Diane once considered herself above other prostitutes. In nearly 20 years working highway truck stops, downtown street corners and even a brothel in Nevada, for the most part she'd managed to shower often, avoid beatings and stay in motels or with regulars, some who called her ma'am and bought her clothes and meals. All that began to change in 2007. As she edged toward 40, bone-deep weariness and a sinking sense of doom settled in.
Though she'd always told herself being a hooker was temporary, the tricks and the highs and the arrests stretched on for years, until one day she awoke as a 40-year-old pacing the streets of downtown Dallas in the same dirty brown dress she'd been wearing for days. She didn't have the energy to care anymore. Increasingly, she used crack to numb the nagging disappointment over goals abandoned (going to college, finding her lost son, working a job that didn't involve bodily fluids). She began doing the things she'd long shunned—doling out sexual favors for small rocks of crack, hardly bathing and sleeping, sometimes for nights on end, in parks or in condemned buildings filled with addicts. Huddled in filthy rooms cluttered with ratty mattresses, they'd get high and stare blankly for long periods. Talk was sparse, and no one exchanged names or where-are-you-from niceties. The point was to disappear. Sometimes other women would stumble in with deep, purple bruises or faces caked with blood. They most likely had been pushed out of a moving car or beaten by a pimp or a john, but those gathered in the ramshackle houses rarely asked. "A trick got hold of her," someone might remark before returning to dazed silence.
Some days she'd sit in the bushes alone and cry, thinking about how badly she wanted out but not knowing how she'd pull it off. "Can I live like a normal person?" she'd ask herself. "Would it be just an act?"
Then, on a morning in early December 2007, a new opportunity came in the form of an old routine. Diane was working a downtown street corner when two undercover vice cops pulled up in an unmarked car. She agreed to service them and was promptly handcuffed. She expected to spend up to two years in prison since she was already on probation, and under Texas' three-strikes law this was a felony. But prosecutors offered her six months in prison—including in-jail drug rehab—and probation. Her probation officer was part of the team starting a new specialty court for prostitutes, and Diane became the first participant. It was called STAR Court, which stands for strengthening, transition and recovery, and it would offer prostitutes the chance to continue drug treatment and attend counseling and job training classes under the supervision of a female judge. Fifteen months later, in September, Diane and four other former prostitutes became STAR Court's first graduates. Today, Diane—not her real name—is two years clean and sober, off probation and works as a supervisor at a Shriners call center.
Back in 2007, Dallas police Sergeant Louis Felini, a patrol supervisor, grew frustrated that his vice officers were arresting the same prostitutes over and over, only to see the women begin the cycle anew. He also wanted to use them to garner information on crimes committed at the truck stops they worked, places notorious for cargo theft, drug and human smuggling, as well as murders perpetrated by serial killers posing as truckers. Without something to offer the women in exchange, however, there was no incentive for them to cooperate.
"We spent eight months developing a complete exit strategy," says Felini, a stocky man who speaks with the blunt authority that comes with decades of law enforcement experience. "I'm not a tree hugger. I'm a crime fighter, a hardened 21-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. As a rookie I believed, like everyone else, we should just arrest these women and put them in jail, but it doesn't work." Felini united 40 agencies to staff a command post off Interstate 20 in Dallas, a collection of trailers where police would bring arrested prostitutes and check their records, health staffers would screen them for STDs and a team of counselors would determine whether they needed in-patient drug treatment, psychiatric care or therapy. An on-site judge would work late into the night to review each misdemeanor case (those facing felony charges would go to jail and later have the option of attending treatment and counseling) and hand down an alternative sentence on the spot.
