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Mar 10, 2013 12:26 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Program tries new strategy to fight prostitution

TUCSON - A program called Project Raise is trying a new strategy to fight prostitution.

Police arrested 13 people for prostitution Friday night. They were given the option of going to jail or going to an intervention.

Beth Jacobs is a former prostitute. She changed her life and got a degree in social work. She is helping with Project Raise.

"It makes me feel wonderful," she said. "I think we're making history here. Tucson has never done this before, and it makes a huge difference to treat the women like people instead of like trash."

Matt Lenertz works for Cactus Counseling. He is part of the project. Women charged with prostitution have been going to his office for years.

"We always had a relatively steady flow of women into that program," he said. "So I know that prostitution is alive and well in Tucson."

A group of people representing the Sex Worker Outreach Project showed up to protest Project Raise Friday night.

"The majority of sex workers are regular people who work indoors and have stable healthy lives," Juliana Piccillo said, "and they're doing it consensually."

She thinks prohibition is harmful to the women.

"Arresting them to do it is a really traumatic unproductive way to do it," Piccillo said. "They're leaving them with potential lifetime records of being arrested."

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik's office organized the effort. He thought the protest was unnecessary.

"This is not anti sex worker," he said. "This is simply saying that women who are being victimized by exploitation that's involved in prostitution, we're giving an opportunity for diversion."

The organizers realize that women on the streets often have drug and mental health problems. Changing their lives will not be easy.

"Even if they don't decide tonight to change," Jacobs said, "at least they have the resource where they can change. At least they have a resource who they can call."

Of the 13 arrests, 8 went to the diversion. Only 4 qualified. None of them were under 18.

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