Prostitution: Beyond the Myth

Bill Nelson is the director of correctional services for Volunteers of America, Minnesota, and founding director of the Women's Recovery Center, a residential program for women in the process of leaving prostitution. Nelson is also the founder of the antiviolence agency La Oportunidad, Minneapolis, and adjunct faculty at Brown College. As if that weren't enough, he farms 150 acres. He was recently featured in a documentary, Prostitution: Beyond the Myths, and managed to carve out a few minutes to talk to City Pages.

CP:What does the Women's Recovery Center do to help women leave prostitution?

BN: I was the architect to put together what is already known about women and healing. It was really the whole package that has made it effective. That includes a chemical-dependency treatment specific to women, mental health services specifically addressing PTSD and other psychologically crippling effects, and an emphasis on building self-esteem. Women do well by supporting one another—that's called the relational approach. Women heal with other women. The background essentially is about isolation, and the program focuses on restoring relationships, building relationships. Now by contrast, if women and men are in group counseling, you will find, typically, that the men do the talking and the women shut down.

CP:How widespread is prostitution in the Twin Cities?

BN: Everybody has their own statistics and estimates, partly having to do with defining prostitution. We incorporate stripping as concomitant with prostitution because the two go together in many—if not most—cases. Some people have said seven to nine thousand. The irony is that at some point in their career, women want to get out, but they're trapped in it.

CP:What are the main challenges that a woman leaving prostitution faces?

BN: All the practical things you can imagine. For example, housing. Where can she really live? She already has a record. Employment. She has no job history. Education. She may have no education to speak of. And she has this terrible dependency she's grown to adopt into her personhood. It's like a dependency on males. One of our former prostitutes said, "For a year, I was by myself."

For more information about prostitution and the Women's Recovery Center, watch the documentary Prostitution: Beyond the Myth, which airs Saturday, September 1 at 8:00 p.m. on Channel 17, Twin Cities Public Television.
Sat., Sept. 1, 8 p.m.

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