At first, the response from Felini's higher-ups was far from enthusiastic. "My commanders said, 'These women are too far gone. They don't want help,'" Felini says. "I said, 'Well, we'll do one operation and see.' The first night, 18 prostitutes walked up to us [at the command post]." The Prostitute Diversion Initiative became a monthly event, and soon after, Criminal District Judge Lana Myers got a state grant to preside over a felony court specifically tailored for prostitutes who wanted a different life and were willing to work for it. A misdemeanor court led by Criminal District Judge Peggy Hoffman followed. Two years after Felini launched the initiative and the courts got on board, 375 women have been arrested during operations or walked up to the mobile command post voluntarily; 200 were found eligible for immediate drug treatment or alternative sentences and roughly half opted to attend. Of those, 21 completed the initial 45-day treatment program and remain drug-free and out of prostitution. There's not yet definitive research showing the efforts work better than the traditional model, though Dr. Martha Felini, Sergeant Felini's wife and an epidemiology professor at the University of North Texas, points out that of the 10 women who finished the initial treatment the first year, 90 percent are clean and sober and off the streets.
In the beginning, many street cops dismissed Felini's endeavor as the "Hug-a-Ho" program. Two years later, Dallas' model is attracting attention from agencies and researchers nationwide. The city in November held the first National Prostitute Diversion Conference, which was attended by police officers, attorneys and social workers from across the country. The Dallas setup is just one piece of a growing shift in the way America's justice system deals with low-level crime. Specialty courts for prostitutes are the latest in a collection of so-called divert courts that have sprung up in multiple states to address troublesome repeat offenses, from drug use and drunk driving to homelessness and public disorder. In the years since the first drug court opened in Miami in 1989 and Manhattan's Midtown Community Court helped clean up Times Square in the '90s, drug courts have become the norm in most states. The nonprofit Center for Court Innovation has partnered with the state of New York to open what they call "problem-solving courts" in most of Manhattan's five boroughs, and San Francisco recently opened its Community Justice Center to halt the "revolving door" of petty crime in the Tenderloin. As cities face strapped budgets and large jail populations, they're increasingly intrigued by reports that these new collaborations between law enforcement and social services slash recidivism and costs at the same time.
"It's not a silver bullet, but it definitely slows the rate of new offending," says John Roman, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute who's finishing a government-funded evaluation of the country's drug courts. "Any judge you talk to who runs one of these courts will tell you that before these programs, they just saw the same offenders over and over again, and that's changed. I think part of the reduction in crime we've seen in recent years is due to the fact that a lot of high-rate offenders have been helped by specialized courts." Since there's still little data to prove the effectiveness of the new approach to prostitution, advocates have relied on the growing body of research on drug courts, which shows the programs are more successful than traditional jail and probation at reducing recidivism. "Ten to 20 percent of people who go through these programs—roughly 70,000 a year through drug court and another 75,000 through another type of specialized court—won't commit new crimes," Roman says. "Over time, that has a cumulative effect that becomes very large."
The trend unites the courts' power to mete out punishment with social services' ability to rehabilitate, which means judges are expanding their roles as legal arbiters to become cheerleaders and counselors as well. The innovation is a sea change in the way the justice system views prostitutes. Instead of criminals who will likely move in and out of jail and eventually wind up dead, they're seen as victims who, in most cases, were driven to the streets by sexual abuse and desperation and who, with the right support, might actually be able to lead productive, healthy lives. There are courts for prostitutes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., and pilot programs have been authorized in Reno, Nevada; Baltimore, Maryland; and Columbus, Ohio. Even in cities without formal prostitution courts such as Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles and St. Paul, Minnesota, nonprofits that help sex workers exit "the life" have proliferated and often work with local authorities.
"It's fascinating that these programs emerged independently across the country, but it makes sense," says Liberty Aldrich, legal counsel and a family violence specialist with the Center for Court Innovation in New York. "It's absolutely apparent when you work with these women that they're struggling with incredible issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual violence. We want to help these women change their lives, and if we want to change what's happening, we have to change our approach."
Judge Myers is troubled when she arrives at court on a Monday in late October. Since STAR Court began, there always seems to be one woman whose struggles occupy her thoughts even after she leaves the courthouse and whose story she tells her husband once she gets home. Lately, the focus of her worry is Cristina, a 42-year-old woman who has hit a brick wall after nearly a year in the program.
