come.

But Randall Tobias and then President Bush teamed up and they "hijacked" the movement.  Even Michael Tobias has said the same in interviews.  What Bush did was he confined any federal money for victims to only "faith based" programs.  Now how he did that when there's supposed to be "separation of church and state I have no idea.   Now mind you our studies had shown that past "faith based" programs had universally failed us.  So that was one huge problem with involving the church in with helping us.

Tobias came in with the TVRA of 2003.  That modified everything to be basically two big problems:  (1) you couldn't work with any trafficking victim in this country unless you were going to state that "sex work was not  job but rape", and (2) that unless you were going to call for all forms of prostitution to be OUTLAWED then you were considered the same as "supporting trafficking".  Now let's take the job as a madam - how is being a madam a form of "rape"?  People could be forced to be madams and even strippers. Stripping is not rape because it's not sex.  Now if we make prostitution, and all sex work ILLEGAL then we're going to be right back to how are we going to get prosecutions when people are trying to cover themselves?

Let's put it in another frame - what if you were running drug court and you told Narcotics Anonymous that you couldn't refer anyone to them, or work with them, or even speak to them, unless they (1) joined in the fight to outlaw all medical marijuana, and (2) you tell addicts on legally prescribed medications that their doctors are "drug dealers" and that they have to treat drug dealers the same as licensed doctors.  Well that's going to make some addicts step up and say "hey I'm on prescribed medication and then this whole debate comes up about what's "okay to use" and what's "not okay to use" and when is using "okay" and "not okay" and it then turns into a whole confusing can of worms.  NA keeps it simple with drug court - they don't get involved in any legislation about drugs like medical marijuana and they make no distinctions between drugs from a dealer or a doctor.  A drug is a drug.

Now take back to us.  We say "sex work is sex work" and "trafficking" isn't about what's "legal" or not.  We view the prostitute standing on a corner no different than a woman making a porn or stripping.  We also make no distinction between a man, woman or transgender. Our outreach is to anyone whether Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or even atheist.  WE also don't make some line in the sand saying "only those who were forced".  It doesn't matter if forced or not - we focus if you are male or female, any religion or lack of religion, any age, for any reason, you want to quit and recover - then we're here to help.

So what happened was a huge wave of groups rose up in 2004 that had both federal funding AND a big fat check book from the Catholic Church to fund "faith based groups" and "safe houses" which targeted young women who were pregnant and their babies could be adopted.  These programs EXCLUDED males, transgenders, LGBT, the Jews, the Buddhists, the atheist, etc.

In 2004 - our groups were handed "pink slips" by the Salvation Army and the Catholic Charities.  Our members were banned from their property.  Because we wouldn't sign these policies - we were viewed "the same as traffickers".  Anyone who received funding from the government, and/or these Catholic Bishops, would tell me "if we even speak to you - we lose our funding".  Suddenly our members were fired from all the jobs they held within the system.  Again, imagine if every member of AA or NA were fired out of the treatment field.   Imagine if every drug counselor who belonged to NA was fired.  Imagine if every treatment program that had an AA meeting on site was shunned by the DUI courts?  It was a devastation.  We had teams of outreach workers for example in Phoenix where 15 survivors were fired on the spot.  I was getting calls from 1400 meetings across the USA who were telling me "we've just been banned from the property".

Now I might have understood this is there was a replacement system - but they were literally banning our program from the premises we'd met at for years, anyone in SWA was fired who worked for any program working with prostitutes, referrals to our program from other programs were immediately stopped.  Jail chaplains stopped giving our our phone number to inmates, cops stopped giving out our flyers to prostitutes they'd see on the "stroll", counselors at the mental health departments and social services suddenly stopped giving referrals to their clients to us,  probation officers had to take down our posters and not give out our numbers.

The whole system was replaced with a Christian based philosophy which excluded males, the LGBT, the Jewish, the Buddhists, etc.  Which created another backlash - those in the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities who were Jewish, Buddhist, or Lesbians - were literally ejected.  When we asked why the Jewish women were being ejected we were told it was because their "kitchens weren't built to accommodate".  When we asked why the lesbians were being ejected - we were told "we don't  have separate accommodations!   To prevent women who were pregnant from seeing licensed therapists who might advocate abortions, or doctors who might also advocate abortions - these women left in their programs were restricted to only "pastoral counselors" and "nurse practitioners" until such time as delivery.

