Monday, January 18, 2016
LETTER TO ALEXANDRA LUTNICK, PhD
Dear Ms. Lutnick:
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but we formed our program as a 12 step group for one reason. We had consulted with the California Attorney General in 1986 who was Edwin Meese, author of the Meese Report. Not only were the police arresting everyone for prostitution no matter what the circumstances, but there had been a proposition almost passed that wanted to further scoop up anyone identified as a “prostitute” and quarantine them on an island. I could just imagine how horrible it would be for trafficking victims to be further shuttled off to some remote island somewhere and knew something had to change. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_64_(1986)
As I think I told you before, I had put together the first safe house for adult trafficking victims in 1984 only to find myself arrested. The pimp had retaliated by calling the cops and claiming I was running a brothel. Of course the victim testified the pimp had broken her arm and nose and the charges against me were dropped. That’s why the media dubbed me the “high tech madam” back then because they couldn’t understand why I had all this security and was next to the police station. I couldn’t explain at the time either until things were cleared by my attorney.
But all of this went into a meeting with Edwin Meese and the mayor of Los Angeles at the time, Tom Bradley, along with Sheriff Block and Chief Gates. Everyone agreed that prostitution was not going to be decriminalized any time soon. Remember, just in 1980 Linda Lovelace had tried to raise awareness about sex trafficking in her book “Ordeal” only to be accused of “making it up because she was jealous of Marilyn Chambers” who was her pimp’s next victim.
Victims of trafficking who ran for help to domestic violence and homeless shelters, drug treatment programs, and even the ER were refused even admittance because of being viewed as a criminal and because of the added fear now of AIDS. I know this to be true because two pimps who were later nicknamed the “Hillside Strangler” (they started out as pimps – or I should say they would turn their victims into prostitutes by force so the police wouldn’t listen to them or help them before they escalated up to murdering women) had stabbed a girlfriend of mine 51 times. I took her to the ER bleeding everywhere and they refused to help her. I had to threaten legal action just to get them to stitch her up (we had no insurance either) but they still refused to admit her. The police refused to even go to the address I had rescued her from because they “couldn’t get a warrant based on the word of a whore”. When I asked what they meant by that – they explained that a prostitute was a criminal in the eyes of the law and therefore no testimony by them was “credible”.
Well all of this had to change but the first thing was we had to find a way to stop having these victims thrown into jail like criminals. The problem was mandatory sentencing requirements. Under existing laws courtesy of AA and NA – these men like Edwin Meese explained to me we could “grandfather” in “alternative sentencing” without having to pass any special laws, set up any special courts, and it could be done immediately. The judge could hear the details of the case, and if he realized this woman had been indeed a victim – then even if there was a mandatory sentence requirement he could order her to our program instead of jail. Further, it gave them a way to provide a bail option for some (they would court order them to our supervision). It was a time when no doctor, PhD, program director, etc. would even think of starting some kind of program for us because again we were viewed them as 100 percent guilty criminals, drug addicts, disease carriers, etc.
By forming our program as a 12 step group, Bradley then formed a commission which allowed us not only to start providing alternative sentencing for these victims, but we were able to clear out 1800 female prostitutes, 400 transgenders right out of the jail immediately for one. Then we set up the first formal alternative sentencing program for them. He even found us an empty drug treatment center that used to be Via Avanta and he took every single pregnant HIV positive pregnant woman and got her out of jail no matter what the charge and put them into this program. The men/transgenders he set up a whole house for them – but had to keep it on the “down low” or the place would have been fire bombed back then.
It was so effective in Los Angeles that I got asked to set up the same in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1989 which was the “Program for Female Offenders”. Now these were formal alternative sentencing programs that provided residential treatment, inhouse counseling, etc. But the 12 step program allowed us to provide alternative sentencing to victims anywhere in the USA at that time, even to go in and expunge records. We’ve expunged close to 200 records that I can remember off the top of my head by having the survivor’s sponsor go into the court with records of how things have changed, and the judge wiped out their past charges.
We were doing this across the country Alexandra up until the TVRA of 2003 was passed. Once this issue received federal recognition, and there was money available from both the government and the Catholic Church – our meetings were literally booted right out of the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities we were meeting at. See we couldn’t hold meetings any place else because you have to have insurance. With prostitution still being illegal, that means our meetings are technically a meeting of criminals. While no one is arrested because of a law Narcotics Anonymous passed because they were being arrested at meeting – no one arrests anyone at our meetings. But we can’t get insurance to meet most other places like the public library for example. The SA and CC used to donate us a meeting space in every major city where we’d then have the men and women come in for alternative sentencing, and even part of their probation. In Michigan for example you can’t complete your probation without attending SWA for one year.
So after the TVRA of 2003 – suddenly the church became a “competitor” if you will to what we were doing. Also, it used to cost the jails money per day to incarcerate a prostitute. That’s why they wanted them handed to us instead of being incarcerated. Now they’re getting anywhere from $75 to $150 a day per person – boy they want to put as many as they can in jail. Especially with so many addicts now going free because of recent legislation – they’re struggling to put even more prostitutes behind bars.
The result? A group called CAASE set up Division 17, Project Rose, and 10 other courts that decided to run things differently than we did. We were for when a judge was going to sentence a man or woman on prostitution charges to provide an alternative for that judge if he felt this person was a trafficking victim. However, these projects created by CAASE were literally going up to women on the street that appeared to be prostitutes, then threatening them with arrest if they didn’t agree to attend their programs which were faith based and clearly “anti-prostitution” in their message.