Cristina's life story reads like a blueprint for a life of prostitution: endures being molested and raped by an elder brother, flees and becomes a teen runaway, meets an older man who says he loves her but doubles as a pimp, marries the man and has multiple children, turns to crack and prostitution when he leaves. After 16 years on the streets as Peaches, Cristina—not her real name—was arrested for the 10th time and, exhausted and battling bipolar disorder, agreed to participate in STAR Court. She's gone to rehab, been placed on psychiatric medications and nearly has a year clean and sober, but recently she's stopped attending her Narcotics Anonymous meetings and group counseling sessions.
Myers, petite and impeccably dressed in a suit and earrings, her short blond hair tucked behind her ears, stands before the group and talks with each woman about her progress. When she gets to Cristina, she looks at the woman's round brown face and sighs. She has deliberated—should she just send the woman back to jail and traditional probation?—and ultimately opts to employ the tough-love technique she has learned through trial and error over the past 18 months.
"I'm starting to feel that you're taking advantage of my good nature," Myers, crossing her arms, tells Cristina. "There's a waiting list of women in jail who want to come to STAR Court, but we can only take 35. You really need to be working this program, and if you're not willing, then maybe you should be on regular probation."
Cristina, her dark hair pulled back into a low ponytail, looks stricken. "Please don't give up on me," she says, clasping her hands. "Please don't."
"No more excuses," Myers replies. "You've filled your head with all of this nonsense about why you can't do this or that. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. We're here to help you, but you've got to do your part. Otherwise, at some point, the giver just gives out." She pauses. "You know what you need to do, and in the next two weeks you really need to show me that you want to be here."
"It hurts me when I see you falling behind. Do you know that?"
"Yes, ma'am, I do," Cristina says.
"I want you to write me a paper and tell me where you see yourself in five years, where you want to be and how you want to get there," Myers says. The room is dead quiet. "You need to have a vision. You need to see yourself doing great. Will you do that?" The women return her gaze. Some say "yes." Others nod.
Myers, a Republican and a graduate of Baylor Law School, spent 12 years as a prosecutor. Like most assistant district attorneys, initially she was strict about staying personally removed from defendants and leaving a case behind as soon as it was finished. But in the early '90s she grew more interested in the impact of crime and social problems on society as a whole—especially when it came to female offenders, many of whom had children. She joined a task force dedicated to evaluating the unique issues facing female offenders and became passionate about the ways the justice system treated women (at one point the policy group—since disbanded—attempted to move incarcerated women to facilities closer to their families). Myers says her zeal for working with female offenders is in part what drove her to run for judge, eventually taking the bench in 1995. Almost 15 years later, she jumped at the chance to preside over STAR Court. Even so, the new role didn't come easily to her.
On top of balancing her criminal docket with the duties of crafting a mission statement and assembling a team that included an assistant district attorney, public defender, probation officer, therapist and drug rehab counselor, Myers had to learn how to reach women who seemed beyond hope. On the first day of STAR Court in the summer of 2008, Myers wore her black robe and addressed the first four participants, including Diane, from the bench. It didn't go well. The women regarded her warily, arms crossed over their chests. She didn't think they'd show the following week, but they did. This time she took off her robe, stepped down from the bench in plain clothes and talked to the women on their level. They began to open up, talk about their situations and listen to what she had to say, so she's done it that way ever since.
"For a judge to say, 'You're going to jail' just doesn't work," Myers says. "They can do jail time standing on their heads. What they really need is someone to lift them up, to give them a bus pass."
Still, it's challenging for the judge when women work hard only to relapse, and she has no illusions about the hard road back from addiction and prostitution. To fortify herself against pessimism—something she often cautions the STAR Court women against—Myers thinks about the graduates who are attending school or working jobs. She recalls one day when a participant's son drove his mother to court for a private meeting with the judge, and the three of them sat and talked. As Myers listened, the mother apologized to her son for physically abusing him when he was a child. He listened, told his mother he forgave her, and then hugged Myers and thanked her for helping his mother.
