A New Dawn: Philly Court Uses Compassion to Fight Prostitution

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Aug. 3, 2010

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Now, Kristen’s at the point in her recovery where she can leave her residential facility and head home. For her, the idea of living in a sober and safe home is a big carrot. She hasn’t had that since she was 8 years old.

Her blue eyes well up as she talks about how her father began sexually abusing her when she was 9.

“From being out there and what my dad did with me, I had a lot of issues, abandonment issues,” she says.

One night when Kristen was 14 years old, she says she barricaded herself in her room with a dresser up against her door. “He tried to get in,” she says. “The next day I said I was doing wash. I got my clothes, left and never looked back.”

Though she didn’t know it at the time, Kristen, like so many women, traded abuse in the home for abuse in the street.

At first things were OK. She says she met a good man and moved in with him. They had a baby. But then she found her son’s father dead and life slid downhill fast.

“I was drinking a lot to kill the pain. And doing cocaine and meth … I fell in the rut,” she says, adding that her husband had a four-year degree, and she was from the projects. “I never knew to pay a bill, I couldn’t read or write,” she says.

“My sister-in-law, she showed me how to make quick money,” she says, referring to prostitution. “I didn’t even know how to go to welfare.”

Soon, she met a schoolteacher who supported her in exchange for sexual services. She moved in with him. She was doing drugs. For Kristen, it all sort of happened at the same time, like a tornado.

“When things got hectic, I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t get a sponsor, I wasn’t doing any of that,” she says. “So I’d think, I can handle this alcohol, but sooner or later … it’s not doing it anymore. Then you have a couple dollars, and it’s, ‘I’ll cop a couple of rocks,’ and then you’re off to the races,” she says.

Kristen says now that she’s stopped and is taking a hard look at her life, her mind races with memories and regrets.

As she sits on a back patio at the residential facility in the Northeast, a couple of cats snooze at her feet in the sunshine. She looks relaxed. This haven is less than a mile from where she used to turn tricks, chase highs and dodge death.

“A 70-year-old guy picked me up and paid me. I took care of him,” she begins. “He went to start the car but he didn’t. I said, ‘What are you waiting for?’”

He went to pull a “big barrel Clint Eastwood gun” from the backseat. She wrestled it from him, broke free, ran out of the car and got rid of it.

Then there was the guy who stabbed her in the throat with an ice pick.

“I kicked the door open, and I ran across the street to a house and banged on the window,” she says. A man inside stared at her and didn’t move a muscle except to shake his head.

“’I’m saying, ‘Help me, help me,’ and blood is coming down,” she says. Her attacker came after her before abruptly turning around, slipping into his car and taking off.

“The insane part?” she asks. “I still walked like a mile more, with one shoe on, one shoe off, to go cop.”

DeFusco says the criminal-justice system is backward in how it deals with prostitutes because it focuses on arresting the sellers, not the buyers.

In 2009, the Philadelphia Police Department made 837 arrests for “solicitation for immoral purposes” and only 60 arrests for “patronizing prostitutes.” The majority of the latter were likely cuffed during the special “reverse” sting executed last December when the PPD picked up 76 men while searching for one who had beaten and raped four prostitutes.

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1. Hiroader said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 08:41AM

“The thing about "Compassion"..., It cost tax payers money,.. In 26 years , arrested 16 times ...has served 4 stints in jail... At 47-years old... After She’s 10 months sober she recieved a courtroom round of applause... {Are we on "PUNKED" tv here}... Where's Ashton Kutcher?... (Where'd I put that "duct tape" at?)... A 47 yr old prostitute retirement plan "Get sober" (smh)....

