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By Amanda Robert. At just past seven o'clock on a Wednesday night, they head for Jamal's. New moms hugging babies to each hip, teenagers in hoodies and on bikes and small boys sporting T-shirts and shorts despite the chilly air filter down the sidewalk.
Cars boom and bounce beside them, spilling their passengers into the mix. Most aren't here to buy groceries from the 12th and Ash bodega. Instead, they trek to the northwestern corner of its parking lot, to a folding table heaped with chocolate, chocolate-chip muffins, white-powdered donuts, a vanilla-iced chocolate sheet cake and condoms.
Sally Millichamp, the case manager with Positive Options, Referrals and Alternatives PORA , and other volunteers greet hungry eastsiders, handing them grilled hot dogs and cartons of chicken-noodle soup. In the pauses between patrons, Millichamp scans the streets. Each week PORA feeds families and provides free, minute HIV testing through street outreach at Jamal's and other Springfield spots, but the nonprofit organization also meets another need. They're here for the bedraggled and addicted; they work to be a constant fixture in the lives of prostitutes.
If they're ready for detox, we'd be happy to help them do that. If they're ready for treatment, we'll give people rides to treatment. Less than a mile away, PORA provides a longer-term solution for prostitutes who are ready to recover. After they've completed detox and drug rehab, these "survivors of sexual exploitation," as the nonprofit calls them, enroll in a two-year residential program.
It's one of the few of its kind in the country. Springfield, not a bustling metropolis by any means, sees its share of prostitution. Since opening its six-bed shelter in , PORA has housed recovering prostitutes. A few years ago, outreach coordinator Bernie Carver says a focus group identified prostitutes in Springfield, and even today, there are more than erotic service postings on Springfield's Craigslist.
And it's not just capital city men who are feeding the problem. PORA has documented incidents of johns from as far away as Peoria, Alton and Litchfield driving in to solicit women on the streets or in concealed brothels scattered throughout Springfield. Even so, Carver says, his organization struggles to keep its doors open because of the stigma attached to clients and the lack of funding devoted to solving the problem.
Or people don't see this as a problem if it's not in their face. Four women inhabit the upstairs of PORA's building on 11th Street, and seven others who have moved out and on with their lives still visit regularly for services. Carver and Millichamp talk about their clients as though they were teenagers, and in many ways, they still are. Almost all of them, Carver says, were abandoned or neglected as children and sexually abused by fathers, uncles, grandfathers or other male relatives.
He points to a popular theory that suggests sexual abuse stunts emotional and social development. When their issues weren't resolved, these women turned to drugs and spiraled into supporting their addiction with sex acts. They must want this. In addition to emotional damage, all of these women have suffered physical damage due to prostitution. PORA has found that most prostitutes average 10 customers each night. Carver says one client described it as being a "sexual spittoon. Most have sexually-transmitted diseases, bruises and broken bones and other health problems.
Some are probably lucky to be alive after working the streets. Carver and Millichamp remember a former client who had her arm cut off and her eye put out. One was shot in the face and another escaped through the bars of a basement window in Chicago after being held hostage by a serial killer.
Carver shares the story of another woman, not a former client, but a current recovering resident. Two years ago, she was stabbed eight times by a man in Toledo, Ohio, who left her for dead in the woods.
After three days, she was able to drag herself to a highway for help. Donna, a friendly, polite year-old mother of three, sits at the wooden table in the first-floor kitchen at PORA. She looks a reporter straight in the eyes and calmly talks about one of the days she almost died.
She was traveling the country with a semi-truck driver, getting high and drinking. The pair stopped in Toledo, and because shampoo and other toiletries were too expensive at the truck stop, Donna took a city bus to a dollar store to get what she needed. A man sat down next to her, and after talking for a while, he told her he knew where she could score some dope.
It was just around 6 p. He drug her into the woods behind the store, stabbed her seven more times, raped her and took her clothes, her purse and her glasses. He walked on top of her Donna thinks he must have been trying to get the blood out of her body and buried her underneath piles of leaves and dirt. When she was rescued, she suffered from a multitude of injuries, including two collapsed lungs, and eventually required four blood transfusions.
She spent the next two months in the hospital. Police never found her attacker. Donna pulled through and returned to Illinois. But she didn't stop taking drugs. She'd been popping pills and smoking crack since she was 26 years old. She'd already been held at gunpoint, pushed out of a moving car and run over, and raped more times than she can count.
Along the way Donna sold her body to support her addiction. It was a girl in Indianapolis who first told her she could get drug money by turning tricks. She didn't want to do it, she says, but at the time, it seemed better than stealing or getting a real job. Not all the time you're picking up dates, you might stand there two or three hours before somebody finally comes along.
But you're not willing to say forget it. You just stand there. When Donna took a hit, the first thing she thought of was finding more money. Some nights Donna "dated" 15 or more men and spent every penny they paid her on the drug. She tried getting off the streets several times, entering rehab programs in Knoxville, Tenn. She'd even tried coming to PORA, but before she knew it, she'd be popping pills and starting all over. She remembers walking around, she says, feeling so sad. She couldn't stop. Six months ago, Donna finally hit bottom.
She'd been staying with her oldest daughter, who was pregnant, when they got into a fight about her addiction. Donna had been wearing her daughter's shoes, but when she went to leave, her daughter asked for them back. Donna took off barefoot and went to get high.
I finally saw her, and all that time, she had been walking around looking for me. Her being pregnant, with an umbrella, crying. Donna has been at PORA for four months — the longest she's ever been clean and sober. She counts herself among the lucky ones. Donna admits that it's going to take a long time to move past her mistakes. She only cries when she talks about learning to forgive herself. But did anyone ever get as low as I did? I was having sex all the time. I was giving blowjobs all the time.
Just to get high. That's so sad. As part of her recovery, Donna attends eight to 10 meetings, for issues such as alcohol-abuse and sex addiction, each week. PORA only requires clients to attend seven, but Donna says she needs the extra help.
Clients can also help PORA with its other education initiatives. On Mondays they host groups for boys and girls at the youth detention center, on Tuesdays they visit Helping Hands homeless shelter and on Fridays they meet with 12 female inmates at the Sangamon County Jail.
John's Breadline. She started attending services at iWorship Center on Friday nights and wants to get involved with Bible study soon. She takes medicine for post-traumatic stress disorder and visits Heritage Behavioral Health Center in Decatur. Donna and the other women also choose sponsors and meet with them weekly. In her spare time, she likes to watch "Reba" until it went off-air , listen to praise and worship music and have conversations about God. But, she quickly says, she doesn't like to be overbearing about religion because everyone's entitled to their own point of view.
The best thing she's done over the past four months, Donna adds, has been monthly visits to Decatur to see her kids. She even witnessed the birth of her granddaughter. The organization provides transportation and gives the women Illinois Link cards to buy groceries. They take turns cooking each week and have a rotating chores schedule.
They aren't pressured to work, but after they've been in recovery for a while, clients can get part-time jobs. When they start earning income, they donate 30 percent to cover housing and save half of the remaining balance for the future. When they graduate from the program, PORA helps them find full-time employment and a home.Hookers in Springfield Illinois
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