"I know I'm not going to save all of them, but if I can help one family, it's worth it," Myers says. "These women are in the program because they want to be, because they want to become productive members of society. And why wouldn't everyone want that for them?"
Just how many former prostitutes are succeeding in fashioning new lives for themselves through programs like STAR Court is unclear. Only five have finished Dallas' 15-month felony court program, and 35 are in it now. Preliminary data on the city's Prostitute Diversion Initiative, the police-led effort, shows that of 101 women who chose treatment over the past two years, 21 remain clean and sober and out of prostitution. The data for the first year shows that 90 percent of those who completed the initial 45-day treatment program remain drug-free and haven't re-offended.
"Nine of 10 girls who completed treatment remain off the streets," says Martha Felini, who's tracking the results and preparing a cost-effectiveness study. "That 90 percent rate right now has been untouchable in any other diversion program that we know of across the country." Still, less than a quarter of the women who entered treatment finished. "To a lot of people, success in this population is getting one woman into a productive life and out of the court system, so I'm cautiously positive," Felini says. "The test will be whether the short-term success turns out to be long-term success, and now we're too early in this project to determine if that's the case." The Pittsburgh court has had 200 women sentenced to its diversion program in five years, with 70 completing and just 5 percent re-offending (though they may have been arrested elsewhere since the court doesn't track them out of state).
One reason for early indications of success may be that Pennsylvania has stiff sentences for repeat offenders, and likewise, in Texas a third prostitution arrest is a felony. Though this can complicate women's efforts to get out of "the life" since a felony makes it extremely hard to get housing and employment, stiffer sentences mean judges have stronger authority to order treatment and can monitor the women for longer periods and expunge the offense from the records of those who complete the requirements. "What's critical is not just that people are mandated to treatment but that there's ongoing judicial oversight," says Mike Rempel, director of research at the Center for Court Innovation in New York. "When people are faced with real judicial consequences if they fail, then they're more likely to do well."
Strong judicial oversight is a crucial component of drug courts, which over the past two decades have cropped up in more than 1,500 localities and garnered a growing body of research. Studies, including one by the Government Accountability Office and another by a group of criminologists published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology in 2006, concluded that mandatory drug courts cut recidivism. From 2003 to 2005, the GAO evaluated 39 programs and reported participants were less likely to re-offend than those who did traditional jail time or probation, and those who completed the program were even less likely to re-offend. The 2006 study concluded that while the quality of drug divert courts varies, overall recidivism among participants ranged from 35 to 43 percent instead of 50 percent for those serving traditional jail time or probation.
The day Myers gives Cristina a veiled ultimatum, Diane is working her shift at the call center. Afterward she heads home to her apartment, her teacup chihuahua and her boyfriend, whom she met in recovery and whom she thinks looks like Vin Diesel. For years, she spent the holidays in jail or in a motel, but this year she's busy with a to-do list: Bake a Coca-Cola cake for her boyfriend's family at Thanksgiving, celebrate two years sober with her best friend the first week of December, and plan a trip home to see her parents for Christmas. She has scheduled it all in her calendar, just like Myers taught her to. One day in November, she gets a call from her old probation officer, who still works with STAR Court and tells her that Myers wants her to come to court to help motivate the women, one of whom is struggling.
Diane agrees, and the next Monday she takes a seat in the front row of benches wearing a sweater, her blond, highlighted hair cropped at her jawline and light makeup accentuating her new professional look. The other women—including Cristina, who sits clutching the letter she wrote for Myers—give Diane and several other visiting graduates close attention, their expressions hopeful, almost reverent. Myers asks the graduates to stand. One of the women asks if finishing the program was easy. "No, it wasn't easy," says Pam, a woman in her 50s who before STAR Court worked as a prostitute off and on since she was 16.
Diane agrees. "You have to take action, even when you don't want to," she says. A third graduate adds, "You have to believe in yourself."
Cristina looks down and begins to cry. "I stopped believing in myself," she says. "But you believe in me." She shakes her head. "I apologize for not living up to my potential, because none of this stuff is going to happen unless I make it happen." She pauses and looks up. "I want to apologize to everybody for not doing my best." The room erupts in applause.
