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New Treatment Offers Former-Prostitutes Healing Instead of Jail Time

Women with prostitution charges find compassion, new start


Elise Harris - published on 07/21/13

Although the women are accountable for their actions, most women who engage in prostitution have been sexually victimized at some point in their lives

A Philadelphia treatment court has been praised for offering hope and healing to women seeking to change their lives after being repeatedly charged with prostitution offenses.

“I think its a tremendously helpful approach,” author and speaker Dawn Eden told CNA in a July 11 interview.

“When I heard the graduates give their stories, stories of healing and hope, I really felt the presence of God in the room.”

Eden gave the July 9 commencement speech to the women graduating from Project Dawn Court. The initiative is designed to help women with repeat prostitution offenses and is modeled off of the highly successful Philadelphia Treatment Court, which was founded in 1997 to help reduce drug crimes.

“The idea behind treatment courts is that, there are certain offenders that are known in the criminal justice system for being 'revolving-door offenders,'” Eden said.

She noted that the goal of Project Dawn is to “reduce recidivism by enabling people who are willing to be treated to go through a treatment program that's individually tailored to their needs.”

The women involved in the treatment court receive counseling for past sexual abuse as well as drug or alcohol addictions as needed, checking in with the judge who is monitoring their progress every month or so. The participants who stay clean for one year graduate the program, and if they stay clean for another year, they will have the opportunity to get their prostitution convictions expunged.

Eden, who flew to Philadelphia out of her own pocket to give the speech, was very excited to speak with the graduates, saying that “I could relate a lot of it to my own experiences as a victim of childhood sexual abuse.”

She emphasized that “nearly all of prostituted women have suffered childhood sexual abuse,” and that many who were abused became homeless, and turned to prostitution and drugs when they were already on the streets.

“There's this misconception that prostitutes who are drug addicts became addicted to drugs first and then took to prostitution in order to feed their habit,” Eden said.

However, “in nearly every case, these are women who first suffered sexual abuse in childhood, then became homeless, were preyed upon by someone who sexually exploited them.”

“A pimp, and then this pimp, after abusing and prostituting them, got them addicted to drugs so that they would become even more dependent upon the pimp, and not get away.”

Eden was clear to mention that although these women are responsible for their actions, they have continually been victimized, and need compassion more than another jail sentence. Sharing from her own experience, she told the women that she had to learn that her value as a human being “does not depend on what I do,” but that her value “as a human being, as a woman, comes from being made in the image and likeness of God.”

She also emphasized to the women that, “the worst thing that they can do is not to fall or relapse,” but to “fall or relapse and refuse to seek help.” Eden said the most successful stories in the program are not the women who made it through without a relapse, but the ones who did and were honest.

“The graduate's prognosis is better, not worse, if they have experienced a relapse in the court, and taken advantage of the resources of the court in order to get back up and continue with the program.”

Project Dawn Court is not only effective in helping these women, but interesting given that “it's not a religious organization that runs the court, its the city of Philadelphia that operates it.”

She said she realized that although the Project Dawn Court is not religious, we, our country, “have this heritage of Judaism and Christianity that says that people can change, people can grow.”

Eden, who hopes to continue speaking in venues such as the Project Dawn Court, finished her speech by telling the graduates that “the key to healing is not to forget your past, but to find moments in your past when someone did something kind for you…when someone protected you, smiled at you, performed an act of love for you without expecting anything in return.”

She encouraged them to find those good memories in their lives, and to build their identity on those, “because your identity is as a beautiful and beloved daughter of God.”

Originally published by Catholic News Agency on July 19th, 2013.

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