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Hug-a-Ho
January 28, 2010 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Dallas police were skeptical at first, nicknaming the program "Hug-a-Ho." Two years later, the STAR Court ("strengthening, transition and recovery") is attracting attention from agencies and researchers nationwide, for its innovative approach to prostitute diversion. "It's absolutely apparent when you work with these women that they're struggling with incredible issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual violence. We want to help these women change their lives, and if we want to change what's happening, we have to change our approach."
posted by pineapple (35 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I hear "Star Court" I think of something else.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:48 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


if we want to change what's happening, we have to change our approach

That is both amazingly obvious, and amazingly rare. Mostly people just keep doing more of what they are already doing, whether as institutional responses or as part of their personal lives. Whether or not this program really works, good for them for being willing to experiment.
posted by Forktine at 8:50 AM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


> Back in 2007, Dallas police Sergeant Louis Felini, a patrol supervisor, grew frustrated that his vice officers were arresting the same prostitutes over and over, only to see the women begin the cycle anew.

*cough*War On Drugs*cough*

Kudos to the Dallas police for attempting a different approach.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2010


She expected to spend up to two years in prison since she was already on probation, and under Texas' three-strikes law this was a felony. But prosecutors offered her six months in prison—including in-jail drug rehab—and probation. Her probation officer was part of the team starting a new specialty court for prostitutes, and Diane became the first participant. It was called STAR Court, which stands for strengthening, transition and recovery, and it would offer prostitutes the chance to continue drug treatment and attend counseling and job training classes under the supervision of a female judge.

I think the US would be a much better place if this sort of strategy was used for all criminals. Instead of designing systems that put repeat offenders behind bars for increasingly long periods of time and do nothing to actually help ex-cons rejoin society, it would make sense to spend some more time and money helping people fix the problems that landed them in jail in the first place.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:59 AM on January 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


This is absolutely great. I needed something like this to read today. Thanks.

"...if we want to change what's happening, we have to change our approach."

That is both amazingly obvious, and amazingly rare.


Yeah. This is something that has always bothered me, because we waste so much by it (lives, potential, funds). The other approach seems to be to throw money at something until it goes away, which for many issues doesn't seem to be the right approach. I understand that sometimes the research can't be done quickly enough to ease people's minds about a problem, so money is a temporary stand-in, but all too often the underlying issue seems to end up being ignored and all study or thought of it tossed out the window. I guess it's good that we care enough (or feel guilty enough) to throw tax dollars around, or in a case like this, arrest as many women as it takes, but it would be nice to try something that actually produces positive results. Like this.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2010


Ha, the Sheriffs and cops at the courthouse derisively call our drug court the "clapping court" because we applaud defendants at their status listings for completing phases of the program.

It's not a radical experiment, it's an application of the drug court model to a new, more specific population like has already happened with mental health court, veteran's court, domestic violence court, etc. There are a slew of problem solving courts, and most of them are extremely effective in diverting people who need treatment and not incarceration into treatment and not incarceration. We know that people who need treatment and not incarceration when repeatedly incarcerated tend to become people who need incarceration. These are attempts to get people who are coming into early contact with the criminal justice system from having chronic contact with the system.

The mental health court model I think is still a little new to know how the model is working with the severely, chronically mentally ill population. There are concerns that I totally agree with about the stipulation of psychiatric medications with severe side effects.

Could you imagine if we had veteran's courts at the end of Vietnam, that effectively steered returning vets into drug and mental health treatment instead of into jails and mental institutions? I would wager the entire narrative of that chapter in American history would be radically different.

We had an unfortunately contentious set of threads recently about prostitution, but I did share one success story about one of the women I've worked with in drug court. That's where we typically encounter them in problem solving courts in Philly, as we don't have a prostitution court. We totally should, though, because there are unique needs for trauma counseling in this population that typical drug and alcohol treatment facilities aren't very strong on.
posted by The Straightener at 9:02 AM on January 28, 2010 [16 favorites]


Everybody needs a hug. Even hos. Perhaps especially hos.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:04 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Everyone should watch Very Young Girls (that's the YouTube trailer). A disturbing and illuminating documentary. In one scene, a mother is at the police station, begging the officer on duty to do something to help her rescue her underage daughter from a predatory pimp. He is willing to do nothing. Of course, the police will happily put her daughter in jail when they catch her working, but they have no interest in her as a victim of ongoing statutory rape.
posted by kathrineg at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


