New City Trick

Judge Jim Sullivan has a different way of dealing with crack whores -- don't just jail them, treat them for their addiction

"That'll cost you," was her businesslike response.

The police radio beeps twice, interrupting Sloan's story.

"It's a go! It's a go!" says the detective who has been monitoring the conversation between the officers and the guys in the truck.

Jill Pearson
Judge Jim Sullivan: "It seemed as though we were missing the boat."
Jennifer Silverberg
Judge Jim Sullivan: "It seemed as though we were missing the boat."

An unmarked police car, lights flashing, pulls in just in front of the truck. Another unmarked car pulls in behind. Officers wearing vests marked "POLICE" jump out of the car and arrest the men.

They search and impound the vehicle.

During this vehicle search, an officer reaches in and pulls out a rifle with a scope -- not something usually found in a construction worker's belt.

It is loaded.

A detective empties the shells onto the ground.

In an hour's time, the officers arrest four men. They're taken downtown and booked, their cars impounded.

Later they'll stand before Sullivan on charges of patronizing prostitution.

And if Joachimstaler gets his way, the names of the johns, along with their home addresses, will start appearing in the Suburban Journals, identified as having been arrested for patronizing prostitution.

Sullivan is considering some creative sentencing of his own:

"I'd like to assess a fine that will cover the cost of a 30-day drug-treatment program for the prostitutes."

The front door at the Washington University satellite clinic on Taylor is labeled "Health Street."

In the foyer, a small water fountain gurgles. There's a magazine rack stocked with Ebony, Reader's Digest and Health. A child's chalk table is nestled into one corner of the pink-linoleum lobby.

Most of the chairs are empty. Occasionally a woman comes in to get test results. Another young woman with closely cropped hair wears a T-shirt bearing the message: "Guys are like parking spaces, all the good ones are taken."

A Lifestyle condoms poster, showing a close-up of a screw, reads: "If you're going to have sex, don't get screwed."

An older woman opens the front door and shuffles up the steps. She's got a reddish-black gash in her head. It starts just behind her temple and runs horizontally across her skull.

Dr. Linda Cottler, a psychiatrist running the federally funded Women's Health Study, and Symphony Brooks, a nurse, know this woman.

But they don't know that she was stabbed in the head a couple of days ago while walking the street. She was stitched up and spent a couple of days in the hospital. She's just been released.

Physical violence is one of the job hazards of being a prostitute.

Maury Travis, who may have tortured and murdered at least eleven prostitutes before he died in custody, is still on everyone's mind.

Seven of the murdered women were on Sullivan's docket -- and the judge wonders whether he did enough to get those women off the street.

"Is there something that we could have done that we didn't do that might have assisted them in seeing the light, so to speak?" Sullivan asks. "But, realistically speaking, it was hard. By the same token, I've been told numerous times, 'You can't save everybody.'"

Sloan also knew many of the women. When the corpses started turning up, his squad took to the streets, trying to compile information for the Homicide Division.

"A lot of the girls he was picking up were in Baden and on the North Side," he says. "We'd go up there in the evenings and not even lock them up, just pick them up and get them a soda and say, 'Tell us about some guy.'"

Sloan regrets that he never got a chance to talk to the man who tortured and killed so many women.

But murder isn't the only health hazard for prostitutes.

Although HIV infection appears to have stabilized at around 4 to 5 percent of drug users, there's been a rapid increase in the number of cases of hepatitis C, Cottler says.

"Hepatitis C cases represent about 25 to 30 percent of court-referred women," Cottler says, "and it's not injection drug use that seems to be causing it -- it seems to be sharing crack pipes [that helps the disease spread]."

Men who patronize prostitutes are taking the diseases to other sex partners, Cottler says, pointing to a map of the metropolitan area that shows that every single ZIP-code area has confirmed HIV and hepatitis C cases.

Cottler's study is focused on sexually active women between the ages of eighteen and 46 who either drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.

One hundred of the women in the study were referred by Sullivan. Of the additional 300 being studied, many have been in his courtroom at some point in their lives.

"They're usually drug-addicted women working the streets, plain and simple," says Joyce Williford, outreach coordinator for the Wash. U. study.

She spends at least one day a week at a table set up outside Sullivan's courtroom. Representatives from the health department are also at the table. A video about HIV runs on a TV set, and literature describing HIV, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases is there for the taking. People who fill out a questionnaire are given a packet of three condoms.

Williford also walks the streets, all over the city and some inner suburbs, to bring women into the clinic.

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