Programs work to help women in prostitution
Panelists spoke Thursday encouraging students to have pity on sex workers and see them as victims rather than criminals.
Hosted by CU’s COURAGE program, Judith Lopez, coordinator of Denver’s Chrysalis program, and Joni Handran, a social worker with the Empowerment Program, told stories about their experiences with prostitutes and helping them off the streets.
Lopez, who works in the judicial system, explained that Colfax Avenue in Denver is known for drugs, homelessness and prostitution.
“In 2005, there were 455 arrests for prostitution,” said Lopez. “They can spend up to a year in jail.”
The Chrysalis program helps women who have had several arrests for prostitution get their life back into shape.
Lopez, who refers women to the program when they have had approximately 13 arrests, said she didn’t think going to jail was a punishment. She said it was a safer place for some women.
Lopez also spoke about the rough conditions that exist for these women.
“Fifty-one percent of (sex workers) have experienced domestic violence, 26 percent have a mental illness, 68 percent of them are raped and many are physically abused by their pimps and/or customers,” Lopez said.
She said there have also been several cases where women were murdered.
Both panelists discussed the reasons behind prostitution in Denver. One of them was to pay for drug addictions.
“Few of these women see prostitution as a job. Most of them are just doing this to survive and help their families survive,” Lopez said.
Both felt these women were being dragged down by street life and getting “suckered into prostitution.”
Handran, who focused on the social aspect of sex workers, said she didn’t think women should go to jail for prostitution, because most of them were abused as children and needed help.
She also noted that taxpayers are paying approximately $85 a day to keep someone in jail.
“These women aren’t criminals. They’re not going out and shooting people. They don’t have guns,” Handran said.
She said women who checked into the Empowerment Program were angry, hungry, cold and had no other place to go.
“I think they have a right to be angry,” Handran said. “I’m not going to sweep it under the rug. Besides being harassed by pimps, officers treat these women really badly.”
Because of financial burdens and the mental and physical abuse these women have apparently gone through, Handran and Lopez encourage people to realize these women are essentially forced into prostitution.
They said most do not want to be involved in the sex industry but have no other place to go.
Some students attended the program for class requirements but said they were surprised at how much they learned.
“I thought (Handran) was a very good speaker,” said Alex LaPres, a sophomore political science major. “I guess I never saw prostitutes as victims before, but it makes sense. Who would want to be a prostitute just for fun?”
Students were interested in hearing a new perspective on the subject.
“I never realized how victimized these women were before they got into the industry,” said junior Audrey Vestel, an English major, after hearing about the childhood abuse most of the women go through.