I remember in middle school sitting in the hallway and nervously waiting for my turn in the vice principal’s office. Routinely, he would sign my detention slips in stoic silence, notwithstanding his announcement of my sentence. He never tried to verbally influence my behavior or inspire a behavioral transformation with a personal story of repentance, not even a cliché. Instead, like a rubber stamp smashing a piece a paper, he hastily processed me out of his office and out his concern.
Thank God, Nashville Assistant District Attorney Antoinette Welch sees potential in the prosecuted. According to The Tennessean newspaper, she recently ignited a rehabilitation program for prostitutes to leave the dangerous profession. The Hannah Project, named after a scorned woman in the Bible, provides education on the horrors of street life, instructed by the local government.
The Hannah Project will erase one prostitution charge for attending the half-day class. The students also participate and share stories of their childhood rapes, neglect, physical abuse and sense of worthlessness and destitution.
Of course, some may argue that the cost of the program, duration of the class and its curriculum are not justified, but the 191 students who attended in the past five months know its justification. One woman actually praised her arrest that allowed her to attend this program and eventually meet others with similar pasts.
These women come from all lifestyles, from a college student to a grandmother. Online prostitution seems to attract younger women more than street prostitution, and the overall class age ranges from 18 to 58. One 19-year-old shared that a child trafficker sold her online since she was 14. Human traffickers force or coerce at least 80 percent of their victims into prostituted acts.
As Albuquerque encourages its police to interact with sensitivity, likewise the District Attorney’s Office should also consider this alternative program for the prosecuted. Welch, a former police officer, is an excellent example of this new desired era of public service.
According to the 2010 United States census, Nashville exceeds Albuquerque’s population by almost 50,000; however, Albuquerque’s population by density more than doubles the Music City.
According to Albuquerque Police Department Vice Detective David Fox, there were 224 prostitution arrests and summons for 2011. Regardless of the statistics, how many are not enough to save?
Welch, as a police officer, states she has never met a prostitute not previously molested as a child. As an adult, this crime is horrible enough; imagine how much more pain a child endures.
Albuquerque desperately needs the Hannah Project or a similar program to help prostitutes start a new life. We have a great opportunity to shine in the Southwest, reduce the demand of prostitution and not let inaccurate stereotypes of prostitutes deter us from our humanity.
We also still need a divergence program for patrons of prostitutes. The divergence program will greatly reduce the demand for prostitution, while the Hannah Project will help rehabilitate the prostitutes. And a portion of the John’s School tuition, paid by the patrons of prostitutes, will more than fund the Hannah Project for Albuquerque.
Just as Hannah faced civic ridicule for her bareness, these women also face disrespect and contempt for their social status. Interestingly, they also have hope. As Hannah prayed earnestly for a child, the women of the Hannah Project pray for a new chance at life.