Helping women in street prostitution find hope & lead safer, healthier lives
The goal of the Sisters Program is to create a citywide policy to provide a public health based approach to help women in street prostitution and sex trafficking instead of criminalizing them.
When the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) can divert women to the Sisters Program instead of a ticket, fine or incarceration, women have the opportunity to change their lives and the lives of their family/children, and avoid future incarceration, fines or other judgments made by the criminal justice system.
The Sisters Program helps over 400 women per year in street prostitution, including sex trafficking. It provides a harm reduction approach that includes street outreach and two drop in centers where women can begin their healing journey.
At the drop in centers, women can safely rest and receive crisis management, counseling, advocacy and assistance connecting to housing and other critical resources. Sisters participants engage in on-going peer support, and give input on program design.
Some women are trafficked into the sex trade through force or manipulation by a family member, partner or someone who offered to help. Other women trade sex due to circumstances including poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction.
Women in street prostitution face high rates of victimization:
- Sex trafficking
- Physical assault
- Sexual assault including rape
The revolving cycle of prostitution, arrests, jail, and release does not solve the problem in the long-term because it does not address the underlying needs of the women. It is also resource-intensive and costly to tax payers.
Research indicates that in three years (2013 – 2015), 704 women were arrested in Milwaukee 1292 times – and 83% of those arrests occurred in Milwaukee Police District 2 (MPD-2) and Milwaukee Police District 3 (MPD-3).
When the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) can divert women to the Sisters Program instead of arresting them, women have the opportunity to change their lives. Our goal is to create a citywide policy to provide a public health based approach to help women in street prostitution and sex trafficking instead of criminalizing them.
The Sisters Program provides a place where women can begin a journey towards a healthier, safer life. The program recognizes that change is a process and not an immediate transformation. We meet women where they are and walk with them for the long-term.
We offer street outreach and two drop-in centers that provide crisis support, continued relationships to connect women with resources to access needed services, support groups, food, clothing, personal hygiene items, and a safe place to rest.
The Medical College of Wisconsin is an important partner. They help us evaluate our program results:
We operated a pilot diversion program on the north side from 2012 to 2014.
• 71% of women who accepted the police diversion completed the requirements and stayed engaged in the program
• 21% of women were able to leave the streets for one month or more
• Street Outreach Workers connected with 404 women a total of 2,074 times
• 131 women individual women were served 2,747 times in the Drop-In Center
Sisters Program Service Model
Change does not happen overnight. We meet women where they are and take steps together to help her in her journey.
- Street Outreach Workers talk to women on the streets multiple times to foster relationships and build trust. They offer respect, care packages and an invitation to the Sisters Program Drop In Centers.
- Police have the option to divert women to the Sisters Program instead of incarceration as well.
Drop In Center:
- Crisis Management, Safety Plans, Respite (safe place to sleep)
- Case Management and Wrap Around Services through Collaborations (ie: housing)
- Educational and Support Groups
- Warming Room (open 24 hours during November - March)
Sisters Leaders help make program decisions, advocate for system changes and share their perspective with decision makers, neighborhood groups and the community.
Community Engagement is Essential:
Key to this project is the support and involvement of a multidisciplinary team of residents, businesses, faith leaders, local government, and community organizations.
- Medical College of Wisconsin
- Milwaukee Police Department
- Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office
- Milwaukee County Housing Division
- Sisters Program South Collaborators
An interfaith collaboration formed to create and sustain a Sisters Program- South to support this work. The collaborators include the School Sisters of St. Francis, Ascension Lutheran Church, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, Sinsinawa Dominicans, and Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.
With considerable energy, time and dedication, the collaboration has raised sufficient funding to begin the drop in center and street outreach. At the same time, the collaboration is actively building partnerships with the City, County, CBO’s and other service providers to leverage and connect comprehensive services to women in need while building safer neighborhoods.
Significant funders of this program include the Zilber Foundation, Impact100, Siebert Lutheran Foundation, Sisters of St. Joseph of The Third Order of St. Francis, House of Hospitality, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, and the Catholic Community Foundation.
Benedict Center Sisters Program - North
Benedict Center Sisters Program – South