ASU, Phoenix Police team up to help victims of prostitution

ASU's School of Social Work last week teamed with Phoenix Police Department and community social services agencies and volunteers for Project ROSE II, a concentrated arrest-alternative/intervention program for adult victims of prostitution or sex trafficking.

Viewing them as victims rather than as criminals, Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited) provided hope and assistance to 76 adult prostitutes who have a variety of legal, mental health, addiction and homelessness issues that traps them in a sex-trade life.

“Project ROSE is an example of using non-traditional and innovative means to address a very traditional issue, one where the focus has typically been on criminalizing a vastly underserved population instead of seeking to understand their victimization, their needs or their inherent dignity,” said Phoenix Police Lt. Jim Gallagher, who helped to develop and lead Project ROSE II.

The operation was conducted in two, 12-hour shifts on April 19 and April 20. A command post hosted by Pastor Brad Pellish was established at Bethany Bible Church in Phoenix.

The victims received options for safe housing, crisis mental health counseling, medical services, options for detox and drug treatment, food, clothes and their initial interview for the Diversion Program provided by Catholic Charities, and most significantly, the opportunity to change their life. Upon completion of the Diversion Program, which can be a six-month commitment, charges will not be filed on the originating case and the individual can begin to move forward with their life and reclaim their dignity.

Participating organizations were the Phoenix Police Department Vice Enforcement Unit and Phoenix police precincts, as well as the city of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office, ASU School of Social Work, Catholic Charities DIGNITY Programs, Community Bridges, Empact La Frontera, Healthcare for the Homeless, ALERT, Bethany Bible Church, and Streetlight USA.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, a social work associate professor at ASU, was instrumental in starting Project ROSE in early 2011, working with Phoenix Police and the various community partners to establish this unique program.

“This event is an example of the unique community we have in Phoenix with the City of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office and the Phoenix Police Department recognizing that the issue of sex trafficking and prostitution are more complex than just a criminal behavior," Roe-Sepowitz said. "Project ROSE was designed by a group of innovative collaborators and at ASU we are conducting the research to follow the participants to evaluate the arrest-alternative approach compared to traditional police and court responses to prostitution arrests.”

The initial Project ROSE in September 2011 had extraordinary success, Roe-Sepowitz said. Nearly 30 percent of the 43 women participants had completed the diversion program and had not been re-arrested in the past seven months.
“The cornerstone of Project ROSE is the City of Phoenix Diversion Program, which we have evaluated and published on and found to have strong impact on a participant’s re-arrest – reduction – if they complete the Diversion program. Thus, we are using evidence and research to support requiring the clients we contact through Project ROSE to complete the Diversion program,” she said.
The goal is to provide “essential human needs” of the individual, treating the victim with an understanding that they are a person in crisis, Roe-Sepowitz said. For example, one victim with significant substance-abuse issues agreed to go to detox and Catholic Charities DIGNITY, a prostitution-focused residential program, only after volunteers found someone (an ASU student) to adopt her 18-year-old cat – the main concern of this woman who had little else in this world.
With 116 volunteers, 76 victims were served at Project ROSE with 73 eligible for the Diversion Program. They were between the ages of 19 and 55, with 71 women, four transgender individuals and one male.
Overall, 29 victims received health care services from Healthcare for the Homeless, 26 saw EMPACT for mental health services, 23 saw Community Bridges with seven entering crisis detox, 10 into safe housing and 73 completed intakes at Catholic Charities Dignity Diversion.