As a 12 step program, in an “official” capacity, and at the level of “press, radio and films” we can’t express an opinion either way anymore than NA or AA can. NA can’t come out against medical marijuana for example. All they can do is say it’s a relapse to use the drug. We’re in the same boat. We can’t express an opinion for or against legal or illegal prostitution – only focus on keeping our members away from it and working on their recovery. You also have to realize the term “trafficking” wasn’t even coined until 13 years after we launched our hotline and our 12 step program.
Now I’m sure you’ve seen the reports that prove most victims don’t identify as victims. When they ask for help, or go online looking for help – they don’t say “I’m a trafficking victim”. In fact, I’m speaking to more than one person that’s a social worker, counselor, or working in the jail who reports to me that the victim will argue with them even “I’m not a trafficking victim”. But they WILL agree that they “want to leave sex work” which is way beyond prostitution today. Someone working as just a prostitute today is very rare. Today they’re put into porn, they’re put into strip clubs, they’re put onto webcams – it’s a whole list of things they’re put into doing for these traffickers and pimps. Some are even force to get pregnant because they make more money, and then the babies are even sold in the black market.
Anyway, my point being that I saw you testifying at the California legislature about the need for other options for these women arrested for prostitution. Here’s where you’re going to run into the same problems that we went through when we decided to form a 12 step program and that’s a lack of funding, a lack of trained staff, and a general lack of resources. There isn’t enough money, staff, or resources to put together to address the needs of every single victim in California ESPECIALLY since maybe, and I mean MAYBE only 10 percent will qualify for assistance through victim services being able to prosecute their pimp. Most victims can’t or won’t prosecute their actual pimp because it may be their mother, their husband, father of their child, or there just may not be enough evidence to prosecute. Without a trafficker to prosecute – there’s even less resources.
If you speak to CASTLA for example – they have a waiting list over a year long for housing. Guess what? We have no problem finding housing for those who call our hotline. None. Many victims can’t qualify to rent housing when they are first rescued for one thing as adults because they may not even have an ID. They maybe can’t rent something because their pimp might be looking for them. So we have a network of members who can provide a temporary place to stay if needed. I have a list of halfway houses and drug treatment programs that provide us with a bed if need be for a member. This way they have a place to stay until we can get their ID, their credit up to par, them a job, etc. Our “sponsors” walk them down to social services to see if we can get them emergency housing, a section 8 voucher, a hotel voucher, etc. If need be, I’ll call hotels and motels to see if they’ll donate us a room. The Mormon church is awesome and often will provide us with a rental with a year free rent for survivors in early recovery. The Mormons also donate clothing, food, even furniture sometimes depending on the victims’ needs. So it might take us 100 phone calls but we find the housing these survivors need once they’ve escaped their situation and are starting over.
We then duplicate this in every city where we get calls. This is how we place survivors in Las Vegas, Bakersfield, Ontario, San Francisco, Berkley, Oakland, etc. The same for employers. We have a list of employers who will hire these survivors knowing they might not have ID, a work history, or even job skills at the moment. Some of those employers are members. I have members of SWA right now in Los Angeles who own a dog walking service, a house cleaning service, an office cleaning company, etc. So they can put them to work right away and pay them cash daily until they get on their feet. Now this is all informal networking that can’t be duplicated in a formal funded program. Which is who we can offer resources these other “trafficking programs” just can’t. Or they can and then when their funding runs out in a year – they’re out of business.
And the HUGE problem with that is turn-over. The last thing survivors need is to get attached to some worker and then they’re gone. As far as professionals go – there’s a huge turnover and burnout rate in the social work field and counselors period. Our “sponsors” stay with them no matter where they move to, what program they’re in, their worker changes, and even if they are under 18 years old and age out of the juvenile system. I’ve got sponsees right now that I’ve been sponsoring since 1991 for example that are still with me. I myself have the same sponsor I’ve had for 25 years now. Victims of sex trafficking need someone in their lives that’s a constant and isn’t going to disappear on them overnight without saying goodbye. They can’t build on that.
Which is probably why professor Sharon Oselin’s 10 year study “Leaving Prostitution” showed how powerful our program was. She took the top three residential programs and the one that came out on top was the one that had incorporated our program. In fact, we’re the only one of the three still operating! I’ve attached a quote from her book from a woman to explain why our program was an important part of what made the difference in these survivors not relapsing back into the sex industry because of not having a new social network. As you know, when juveniles are often trafficked the only people they know are people in the sex industry. You can remove a pimp -but their girlfriends are other hookers, strippers, webcam performers, etc. We provide them with a whole social network of men and women in recovery from drugs, alcohol, and sex work.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure when you spoke to the legislature in October about alternatives for these victims if you were aware of how we were set up, why we were set up the way we were, what we offer, etc. Many of the people we worked with have died nor or retired. Bradley and Block for example have died. Edwin Meese has pretty much retired and relocated out of California. We don’t even have someone in charge of probation in Los Angeles right now http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-probation-audit-20150414-story.html – so certainly the man we first worked with in 1987 is long gone. However, because we have no paid workers I can’t go around introducing ourselves to every single new person in the system and 99.99 percent of my work is focused on our members.
If you have any questions about us – please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks.