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Kathryn Griffin-Townsend is a recovering drug addict and former sex worker who founded “We’ve Been There Done That,” a nonprofit that helps women in jail to stay away from a life on the street.
She piloted the program at Houston’s Harris County Jail, and she successfully pushed lawmakers to create special “prostitution courts” across the state, which focus on rehabilitating — rather than incarcerating — sex workers.
A program born out of experience
I had a $30,000 a month cocaine habit that took me from Beverly Hills to behind the trash dumpster.
Griffin-Townsend was interested in special prostitution courts because after 21 unsuccessful stints in drug rehabilitation programs, she finally kicked her substance abuse in a court-mandated drug court.
“I had a $30,000 a month cocaine habit that took me from Beverly Hills to behind the trash dumpster,” Griffin-Townsend told Here & Now. “Only by the grace of God did I have a crack pipe in my bra and that pipe qualified me to be one of the guinea pigs for the Harris County drug court program.”
Griffin-Townsend’s prostitution rehabilitation program was inspired by her experience in drug court. Women with prostitution convictions get sent to her program instead of being incarcerated.
“They learn that they have self-worth,” Griffin-Townsend said. “They are not alone. We deal with secrets.”
Sex trafficked in the U.S.
Many of the women Griffin-Townsend works with are sold into sex trafficking and do not voluntarily work in the sex industry. Many have histories of being abused and isolated as children.
“Everybody has thought about human trafficking as being foreign or international,” she said. “It is in every community in our country.”
One of the women Townsend has worked with is “Danielle”—who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity.
Danielle’s mother sold her to a 48-year-old man to settle a debt. Danielle was held captive in his house.
The people who’ve actually been through it and experienced the things are the ones that need to be helping us.
“I wasn’t allowed to look out the window,” Danielle said. “When I got caught looking out the window, I was beat.”
However, because all Danielle had known was confinement, she thought it was a normal way of life.
“After so long with being with that one person, I thought I belonged there,” she said.
Once she was freed, she wanted to be in jail so she could be confined.
Getting help from women who understand
Griffin-Townsend’s program helped Danielle open up and understand her experiences. While there is a trained psychologist on the staff, the real help came from other women in the program.
“A lot of trained psychologists, they’ve spent so much time in the books and not actually doing field work,” Danielle said. “The people who’ve actually been through it and experienced the things, are the ones that need to be helping us, because when we talk to somebody who is a psychiatrist we look at them like, ‘How would you know?’”
“You cannot learn what any of these survivors or victims have gone through in a book,” Griffin-Townsend said.
Danielle now has bright hopes for her future.
“I want to be right by Kathy’s side helping women in the same situation,” Danielle said.