By the way, it's available to stream on NetFlix.
posted by kathrineg at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"A different approach" really works well. I participated in a fundraiser for Servants Anonymous and the impact it has had on the lives of women and their families is amazing.
posted by Calzephyr at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2010


As a male social worker I actually have a pretty strict set of conditions I place on physical contact with women clients, especially those with histories of sexual trauma. I actually do hug on most of my clients, because I am touchy feely like that, and they appreciate it. I especially love hugging on my hard corner hustlers because they have this instinctual reaction like, "Yo, that's gay" before they soften up and start smiling and you can see how underneath all the street bullshit they are desperate for the masculine affection they never received from a father. Physical contact can be a very effective clinical tool when used appropriately. But I've found that the prostitutes I've worked with are very easily confused by the kind of emotionally charged touch constituted by something as innocent a congratulatory hug after acheiving a personal goal. So in the best interest of the client and maintaining professional boundaries I typically do not "hug a ho."
posted by The Straightener at 9:13 AM on January 28, 2010 [18 favorites]


Could you imagine if we had veteran's courts at the end of Vietnam, that effectively steered returning vets into drug and mental health treatment instead of into jails and mental institutions? I would wager the entire narrative of that chapter in American history would be radically different.

I wish I could favorite this a thousand times.

I'm heartened to see states experimenting with new approaches. That's what they were made for.
posted by jock@law at 9:13 AM on January 28, 2010


I think that if we give ALL of the folks involved in anti-social behaviors (stealing, drugs, etc) a way out of crime, then society at large would benefit.

It's a (forgive me) paradigm shift. Are we interested in punishing people or are we interested in getting them to stop doing anti-social stuff? You can see how punishment works (not well) let's try programs.

I think that the criminal justice system could benefit from a new approach, I know society could.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:14 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is fantastic. Thank you.
posted by lunit at 9:39 AM on January 28, 2010


It's heartening to see a community look at their failures and realize that doing things the same way they've been doing them hasn't helped, and then actually go about trying something different.

Perhaps it's the beginning of a potentially very good trend.
posted by quin at 9:48 AM on January 28, 2010


The warm feeling I felt after reading this was quickly obliterated by the comments on the Dallas Observer site, but fortunately, I accidentally closed my browser window before my response was posted and I got into a debate that I surely couldn't win.

I don't know how I could convince more people that society would be do much better off if our justice system would council rather than punish whenever possible. but I sure wish I could.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:51 AM on January 28, 2010


The Straightener, that is so incredibly sad. especially when Joe Beese is probably very right, they DO need a hug.

they need to know that there is non-sexual, non-predatory affection out there and they are in the worst frame of mind to be able to accept it, both mentally and physically.

i just never really thought about that before and that makes prostitution so much sadder.

this court is a good thing and i do hope that it gets a wider acceptance like the other courts mentioned by The Straightener, like veterans' and drug court.
posted by sio42 at 10:23 AM on January 28, 2010


Don't worry, our ho's get hugs from their female counselors and supportive housing staff members totally on the regular.
posted by The Straightener at 10:33 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


The warm feeling I felt after reading this was quickly obliterated by the comments on the Dallas Observer site

Yeah, it's sort of bizarre to read a story that basically says "Here's a different way of doing things that has better outcomes for everyone" and have people respond LIBRULS MAKE ME SICK, PUT THOSE WHORES IN JAIL.
posted by electroboy at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait, wait, wait... you mean women don't enter the wonderful world of prostitution because it's full of easy money and lonely gentlemen who look like a young Richard Gere (coupled with the cheeky thrill of breaking the law, of course)?

*gasp*

YOU DON'T SAY?!
posted by Never teh Bride at 10:51 AM on January 28, 2010


The warm feeling I felt after reading this was quickly obliterated by the comments on the Dallas Observer site, but fortunately, I accidentally closed my browser window before my response was posted and I got into a debate that I surely couldn't win.

They must've done some pruning since you were there because there's only 3 comments now, one lame but civil "but what about the guys who get arrested?", one asking if police resources shouldn't be spent more on violent crime, and then this interesting one:

I am so happy to see this article but, Dallas Observer, don't you realize how you support the very trade that this woman needed rehab from by allowing the ads that you allow? You are perpetrating a lifestyle that ruins lives by allowing the advertisements that you do.

posted by straight at 11:10 AM on January 28, 2010


Dallas police were skeptical at first, nicknaming the program "Hug-a-Ho."

What charmers.
posted by threeants at 11:13 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the most patronizing things I have ever heard working in re-entry was when one of the wardens of the prison said the following thing about ex-offenders: "all they really need is a hug." Fuck no - they need a job!

