A Healthier Wisconsin

The Sisters Project

Preventing violence against women involved in Milwaukee’s sex trade

Full Project Name:The Sisters Project: Helping Women Exit the Violence of ProstitutionPrimary Community Organization:Benedict Center, Inc.Primary Academic Partner:Staci Young, PhD, Family and Community MedicineAward Amount:$200,000.00
Award Date
Project Duration:24 months

Project Description Narrative:

Most women are coerced into entering the sex trade as minors or turn to the trade for income, using the money as a means of survival to stave off homelessness or other financial needs or support an addiction. Whatever the reason for entering the trade, these women suffer extremely high rates of victimization on the streets, including quite possibly the highest homicide rate of any cohort of women identified. Yet the journey out of prostitution, due to the complexity of contributing factors, is not an easy one.

Moreover, there remains an ongoing stigmatization and marginalization of those who work in the sex trade. According to findings of interviews with workers in the sex trade, their most critical unmet needs are safe housing and general health care, but often they are reluctant to disclose their circumstances for fear of reprisal or being judged.

Project partners aim to prevent violence against women involved in Milwaukee’s sex trade by better understanding barriers to exiting the trade, determining the scope and magnitude of violence, and developing an action plan that integrates local and national best practices in prostitution intervention strategies.

Community partners: District 3 Community Prosecution Unit, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) District 3, Lutheran Church of Reformation

Additional MCW academic partner: Laura Cassidy, PhD, Insitute for Health and Equity

Outcomes & Lessons Learned:

  • Began creation of a coordinated community response to prostitution that integrates learning from the community, including participation in regular local crime and safety meetings and inclusion of women who have exited the sex trade as mentors and outreach participants
  • Determined scope of the problem, collecting outreach and intake data from women in the target population to identify an appropriate assessment tool that could be used for future data collection about women’s history of violence
  • Exceeded goal of reaching 150 women in the sex trade achieve health and safety and reduce their risk for violence and injury, reaching 212 women 1,004 times during the project period, bringing more than 75 new participants to a Benedict Center drop-in program providing case management, support developing personal safety plans, and more. Approximately 70% of participants reported staying in the program beyond six months
  • Presented project at various meetings such as American Public Health Association and National Association of Pretrial Service Agencies Conference
  • Created opportunities for sustainability and replication of the project through commitments with MPD District 3
  • Leveraged $80,000 in funding from other sources
  • Leveraged project results to propose and receive a $250,000 award from the Advancing a Healthier Wisocnsin Endowment aimed at changing the policies and paradigms to address public health challenges around women in street prostitution in Milwaukee

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