Though Women with a Vision (WWAV) began in 1989 as a nonprofit to address the spread of HIV/AIDS within the African-American female community, its work over the past 25 years has included a much wider array of services geared toward all marginalized women in New Orleans. The group's most recent project, the Crossroads Sex Workers Diversion Program, aims to release female sex workers who have been charged with nonviolent offenses and provide them with access to social services and other assistance.
At an Oct. 22 Criminal Justice Committee meeting of the New Orleans City Council, program coordinators Rebecca Atkinson and Leslie Davis presented the details of the program, which began in June and currently is piloted in Municipal Court under the direction of Judge Desiree Charbonnet. The program was a joint effort by the Racial Justice Improvement Taskforce, which includes New Orleans Municipal Court, WWAV, the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, the City Attorney's Office, Orleans Public Defenders and the New Orleans Police Department.
Women who participate in the program report to WWAV within 10 days of release. Case managers develop individual plans that include goal setting, job planning, educational goals, addressing drug and alcohol issues, children and emotional trauma. In the four months since the program launched, 23 clients have graduated with no re-arrests. More than 50 percent of graduates maintain a relationship with the program.
But WWAV says the program needs more funding.
"We really need help," Atkinson told the council committee. "The vision-mapping that's done, all the resources and tools that these women use when they come into these sessions, are provided on a donation basis. We never know if or when we are going to get donations, or what they will be. ... We also really need advocacy for increased harm reduction approaches. There are a lot of services available, but women feel uncomfortable using these services if they're going to be judged as soon as they come in the door."
District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee, said she asked WWAV to provide the committee with a list of needs, and added, "If you know someone who has resources, whether it's in housing or mental health, donations, supplies for the program ... and any of these advocacy services available, I believe that with added resources, it would be an incredible number of very vulnerable women, many of whom have children, in our community that could be served."