Back in the day, if a client and a provider were caught in the act of prostitution, police would arrest both individuals. However, since “johns” are typically more financially stable, they’d often be able to pay a fine and gain their release from jail, whereas the female providers didn’t always have that option. When the provider was finally released, she often ended up back working the streets, as that was easiest way for her to earn money. The system was broken.
However, Minnesota has taken tangible steps in recent years to put an end to sex trafficking and prostitution. Aside from cracking down on buyers, lawmakers have made it easier for women to escape the trade. For example, back in 2014 Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor law, which said that any prostitution victim under the age of 18 is immune from facing charges or fines for being caught prostituting. In 2016, the state increased the age limit to anyone under the age of 25. This way women aren’t burdened by the crippling financial costs of a prostitution charge and the focus can instead be on getting them away from that lifestyle. That’s where the diversion programs come in.
Prostitution Pre-Court Diversion In Minnesota
Minnesota has pre-court programs for both buyers and victims in the sex trade. We’ll talk more about the “John School” in a future post, but today we’re going to take a look at the pre-court diversion program for women who are caught trying to sell themselves.
The specific program we’re looking at today is organized by Breaking Free, a non-profit and social justice group that helps women escape the systems of prostitution and sexual exploitation through advocacy, direct services, housing and education.
The program begins when a police officer catches a woman engaging or attempting to engage in prostitution. Instead of arresting her and putting her in jail, the officer reaches out to Breaking Free. After exchanging information, the victim is referred to the program and an initial appointment is set up. Eventually, the victim will meet with a Breaking Free case manager who will explain the program, learn about the individual and help chart a course for a renewed lifestyle.
After the initial meeting, the victim is then asked to participate in a 14-week program called Sisters of Survival where they’ll learn skills to pursue a new lifestyle and free themselves from the need to resort to prostitution. At the end of the 14-week program, the woman will graduate and Breaking Free will verify with the initial police organization that she has completed the program and no legal action is necessary.