"I told you I'd never give up on you, but you have to do your part," Myers says. She asks Cristina to read her essay. Nervous, the woman stands and unfolds a piece of paper. In five years, she begins, she sees herself living in her own apartment, working a part-time job and continuing to work the 12 steps with a sponsor. A long time ago, she used to teach dance, she goes on, and she wants to teach again so girls keep themselves busy and avoid getting into trouble like she did.
The other women clap, and Myers takes a step toward Cristina. "Thank you for writing what I asked you to write," the judge says. "And you know, you can write about it and talk about it, but you have to do it. And you can."
Diane wanted a new life, but that didn't mean her old habits died easily. Her parents began their family as teens, and both drank heavily as they raised two, three, then five children. Diane's father worked as a trucker and welder, and at least once a year something would happen—a lost job, a fight, a whim that things would be better elsewhere—and he and his wife would move their brood to the next place, be it Iowa, California, Kansas or Texas. Diane, born in Knoxville, Iowa, was 9 the first time she spent an entire academic year at one school. In most grades she attended at least two, growing used to saying goodbye to friends and classmates as she went. By the time she dropped out of high school after getting pregnant, the impulse to run when things got rough was hardwired. And things got rough in recovery.
Before, when something upset her or she recalled something disturbing from the past, she just bought a bottle of Jack Daniel's and hit the road. "I went to Oregon, Canada, Colorado, Wyoming," she'd say later. "I'd wake up drunk and do whatever I wanted to do."
Getting clean meant having to deal with difficult problems and endure painful memories with no distractions, and she hated it. Recollections and emotions seemed to bludgeon her every day, from the moment she awoke to the time she lay down in her bed at the 24-Hour Club rehab shelter on Ross Avenue. There was the time her high school boyfriend hit her while she was pregnant. The time she snorted cocaine when her son was a toddler, went to prison in Liberal, Kansas, and lost custody of her child.
Afterward, she went to visit her older sister in Oakland, California, and sold her body for the first time. It wasn't exactly her goal—she was waiting for her sister to turn a trick down the street—but when a man cruised by in a sedan and beckoned to her, she agreed. It was her first blowjob, and as she did it, she felt insecure and disgusted—mortified to imagine anyone watching her. Yet her embarrassment faded when the man handed her a $20, and that's what most disturbed her when she recalled the experience while sober—the fact that she allowed a piece of green paper to quell her horror.
She felt equally ashamed when recalling the time she called her father from Wells, Nevada, and announced that she was working at a brothel just to goad him. ("I thought I was hot shit," she'd later say. "I wanted to be better than my family—drink better than them, smoke pot better than them, travel the world.") Though she tried not to, she recalled the last time she saw her older sister. They were in Wyoming, doing drugs and selling sex to truckers when her sister refused to let Diane use her needle to shoot up liquefied crack cocaine. It was the '80s, and her sister told Diane she was HIV positive, but Diane didn't care, so she fought with her sister and left. She would find out years later that her older sister was dead—according to relatives, she'd overdosed while suffering from AIDS.
Just as haunting now that she was clean and sober were her failed starts at leaving drugs and "the life" behind. In the late '90s, her modus operandi was to go to the downtown police station of any city, walk a few blocks and insert herself into the inevitable garden of dealers, addicts and johns until her next arrest. She was plying downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, when a cop became a regular and she fell in love. Determined that her time had come, she went to a halfway house, got clean and after three weeks called the cop. "Look, here's the situation," she said. "I've fallen in love with you." He just laughed. Crushed, she packed her few things into a bag, moved to another city and went looking for crack.
