The frigid temperatures and a serial murderer on the loose known as the Kensington Strangler have not kept some women from selling their bodies in a part of the city that’s well-known for prostitution and drugs.
Mary DeFusco, Director of Training and Recruitment at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said there are a lot of things driving the women to stay on the streets.”Most of the time you’re gonna hear, you know I have a drug problem, or I just have to eat,” DeFusco said. She said very often there’s a pimp or a boyfriend in the background who, “relies upon this woman to bring home money, and if she doesn’t do it there are varying threats from hitting her, beating her, to leaving her.” DeFusco said past efforts to combat prostitution have been so unsuccessful because while the women may be struggling with addictions and financial hardships, they may also searching for self-worth and suffering from childhood abuse.
DeFusco works with Project Dawn Court, a nearly one year old collaboration of city prosecutors, defenders, courts, prison, and health officials. The specialized court is trying to get women treatment for abuse and help kicking drugs and alcohol instead of just putting them behind bars.
DeFusco explained how women go through the Court.
“If you, for instance, do something wrong–you miss an appointment for therapy–you get a sanction: you might have to write an essay,” she said. “We’re trying not to use prison as a sanction because these women are acclimated to it. But you also get rewards. At every phase in the program you get a certificate, you get a round of applause–some of these have women have never had applause for anything in their lives.”
DeFusco said the first two women are on target to graduate in the next two months. By then they will have been clean for a whole year. She said that’s evidence some women who are selling their bodies on the streets do want to change.