Prostitution. The word often conjures up images of women gone terribly wrong, doing sinful and depraved things in back alleys under cover of darkness. There is almost a certain allure and mystique to the world of ladies of the night- but in truth, nothing could be further from the truth. The world of sex for sale is a world associated with substance abuse and addiction, childhood sexual abuse, domestic and physical violence, rape, torture, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), poverty, mental and physical illnesses, and frequently murder. Farley (2003) reminds us that prostitutes are often viewed as being invisible and that the act of prostitution is seen by many as a victimless crime (Dworkin, 1994), in spite of the fact that violence against these women is ranked among the eight most prevalent forms of violence against women in the world (Dalla, Xia & Kennedy, 2003). In fact, the mortality rate for prostituted women is 40 times higher than the national average, largely in part because of the violence they experience (Williamson, 2005). For adult females, arrests for prostitution ranked tenth in the total number of arrests for women in 1995 (McClanahan et al.,1999), indeed not a number to be ignored. Yet we persist in being unable to see what goes on. Not only does society fail to see, but Farley (2003) argues that fields such as the law, public health and psychology are blind as well to the phenomenon of prostitution and prostituted women. But in spite of our blind spots and the invisibility of prostitution, it is alive and flourishing.
Prostitution is one of the most lucrative forms of business both here and worldwide (Parker, 1998; Williamson & Folaron, 2001). In a number of countries it is legal. Where it is not, many governments ignore what goes on because of how profitable sex for sale is (Farley, 2003). According to government statistics (Human Trafficking), sex trafficking, which includes prostitution, is one of the most profitable industries of organized crime and one of the most lucrative forms of international crime. It occurs here, there and everywhere. Sex tours to Asian and South American countries are a booming business and provide substantial financial income to those countries. In addition to people leaving the US for sex tours, many persons are trafficked into the US for the sole purpose of being forced into prostitution. Trafficking in persons involves the use of threat, force, deception and coercion of women and girls for the sole purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Those trafficked are held hostage and forced to work in brothels, massage parlors, bars and on the streets against their will. They are held in slavery-like conditions, and beaten, raped, starved, imprisoned, and forced into prostitution. It is estimated that over 800,000 people are trafficked worldwide yearly and about 20,000 end up in the US. In spite of all the numbers, facts and statistics, however, which sometimes serve to cloud the issue, one thing is clear: no child dreams of becoming a prostitute when she grows up and of having a life filled with abuse, torture, humiliation degradation, and despair. No child, girl or woman deserves to be prostituted or trafficked either domestically or internationally. The toy store shelves are not lined with Harriet the Hooker dolls for little girls to play with. And once inducted into this business, for most women the way out is long and arduous –but not impossible.
Named to both honor DIGNITY and the pioneer work of Kathleen Mitchell as well as to remind us that it is possible to rise up from nothing, as is required of so many of the prostituted women and girls, Project Phoenix was founded to accomplish several things. Project Phoenix provides support and services to women and girls in need, especially to those who have been sexually exploited, those who have been trafficked, those exiting prostitution and those who are victims of sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse. One of the major concerns for women wishing to exit prostitution is a lack of sufficient support during the preliminary stages of leaving (Hedin & Mansson, 2003). Project Phoenix can provide that support through offering a variety of groups as well as individual and group counseling including in prisons, jails and shelters to allow those women who have been prostituted an opportunity to talk about their experiences and refer them to proper service providers upon release.
To find out more about Project Phoenix, please feel free to contact us.
Donna Sabella, PhD, RN
Founder and Director