When in rehab the crack-induced cacophony of speedy, paranoid thoughts subsided and she was left with years' worth of painful emotions, her counselors had several suggestions she found helpful. They said to imagine the color of the emotions and then make them change colors. Though it seemed weird, this actually helped. She also had to learn to talk about her past and what she was feeling, to reach out to others. Tamica Bedford, her probation officer, says when she first began working with Diane, the former prostitute's main problem was being proud and stubborn. "She could just get whatever she wanted from men, and at first when we'd give her assignments, she was not hearing it," Bedford says. "She'd just stand there with her arms crossed." One assignment was to call five people each day. At first, Diane managed one or two, and then she took it up to three or four. It began to get easier. Some of those people, many of them fellow addicts or prostitutes from rehab or STAR Court, became close friends. While she was getting to know new people, she also reconnected with her family. The last time she'd spoken to her parents was in the late '80s, when she was running with a group of Mexican drug dealers and feared someone might hurt her family in retaliation for a deal gone bad. While in jail after her last arrest, she managed through mutual friends to locate her parents in Wyoming. Last Christmas, she saw them for the first time in almost 20 years. Relationships have been crucial to her recovery from drugs and transition from prostitution. If she starts to isolate herself, for example, her best friend, whom she met in treatment, will call to find out what's going on.
In the world of rehab, it's key to belong to a group that both encourages and holds one another accountable. The day Diane and the other graduates visited STAR Court, for instance, one of the newer participants admitted she hadn't yet called her sponsor. "I didn't have money for the pay phone," the woman said in a quiet voice. There was a long pause. Myers was first to speak. "Don't we do the things we want to do? Don't we find a way?" she said. "You can make excuses, but it says one thing to me, and that's that you don't really have an interest in having a sponsor. Do you agree with that?"
"No," the woman said in a small voice.
Diane shook her head. "I was one of the first people in this program, and I didn't have no phones. I was living in a recovery house, and let me tell you, I called my sponsor once a day, sometimes twice. Everyone has a cell phone—somebody would lend you 50 cents or a phone. There's no excuse."
Liz, a 30-year-old who after a year in the program is living with her family while she applies to nursing school and hopes to get hired at Parkland Hospital, stressed the potential ramifications of missing one phone call. "If you're not working your recovery, then you're in active addiction, whether you're using or not," she said. "With your addiction come certain ways of thinking, and if you don't arrest that, you're gonna use."
Myers looked at the woman who'd failed to make the call and said simply: "Make up your mind. If you're not serious, there are others who are."
Just as they talk about the temptation to use drugs, the women deal constantly with the pull of returning to prostitution. In an early November STAR Court session, one woman told of her struggles to find housing. "But then I ran into an old friend, and he put me up in a beautiful apartment, thank God."
Liz, the same woman who called out the newcomer who avoided her sponsor, wasn't buying it. "As a prostitute I relied on a man for everything," she said. "What I'm hearing is that you're not on the streets, but you're allowing a man to take care of you. Judge Myers is helping us get on our feet, not lean on a man."
The first woman looked like someone had just slapped her. "But I'm gonna be independent," she stammered. "It's not like that."
Myers interjected. "I think Liz makes a good point," she said. "To be self-sufficient, you need to have a plan, and that's what I'm here to help you with. What Liz is saying is to go into the situation with your eyes open."
"But he hasn't touched me since I got there. I made it perfectly clear," the woman, clearly feeling singled out, said. "I've heard enough. I don't want to feel low today. I just want to be happy." Yet as she bowed her head, she seemed to be considering what the others said.
Myers moved on to logistics and business, including ensuring that everyone had calendars to keep track of their counseling sessions, meetings, classes and jobs. Then she announced the list of "Stars of the Week." This time, Cristina was on the list of women who completed all the week's requirements. She looked proud as she collected her bag to leave and catch the bus. "When they throw their support in, it feels good," she said, surveying the other women filing out of the courtroom. "There are some girls that when you need them, they're there."
On a chilly November night, the command post has been erected in an empty parking lot off Interstate 20, a trucking corridor thick with Flying J truck stops and cheap motels. In trailers set up in a square, Dallas County staffers prepare to screen prostitutes for health problems, officers get ready to run background checks and collect criminal information, and a community court magistrate sits down to issue alternative sentences for those who qualify. On the pavement in the center of the trailers, a small army of counselors and church volunteers set up folding tables and wait.
