Dallas has developed a growing reputation as one of the few cities in the country to treat prostitutes as victims, whether through unique programs for under-age targets of human trafficking or specialty courts that help convicted sex workers create new lives. And so, two years after the Dallas Police Department started its Prostitute Diversion Initiative -- which, as noted here, will soon add DNA testing to its arsenal -- city officials kicked off the first National Prostitute Diversion Conference this morning at the Old Red Courthouse.
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Before an audience of about 150 (many of whom came from out of town) at 8 this morning, county and city officials lauded Dallas's multi-agency effort to help prostitutes as a national example. And many acknowledged Sgt. Louis Felini, the man who initiated DPD's new approach to prostitution. "This developed organically from the ground up because Sgt. Felini saw that our approach wasn't working and really did it on his own," said Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle. "We really believe this is a model for cities across the country."
Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey called the initiative an example of "a well-oiled, good working partnership" that includes the police department, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, Parkland Hospital and The Bridge.
For the next three days, a parade of speakers will address the issue of how to heal the wounds that come from sex work and how to best help women out of the criminal justice system and into productive, healthy lives; among those scheduled to address the assembled are Mayor Tom Leppert, Parkland CEO Ron Anderson, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and Dallas County Health & Human Services director Zachary Thompson. This morning, Sheriff Lupe Valdez was among the first to the podium, and she highlighted the value of law enforcement uniting with social service agencies.
"Traditionally, law enforcement agencies and social workers have been on two sides of the street, but we can't afford that," she said. "This all came about because Sgt. Felini was talking to his wife, who's a social worker. It took both professions to see prostitutes as victims, not just working girls."