Diversion not jail
Programs steer offenders away from sex trafficking
“Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness.” —Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) American abolitionist, anarchist, and legal theorist.
Over the past few decades prostitution, like other segments of society, has undergone a process of politicalization. As a result, it has gained supporters who advocate for the legalization of the sex industry in order to secure more humane working conditions for those employed therein, building upon the rationale that efforts at eradication that have happened almost since the dawn of civilization have failed thus far.
At the same time, their polar opposites rally against this oldest of professions by underscoring the direct links between pornography and sexual commerce that exploits society’s less fortunate individuals; not to mention the threat to public health.
Far from merely being an economic exchange of currency for services between consenting adults, they allege prostitution often attaches itself to the unsavory social ills of violence, narcotic abuse, and class oppression. Contemporary activists have even likened this current manifestation to the by-gone era practices of slavery and indentured servitude.
Regardless of what side one chooses to be on, the social impact of prostitution forces governmental involvement in one form or the other.
Locally, the city attorney’s office has become drawn into the fray through the prompting of both community members and the L.A. Police Department. This was due specifically to the influx of sexual trafficking, initially along the Figueroa corridor from about 120th Street north to Vernon Avenue, and then to Western Avenue after police intervention pushed the activity there.
Deputy City Attorney Sharee Sanders of the city’s Neighborhood Prosecutor Program (NPP) talked about her office’s activities in the wake of civil and law enforcement complaints.
Once NPP’s primary focus on prosecution and adjudication has been attended to, “diversion” programs have been devised to channel offenders away from illicit behaviors. Simply put, a diversion program endeavors to help the offender avoid prosecution, while simultaneously providing relief to the courts, police departments, and probation offices crunched by an already overwhelmed legal system.
Diversion programs are tailored both for prostitutes and “johns,” with the major difference being that prostitutes may enroll in these programs for free, while their customers must pay for classes. Both tracts include education about sexually transmitted diseases and other issues, while sex workers may be diverted to substance abuse counseling, classes on self-esteem, career training, and other avenues offering viable alternatives to life on the streets.
Concrete numbers regarding the success rate for reforming prostitutes were not available, but Sanders offered tangible evidence for the opposite end of the diversion program. She states that over the last four years “only two out of almost 200 arrestees have re-offended,” ample proof of the value of the plan.
In spite of this success, economic woes have affected their efforts, as Sanders notes.
“Because of budget cuts, we’ve lost more than half of our neighborhood prosecutors,” she said, pointing out that staff attorneys have shrunk from 24 attorneys to just seven.
Outspoken community activist Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope is among those focusing of the problem of prostitution within the community. Alluding to his past as a former gang member who encountered adverse experiences with law enforcement and other representatives of authority, he suggests that a good percentage of people in need have difficulty relating to those officially sanctioned to reach out to them.
“It’s critical to have culturally-sensitive programs to reach the at-risk populace, including streetwalkers,” he explained.
The targeted segment might be better served he suggests, via community-based venues more sensitive to the needs of those they seek to reach.
“These are our mothers, sisters, daughters, our neighbors. They are not ‘outsiders,’ they’re ‘insiders,’” Ali said.
He attributes his success as an activist to the trust he’s built up within the community, and as such he is less willing (than the powers that be) to criminalize women who need help.
Score one for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, for their very emotional outcry about the so-called “Django Unchained” slave dolls. On Friday, Jan. 18, the Weinstein Co. announced that it has asked toy maker NECA to discontinue the “Django Unchained” action figure dolls after receiving complaints that the dolls were offensive and trivialized the horrors of slavery.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—A community tribute will be held in Leimert Park today to honor Rodney King, the motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers led to the city’s worst riots.
The 47-year-old King was pronounced dead early Sunday after being pulled from the bottom of the backyard swimming pool at his home in the 1000 block of East Jackson Street in Rialto in San Bernardino County.
Kevin Ross (“America’s Court with Judge Ross”), the former California Superior Court judge, along with TV writer/producer Michael Ajakwe and Project Islamic Hope’s Najee Ali, took the support of “Red Tails” to the next level with Occupy Red Tails, a movement designed to raise awareness and encourage support for the feature film.
Najee Ali, founder and director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. (Helping Oppressed People Everywhere), a leading Los Angeles advocacy group, recently announced plans to step forward and fill the void left in the American Society of Muslims leadership that has existed for nearly three years since the Sept. 9, 2008, death of Ali’s former father-in-law, Imam W.D. Mohammed, who was the national leader of more than 1 million African American Muslims.
Tony Wafford, the West Coast coordinator of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and president of Wafford Consulting and the Palms Residential Care Center, will have to pay former National Action Network program administrator Sharon Song Byrd damages for sexual harassment and battery. A continuation hearing was held Monday to determine the amount of damages Wafford must pay, but no amount has as yet been specified.