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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But on a typical night, Sgt. Irvin Riley of the Vice Unit says his squad sees and arrests the same faces—though the faces deteriorate so rapidly they are sometimes hard to recognize at a glance.

Riley says he doesn’t know why the stings focus more on scooping up the people selling sex than the people buying it.

“It’s just for some reason been that way and I don’t think if you asked a high authority within the police department or within law enforcement, they could even give you an answer that would make any sense,” he says.

On a recent night in July, a sting is going down in Kensington, a neighborhood Riley says is the worst area in the city for prostitution. It’s everywhere and comes cheap; $20 is the average rate for sex.

Not yet twilight on a weeknight, Riley drives only a few blocks before he spots the first working girl. All bones in dirty jeans and a T-shirt, she’s standing on the corner under the El, staring into space, wobbling as if the ground’s shifting beneath her feet.

The first prostitute is arrested just minutes into the operation. By 10:30 p.m., seven women and a man wearing makeup are cuffed and sitting in the back of the wagon.

Most of the offenders, all white, look like they’re in their late 20s and 30s. None of them are tricks.

A girl slumps against the corner, eyes closed, nodding out.

The man, who goes by Angel, is furious.

“This is how I make a living. Not everybody has the easiest life,” he says. “Maybe we’re hurting ourselves, but we’re not hurting anybody else and this is really fucked up. Now I have a horrible record because I’ve had to be out here to survive for years … I was a college graduate. I’m far from an idiot.”

Angel says he has been out here since he was a teenager. “I had to take care of myself and my brother. And yes, drugs later on came to into play,” he says.

Angel says he was out working because he got robbed earlier that morning.

“I gotta bring money home for my brother to eat. But now I’m getting locked up and for what?” he asks.

The cycles seem endless and indeed, grind most into an early grave. According to Philadelphia’s Womens Death Review Team report, the average age of death for a prostitute is 38.

Not everyone can be saved. Project Dawn Court walks a tightrope between giving a disadvantaged person a fair shake and a criminal a free ride.

On court day, of the nine women scheduled to appear, only one other woman receives a certificate. Two women had been arrested since joining and five earned bench warrants by going AWOL—by either leaving the treatment facility or missing court. When they are picked up, they will be arrested and returned to prison to begin the program again.

In contrast to Kristen, the woman most likely to fail is 26-year-old Janelle, who after 11 convictions, was recently arrested again.

“What are you trying to do with your life?” asks Kirkland.

“Get better,” Janelle says. “I am !”

“You always tell me that,” says Kirkland.

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Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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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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