II don't know how to describe what this looked like - but the stress of it all caused me to have a horrible stroke that almost killed me.  I mean we had 1400 groups suddenly just evicted and shut down.  I'm getting phone calls from across the country from lesbians, Jewish women, transgenders, etc. all telling me they've just been thrown out into the streets with nothing and no where to go.  I've got members telling me they're "out of a job" suddenly and have no idea why considering our programs were very effective.  So much so we've had three investigative reporters out who wrote glowing reports about us- and even professor Sharon Oselin's book "Leaving the Sex Industry" reported out of a 10 year study of three of the top programs in the country what made the difference between one and the other was those who attended our program.

Now what do we do?  What we did was knock on lawyer's doors.  No one wanted to get involved unless i had $10,000 upfront for a retainer because there was no monetary judgments.  I could only get a "monetary judgment" if I could show I'd been making money before to show "loss of earnings".  We'd just got federal recognition. I'd been spending my own money up to that point - so how do I show "economic loss" for work I've been paying to do?  Finally the ACLU rose to the job.  The lawsuit of ACLU v. Catholic Bishops won.  The court found this kind of "exclusion" wasn't right or legal.  They basically said the church couldn't use their checkbook to tell groups who they could talk to and who they could not.  That was the church.

What about the federal government?,_Inc.  This Supreme Court decision did not come down until 2012.  This decision basically confirmed that one can't restrict who you work with based on them having the views as these groups.  So now they couldn't threaten to withdraw any federal funding, or restrict federal funding - to anyone group who wasn't saying exactly what these groups wanted them to say.

Okay so the courts have spoken.  All of this was "unconstitutional" and "illegal".  Especially since what they were doing essentially was wiping out  services to the LGBT, the men, and those who were not Christian such as the Jewish people, Buddhist, and even the atheists.  

But honestly - anyone who has now entered this field between 2004 and 2013 - has not been told anything about us pretty much.  Anyone who did talk about us told me they were fired. If this was prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1995 - I could get out public service announcements like we used to do in order to get the word out we are still here.  I used to have weekly public access TV shows.  Those aren't free anymore either.

So Lara - now you know why I'm writing you with this whole long story.  I have to let people know all over again we're still here for those who wondered what happened to us (some people thought I died after the stroke), as well as a whole new generation that we exist.  I mean I'm looking around at all these "trafficking task forces" that were set up before the Supreme Court decision that were afraid to even speak to us for fear of losing their funding .

I'm writing to ask for your help.  We certainly can't afford to print up postcards to let people know we're here.  To let them know about our resources. We have the hotline answered by a survivor 24/7. There's our "Recovery Guide" written by survivors about recovery.  SWA has a jail "mail study program for those locked up to work with.  Our radio show at gives new survivors stories they can listen to for support.  We have access to lists of employers who hire them and scholarships to put them through school.  We have the largest list of residential programs in the country.  SWAN is our program for parents and/or kids of prostitutes to find support.

We are also acceptable for "alternative sentencing purposes".  Meaning if Amber Batts in Alaska had known about us - she could have asked the judge to court order her to our program instead of jail.  This would have allowed her to save her two kids and maybe her marriage.  We are not restricted to a special "court' - any prostitute anywhere found guilty can ask the judge to attend.

More important is our "survivor network".  While there are many shelters, domestic violence shelters, and treatment centers across the country who now take survivors of trafficking - the vast majority of them don't offer transportation.  I can get a call on the hotline however from say Miami Florida - I can call our Miami chapter and find someone willing to go and pick up that victim, then take them into where they need to go - all while protecting their "anonymity".  I don't know any other program that can offer that but ours.  Not even the National Trafficking Network has access to phone numbers of people who will offer transportation to other support services.

So please help us get the word out there again that we're still here and allow us to connect to these new programs and also connect those calling our hotline to services.  I soo appreciate your time in reading this.  Thank you.

Jody Williams
(702) 468-4529


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