That being said, developing positive and healthy social relationships is a big part of recovery and getting out. But those relationships are not necessarily an appropriate thing to spring from a prosionally client/clientee situation, for either party involved. Mentoring - especially peer mentoring, but also one-on-one - seems to be a much more apt solution.

My organization is pursuing a model similar to this for prostitution. Thanks for the heads up!
posted by lunit at 11:25 AM on January 28, 2010


professional*
posted by lunit at 11:26 AM on January 28, 2010


"My commanders said, 'These women are too far gone. They don't want help,'" Felini says. "I said, 'Well, we'll do one operation and see.' The first night, 18 prostitutes walked up to us [at the command post]."

Most people want help and need help. How do you know if you don't try? Fines and jail time is not help. However, combining police + access to social service is a different angle and something that most places are currently not doing. Yay Dallas!
posted by soupy at 11:45 AM on January 28, 2010


I think the US would be a much better place if this sort of strategy was used for all NON-VIOLENT criminals.

There's a difference between someone who can murder, rape, beat and torture and someone one buys or sells sex. If you're a non-violent offender, then I'm all for getting you help to stop criminal behaviors.
posted by 26.2 at 11:54 AM on January 28, 2010


These programs have plea entry guidelines that prevent convicted violent offenders from being diverted. The program I work for has a two prior conviction max, no violent offenses and while in the program convictions for violent offenses automatically result in termination from the program. Since defendants forfeit trial rights at plea entry, upon termination they are automatically sentenced for the original charges they brought into the program, on top of whatever other sentencing they are facing for additional cases they may have caught. It's typically quite a bit of time that the defendants are looking at, often 5-10 years state time, which is obviously a tremendous motivator for changing behavior. However, with drug court we get as many young drug dealers as we do older addicts, and that's a tricky population to work with. Some of them may in fact be violent offenders who simply haven't been convicted of a violent offense yet because they are so young. Typically these kids get weeded out pretty quickly, though, either by doing something ridiculous to get themselves terminated (like the one kid who threatened to kill me and then assaulted the sheriff when he came to his next status listing) or they go AWOL from the program and turn up on a street corner with a head full of bullets a few weeks later.
posted by The Straightener at 12:16 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Background on the comment straight highlighted, FYI: the Observer is our local alt weekly, and is generally full of ads for escort services and "masseuses" and so forth- all very sketchy and pretty clearly advertising for sex workers.
posted by MadamM at 5:22 PM on January 28, 2010


Thank you so much for linking this.
posted by mediareport at 6:10 PM on January 28, 2010


There's a difference between someone who can murder, rape, beat and torture and someone one buys or sells sex. If you're a non-violent offender, then I'm all for getting you help to stop criminal behaviors.

So, you're saying if it's a violent offender you're not interested in helping that person stop?
posted by krinklyfig at 7:38 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, 26.2, unless you're actually pro-violent offenses, what does that even mean? Did you think about what your words are saying?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:06 PM on January 28, 2010


You could also read his comment as "I don't want to help violent offenders stop, because violent offenders should be immediately rendered unable to offend".

Nothing wrong with giving 26.2 the benefit of the doubt.
posted by kathrineg at 11:07 AM on January 29, 2010


Equally, you could charitably read 26.2 as implying that s/he'd prefer that courts work with non-violent offenders first (resources being limited and all that).

Ideally, all offenders interested in rehabilitation would receive it (and we'd investigate more effect means of rehabbing violent offenders, since I'd also argue that our current set of resources is inadequate for violent offenders) but given the current funding climate, it's likely a better use of staff to concentrate on non-violent offenders. I, at least, would actually like to see a world where rehabilitation of violent offenders is also considered possible and desirable but I'd argue that any system of diversion (drug courts, prostitution courts, family courts, what have you) is a step forward from strict insistence on prison terms without considering circumstances.
posted by librarylis at 5:04 PM on January 29, 2010


Wow - sorry, I articulated my thought poorly.

Diversion programs can be a great solution for people who want to change. For offenders who present little danger, a diversion program can break the cycle of criminal behavior without undue risk to other people.

Violent criminals are more risky. Rehabilitation is the goal here also, because there's nothing good in constant recidivism. As bad as our prison system is, I don't know that every violent criminal is a candidate for diversion programs. Rehabilitation, yes. Diversion without prison? It really depends on the risk that person presents to the rest of us.
posted by 26.2 at 11:30 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, thanks for the rewrite/explanation, 26.2.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:33 PM on January 31, 2010


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