The Benedict Center is pleased to announce that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Milwaukee Police Department and the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office to formalize the Sisters Diversion Program, a street-level diversion for women in street prostitution.
The Sisters Diversion Program is an innovative, community-police partnership to use a public health approach instead of a traditional criminal justice approach to helping women in street prostitution address their underlying needs.
“Women in the street-based sex trade face high levels of violence, addiction and homelessness. Providing safety, support and treatment to the women is the best way to help them,” explains Executive Director, Jeanne Geraci.
The MOU notes that at times traditional police interventions will be required, but interventions that connect women in street-based sex work with services promise to be more successful at reducing future illicit behavior than processing women through the municipal or criminal justice system on a repetitive basis.
Captain Heather Wurth, MPD-District 2 Commander explains that despite high levels of arrests in her district, the prostitution problem persisted and she wanted to find a different, better way to solve the problem. “For us, it’s a social health issue that our partnership with the Benedict Center can truly help to heal on the southside.”
“Our Community Prosecution Unit approached the Benedict Center based on its proven track record of helping justice-involved women turn their lives around,” explains District Attorney, John Chisholm. “With increased awareness about sex trafficking, our office increasingly views women in street prostitution as women who are victimized and need help. We would rather see them have a real chance for change than press state charges.”
With a grant from the Medical College of Wisconsin Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Project, the Benedict Center teamed up with the Southside Organizing Committee (SOC) to expand its Sisters Program from the northside to the southside. A cross-sectional survey of resident associations in MPD-District 2 showed that 82% of participants favored treatment over arrest for women in street prostitution.
The Benedict Center Sisters Program is designed to have a citywide impact with two drop in centers and street –outreach in MPD-District 3 on the northside and MPD-District 2 on the southside, where 83% of all prostitution related arrests occur.