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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 just as scary to leave behind. 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 women cope by abusing drugs or alcohol, and most of them live in and out of homelessness. Turning lives around, sometimes after decades in prostitution, requires help with drug treatment, psychological trauma, transitional housing and job training.

SAGE in action in Springfield, including Leanna Majors (second left) and Community 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. She organizes a leaders’ committee called SAGE – Survivor Advocacy Group Empowered – that works with PART in its policy advocacy. 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) that will allocate fines and impound fees toward funding services for survivors.

PART also worked with Cook County judges to create the WINGS felony prostitution court, a first in the Midwest. Opened in January 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 the Cook County state’s attorney’s office to plan the launch of two misdemeanor prostitution courts. The courts, offering specialized services, will open in two Chicago branch courts in summer 2014.

PART convenes a steering committee that meets quarterly with 13 agencies – advocates, academics, service providers, and law enforcement – that work with prostitution survivors and trafficked women. Its support includes five years’ of project-specific grants (FYs10-14) given by the Sisters of Charity, BVM, as recommended by PART’s advocacy partner, Project IRENE.

For more information, contact SAGE Organizer Rachel Ramirez or Associate Policy Director Eithne McMenamin.