A Treatment-Asisted Recovery Mod for Victims of Prostitution an Trafficking

By Nelson, William F. | Corrections Today, October 2009 | Go to article overview

A Treatment-Asisted Recovery Mod for Victims of Prostitution an Trafficking


Nelson, William F., Corrections Today


Editor's Note: This article was presented at the Stockholm Criminology Symposium, June 17, 2006, in Stockholm, Sweden.

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Prostitution is a social issue of desperate importance both in the U.S. and internationally. Prostitution fuels a literal slave trade. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Public Affairs estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 individuals, up to 50 percent of whom are children, are trafficked across international borders annually. According to the Swedish Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications, "International trafficking in human beings could not flourish but for the existence of local prostitution markets for men who are willing and able to buy and sell women and children for sexual exploitation." (1)

In all areas of the U.S., except four or five counties in Nevada, prostitution is illegal. The U.S. government adopted a position against legalized prostitution in a December 2002 National Security Presidential Directive. The criminal justice system devotes tremendous resources to law enforcement, courts, prisons and jails to help combat prostitution. (2) However, the current enforcement of prostitution laws appears to create a revolving door phenomenon. Typically it is women and children who are arrested, while pimps, customers and traffickers often remain free because of difficulties in meeting the burden of proof in the courts. Women are often incarcerated on misdemeanor prostitution charges, released and rearrested on the same charges.

The high costs of law enforcement have motivated some to suggest decriminalizing prostitution. Proponents of decriminalization also support the myth that prostitution is a "victimless crime." The criminal justice community must therefore make it clear that prostitution is costly to society in other ways as well. For example, prostitution has been demonstrated to be detrimental to public health. (3) But more important, in light of current research, it is preposterous to suggest that prostitutes themselves are not victims. In field research in nine countries, it was found that up to 68 percent of women in prostitution met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder; this is the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans and victims of state-organized torture. (4). Other manifestations include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and eating disorders. Women who have been exposed to long periods of prostitution activities reveal other symptoms, including cutting, psychological abreaction and psychotic episodes. Even under circumstances where women have worked in legal brothels, there are mental health consequences consistent with any other form of prostitution. Reasons for this are speculative, but it is hypothesized that repetitive prostitution activity coincides with reliance on dissociative coping mechanisms that serve to compress these experiences and in turn leads to crippling psychological symptoms, as earlier described. (5)

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The Women's Recovery Center

Volunteers of America (VOA), founded in 1896, provides social services, housing, nursing homes and correctional services and has a presence in 38 states in the U.S. In 1984, the organization established a privately operated jail for women in St. Paul, Minn. After observing repetitive jail commitments of women for prostitution offenses, VOA conducted an informal study of 12 inmates with long-term involvement in prostitution. Each inmate had cumulatively served four to six years of jail time through repetitive commitments. This translated into a cumulative jail time cost of $80,000 to $120,000, with a likelihood of additional costs in the future. Each individual self-identified a chemical addiction with repeated and failed attempts at conventional chemical dependency treatment. In each case, there was a prior history of sexual abuse and a desire to get out of prostitution. With these facts, Volunteers of America began marketing an idea of developing an alternative residential recovery center to serve as a court diversion or a voluntary post-incarceration option. …

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