Sergeant Felini, clearly concerned about being seen as some sort of bleeding heart, briefs new volunteers before the patrols begin arriving with prostitutes. "Do not hug my prisoners," he says, reminding them to rein in their do-gooder emotions lest they undermine his department's authority or get smacked in the face by an agitated crack addict. "If I see you screwing up, I'm going to yell. This is a paramilitary operation." The statement sounds a bit ridiculous, but he gets his point across.
Two officers walk up with a young woman in handcuffs. Just 17, the girl wears a pink terrycloth jumpsuit and matching Crocs. Her fringed bangs, dark ponytail and fine features suggest youthful promise, a fresh beauty that could blossom into anything. Yet instead of getting ready for bed on this school night, the lanky teen was flagging cars off the freeway when she was arrested. It's her third prostitution offense in two years. At first she puts on a stoic front. She gives her name as if introducing herself at a party. But when she sits down with a counselor and two female volunteers, she begins to cry. Her thin arms crossed against the cold, she tells them between sobs that she's selling her body for sex to pay for an $80-a-day crack habit. She says she's tired of it, that she wants something different. At the end of the night, after some 20 women have been apprehended, interviewed and evaluated, she'll be taken to a drug rehab center for a 45-day inpatient treatment program. If she does well, she'll move on to outpatient care and, in lieu of jail time, work her way through counseling, classes and job training under the supervision of a judge.
As more women are led through the trailers and evaluated by counselors, Officer Kenneth Strauss and his partner climb into their cruiser. They're looking for prostitutes tonight, but Felini is planning a crackdown on johns over the coming year, and as the officers drive along the frontage road, they discuss a recent sting operation that netted 10 men for soliciting female undercover agents. "There are so many guys, you could do stings all day and never stop," says Strauss, a short, compact officer who punctuates most of his sentences with "man." "It crosses all boundaries, man." Most of the men are family guys from decent areas, the officers say, married with kids and nice cars. Such men are often unpredictable and dangerous because they have never been arrested and have a lot to lose. "It can go bad real fast," Strauss' partner says. "One guy we picked up was out with a prostitute while his wife and daughters were Christmas shopping." Strauss nods and says, "It's nasty, man."
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The officers turn onto a residential street dotted with boarded-up homes. "That's where they do crack and turn tricks," Strauss says. Up ahead, a teenager appears in the headlights. She's standing at the bus stop alone at 10:30 p.m. in denim cutoffs that look tight enough to slice off her legs at crotch level. The officers assume she's prospecting, but after talking to her and calling her mother to verify that she's taking the bus and train home to Garland, they tell the 16-year-old to climb into the cruiser and drop her off at the train station. "We don't usually do that, but we can't leave her there," Strauss says. "Standing there this time of night—the pimps would stop and talk to her, and bam! It's over."
Next, the officers find a 40-ish woman sitting on the sidewalk, swaying. Wearing layers of clothing that appear to be several sizes too big, she looks like a homeless person, but the officers recognize her as a repeat prostitute. Sure enough, she admits she's soliciting and says she has already been arrested seven times. When asked her name, she mutters something unintelligible and then shouts—to no one in particular—"Craven!" An overpowering smell surrounds her, and when a female officer searches the woman, she finds two bottles of Stetson cologne.
"She's hardened," Strauss says. "There's no way to get to her." And yet, two years ago, someone might have said the same of Diane.
Back at the command post, Officer Terrence Peters says he's noticed a difference on his truck stop beat since the police department began diverting women to treatment programs. While many of the prostitutes he got to know well are no longer here because they've died or been killed (he keeps a list of these, and it includes street names like Paper Chase, Unique, Stormy and Strawberry), others are gone because they've gotten clean. He's heard from some of them, and he's even attended some of their graduations and weddings. "I don't see as many that fall into the category of 'tired of being tired,'" he says, though he acknowledges that in their wake have come a younger, newer set of women. "As long as there's demand, there's supply, so is it a major impact? Maybe not. But does it change lives? Absolutely."