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2. Bella said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 09:39AM

“I am glad this women finally cleanned up. However most of us Mature escorts are not addicts, we are single mom's with college aged kids, who can't support ourselves by working at walmart, and rather not deal with an abusive spouse.
WHy are the JOHNS never thrown in jail. It is ironic to think these women would stop when they have no services, 80% of them where sexual abused as kids, and most where pimped out as kids and yes before you know it they are in their 40's, and have supported there kids, without welfare.
Until we do not prosecute consenting adults in private, then their is no comapssion. yes street hookers on drugs do need to clean up, by when LE STALKS US ONLINE, it becomes a WITCH HUNT> Pimps 25 to life, and Johns should pay fines not to the county court but to the vicitms and do communtiy service for womens shelters. The women should get services, they are victims whtehr they are 17 or 44. and have to take a class on the effects on the sex worker.”

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3. sexxxy_escort said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 11:35AM

“I agree with Bella. This article is good in that it addresse the problems with "street walkers" but most sex workers advertise on the interenet and are clean and college-educated. Sex work shouldn't be a crime in general, but getting it off the streets and helping those who are addicted to drugs and using sex work to support their habit should be addressed and ended. And if everyone who took money or other items (jewelry, houses, cars, etc.) in exchange for sex were to be prosecuted, then ther would be a lot of Main Line housewives sitting in jail right now.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 12:00PM

“Wow, the article shows how situations are deeper than one may have thought. This is an excellent solution, althought there may be better, but it is a great step. Maybe others will be inspired to find "out of normal" solutions. Excellent to read.”

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5. Ray said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 12:09PM

“Great article! Interesting this is coming from a paper which accepts advertising from prostitutes and massage parlors, the latter are known by law enforcement as engaging in sexual slavery.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 06:23PM

“I'd like to see an article following up this one but on the online escorting girls like those on BestGFE. They are the same girls but with a computer.”

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7. pete said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 10:40PM

“Politically I am a supporter of martial law but
with this issue no amount of law and order
or prison time for johns and janes will change
the fact that there are ugly men like myself
who will not get laid without prostitutes. I once
used the services of brothels which are
known hubs for sex slaves because I don't
have what it takes to be in a real relationship
with a woman. Like the ,"drug", problem we
need legalization and strict regulation of
brothels. It can be like going to the chiropractor
for an ,"adjustment". Clients of sex workers
are suffering a psychological hell because of
this need for sexual release, Thankfully I am
schizophrenic so my libido is almost gone.
Some sex workers are consensually delivering
a service that constitutes a saving mercy for
men who cannot be in relationships.”

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8. Pointer Obvious said... on Aug 20, 2010 at 08:41PM

“All the insight of this article is cancelled out by your week later celebration of a Chinatown "handjob" from the point of view of someone who couldn't articulate their way out of paperbag.”

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9. Joni said... on Mar 28, 2012 at 02:09PM

“I never had any record in my life till I became involved in prostitution at the age of 50. I couldn't get a job, my Mother was losing her house, I started dating then it just happened. At the time I was in it, I wasn't even thinking I was doing anything wrong. I was arrested the 1st time in a hotel room when my client turned out to be a Detective. They told me they were actually looking for pimps and didn't care about independent escorts. Not to worry. Well I was scared after this so deceided to just do it out of my home. Several months later 1 of my clients came to my home and turned out to be a under cover cop. My house was surrounded with cops with guns. They held guns to my Mother's,StepBrother's head and mine. It was horrible. That was 8 years ago and I'm still paying for it. The second arrest I was indicted with 2 felonies. My life seems over. If the first arrest was stricter and made me aware of what trouble I would be in I wouldn't have continued. It's to latenow”

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10. reader person said... on Aug 1, 2012 at 01:06PM

“I find the photos accompanying this article misleading and offensive. Why didn't Philadelphia Weekly show us how real, street-walking sex workers look? If it's possible to inappropriately sexualize prostitutes, this article did it. Congratulations. What a coup.
That said, thank you for the detailed narratives on women's experiences with the Dawn Project. I feel like Philadelphia is a city that tries really hard; often, its attempts are misguided, but I don't think Dawn's Court is one of those cases.”

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