In a new audio report at Gapers Block, Sarah Ostman tells the story of “Nina,” the first woman to enter the WINGS program, which offers treatment services for women facing prostitution charges in Cook County.
Nina began selling sex at age 13, after becoming addicted to cocaine. That’s the typical age that girls enter prostitution, according to Jody Raphael of DePaul University. At first it seemed glamorous, Nina says – then the violence began. Over 33 years, she served three prison terms and numerous stints in jail. She had seven children and lost custody of all of them. She tried several times to get sober.
Along with new state laws protecting underage girls and sex trafficking victims, the WINGS program reflects a new understanding of prostitution, long considered a victimless crime. Most prostitues were coerced into the industry at a young age. And if prostitutes are more victims than criminals, perhaps they should get treatment rather than prison time, Ostman says.
We follow Nina through work readiness sessions at the Career Advancement Network, some of which are emotionally charged – and to a graduation ceremony for the program, where the women sing “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
A year later, she’s yet to land a job – she volunteers at a food pantry in Back of the Yards – and has faced a number of challenges, including the threat of foreclosure and utility cutoffs. But she’s got a suportive fiance, she’s reconnected with her mother, and she’s developing relationships with her children. And she’s committed to staying sober and working toward her goals.