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Prostitution Alternatives Round Table – PART & SAGE

Women in the sex trade face dangers that make it an oppressive way to survive, and often just as scary to leave. Survivors and trafficked women recite many instances where they were victims of rape and violence at the hands of customers, pimps, and sometimes, the police. Many of the women cope by abusing drugs or alcohol, and most of them cope with  homelessness. Turning lives around, sometimes after decades in prostitution, requires help with drug treatment, psychological trauma, transitional housing and job training.

SAGE leaders in Springfield with organizer Rachel Ramirez (right)

PART’s work enables more women to quit prostituting to survive. It proposes laws that no longer favor the typically male customer and trafficker over the woman or youth being prostituted. It proposes rehabilitative programs that divert women from jail or prison so that they can restore their lives and keep families intact.

Community Organizer Rachel Ramirez runs outreach at shelters for survivors and women ex-offenders. A leaders’ committee called SAGE – Survivor Advocacy Group Empowered – participates in policy advocacy and direct outreach done in neighborhoods with high levels of street prostitution. The relationships that women survivors develop with each other and our staff, and the advocacy pursued together, empowers women to address issues that will better their lives and those of young women behind them.

With survivors’ help, PART staff have shepherded several significant pieces of state legislation, including the 2007 “First Offender Probation” law. PART led Springfield advocacy for End Demand Illinois, passing three bills in three years — the 2010 “Illinois Safe Children Act,” the 2011 “Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act,” and 2012 legislation strengthening the state’s anti-trafficking laws (HB 5278). In 2013, our SAGE leaders led End Demand’s organizing to enact a new law (SB 1872) that, effective August 22, 2013, ended felony-level prostitution charges in Illinois. This year, SAGE leaders secured a State Senate sponsor for an End Demand bill (Senate Bill 3558) to dedicate fines and impound fees toward funding services for survivors of prostitution and trafficking.

PART also worked with Cook County judges to create the WINGS felony prostitution court. Opened in 2011, it offered restorative programs to women who completed two years’ probation with the court. With felony prostitution no longer charged in Illinois, PART and SAGE leaders are working with Cook County court officials to plan the launch of two misdemeanor prostitution courts, offering specialized services, that will open in Chicago during 2014.

A steering committee convened by PART meets quarterly, networking 13 agencies – advocates, academics, service providers, and law enforcement – that work with prostitution survivors and trafficked women. PART’s support includes a project-specific grant from the Sisters of Charity, BVM, as recommended by its advocacy partner, Project IRENE.

For more information, contact Policy Specialist Jennifer Cushman or SAGE Organizer Rachel Ramirez.