28th Ward learns about prostitution from survivors

CCH’s Prostitution Alternatives Round Table (PART) held a film screening and panel presentation at St. Michael’s Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago’s West Side Thursday. Street-level prostitution is a big community concern in the 28th Ward/11th Police District, and our event was co-sponsored by the neighborhood’s alderman and state legislators.

For the past six months, Senior Community Organizer Drea Hall has met with Ald. Jason Ervin, police officials and community residents, attending multiple Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meetings. This was done after the alderman introduced a “prostitution-free zone ordinance,” which, if it hadn’t been stopped, would have unconstitutionally restricted women with prostitution arrests from being within the defined zone.  

Yesterday’s event was held to further educate the community and begin a more constructive dialogue.  A crowd of 50 people gathered to view Turning a Corner, a 2006 documentary co-produced by PART. They also listened to a panel of prostitution survivors and advocates. The aim was to sensitize people to the experiences and needs of women involved in the sex trade and to encourage law enforcement to refocus attention on the “demand side” that’s fueled by customers of the sex trade.

One of those speaking was Leonette, a survivor and participant in Cook County’s WINGS Project, a new specialty treatment court for women facing felony prostitution offenses. PART worked with Cook County officials to develop the court, which opened last January.

Leonette said she is grateful for the program, Judge Rosemary Higgins, and the opportunity she has had to get help.  When asked how to approach someone who may be in need of help exiting the sex trade, Leonette responded, “Very carefully… It’s important to just listen and not judge. Everyone has a story.”

Thursday night’s event was co-sponsored by Ald. Ervin, State Rep. Karen Yarbrough and State Rep. LaShawn Ford.
– Daria Mueller, Associate Director of Policy, State Affairs