Milwaukee nonprofit announces program to support women involved in prostitution

MILWAUKEE -- Is it a solution or just a diversion? Civic and religious leaders packed a south side conference room Thursday afternoon, July 13th. They announced the expansion of a program aimed at supporting women involved in prostitution.

On Monday, July 10th Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan hosted a news conference about the out-of-control prostitution on the city's south side. Thursday, the nonprofit Benedict Center announced that it has entered into an agreement to divert prostitutes away from the criminal justice system and get them services and support instead.

"A new approach is needed," said Jeanne Geraci, Benedict Center.

Jeanne Geraci

Some of Milwaukee's most visible civic and religious leaders are throwing their support behind the Benedict Center's new south side women's drop-in center.

"The revolving door of arrests and incarceration of sex workers does not solve the problem for women or the community," said Geraci.

The center will be housed inside the Hope House near 2nd and Orchard, and will offer supportive services to women involved in prostitution and sex trafficking.

Instead of taking them to jail, police will have the option of bringing sex workers there.

"Once they get into our drop-in center, what they receive is warmth and respect," said Geraci.

The announcement comes just three days after Alderman Bob Donovan criticized police for not doing enough about prostitution.

Bob Donovan

But one by one, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele:

"You don't incarcerate your way out of any problem."

Chris Abele

Former Health and Human Services Director Hector Colon:

"We can't arrest ourselves away from this challenge.

Hector Colon

Milwaukee Alderman Jose Perez:

"Arrests and incarceration cannot be the only methods to address this problem."

Joe Perez

And Assistant Police Chief James Harpole:

"Policing alone will not end the problem of street prostitution."

James Harpole

They all talked about the need for services rather than just enforcement.

"We understand the impact that this type of behavior has on neighborhoods," said Geraci.

District Attorney John Chisholm says sex workers are a vulnerable population, and hopes the drop-in center will be a place that can help meet their needs.

The south side drop-in center will join a north side center that's been around for the past few years. But Alderman Donovan says he's not optimistic that the new center will solve the prostitution problem in his district.

Benedict Center

Full statement from Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan:

"For years I’ve said I would support any proven approach to tackling our prostitution problem, but what came forward today (during a news conference) from Assistant Police Chief Harpole and District Attorney Chisholm is not promising.

In fact I’m not optimistic that it will make any difference whatsoever.

Taking prostitutes to a drop-in center is not going to seriously make an impact on the problem. The prostitutes’ issues are complex and involve drug addiction, violence and abuse from controlling pimps, trauma and in some cases mental health problems. A drop-in center will never be an effective solution, and police sources tell me that a drop-in center on the north side isn’t even utilized by officers because it’s largely ineffective.

I wasn’t invited to the press conference but if I had been I would have asked Assistant Chief Harpole and DA Chisholm – on behalf of my constituents – why have we been using outreach programs to “help” the prostitutes?

Giving them free needles, free condoms, free clothing and sandwiches is NOT solving the problem. As residents in the impacted neighborhoods know all too well these efforts are definitely NOT eliminating the problem and are actually enabling the prostitutes!

At today’s news conference much was made of law enforcement efforts to treat the prostitutes with dignity and respect, and I agree that is proper.

But where’s the dignity and respect shown to our beleaguered citizens who are watching pimps, zombie-like prostitutes and drug dealers take over their neighborhood? The police are sworn to maintain order and enforce all laws in order to ensure public safety, and by God that’s not occurring as it should be in some neighborhoods and it’s forcing many residents to become shut-ins for fear of going outside or down the block."