New Group Seeks To Help Prostitutes, Victims And Drug Addicts In St. Louis

May 9, 2013

Magdalene is a residential program which provides services to women who are involved in prostitution, trafficking and addiction.

The program was founded in 1997 by Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

The program lasts two-years and has now expanded to six homes in Nashville.  Food, medical care, therapy, and education and jobs training are provided.  According to the organization, women associated with Magdalene and its accompanying social enterprise, Thistle Farms, range in age from 20-50, and “many have been sexually abused between the ages of 7-11, began using alcohol or drugs by 13, have been arrested on average a hundred times, or have spent about 12 years on the street prostituting.”

Host Don Marsh spoke with Reverend Becca Stevens and Reverend Mike Kinman, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in St. Louis.

Kinman is leading an organization which wants to start a Magdalene program in St. Louis by 2014.

“The way St. Louis has dealt with prostitution is residents of a certain area where it happens complain…the aldermen go to the police department, the police department does an enforcement sweep (and) women go to jail,” Kinman said.  “The prostitution moves to another neighborhood for a while until the cycle repeats itself.  Everybody hates this; it’s not doing any good.  Our response as a community has been the only idea we have is to move it around.”

Kinman says a residential program such as Magdalene is a better idea for dealing with prostitution, sex trafficking, and abuse – a problem he says is present in St. Louis yet difficult to ascertain statistics.

Marsh was also joined by two former prostitutes, victims of sexual abuse and drug addicts.

Christine McDonald is a former prostitute now living in the St. Louis area.

“I became a runaway at fifteen…I got into drugs, I got into prostitution and I developed a $1000 a day cocaine habit which lead me to 103 arrests, nine felony convictions and seven trips to the state penitentiary,” McDonald said.

She is now working with the Magdalene effort in St. Louis because she says she could have used a community resource like it when she was on the streets.

Shelia McClaine, Assistant Resident Manager of Magdalene (Nashville) and a graduate of the program also joined the conversation.

To find out more information about Magdalene St. Louis you visit the organization’s website or send an e-mail to info@magdalenestl.org.

You may recall a story from 2011 by NPR reporter Jacki Lyden about the Magdalene program in Nashville.

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