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New program offered for Marion County sex abuse victims charged with low-level crimes

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Posted at 6:17 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 19:18:17-05

MARION COUNTY — For many working in the sex industry, it isn't a choice.

It could lead to a number of criminal charges and a revolving door through the justice system.

But the Marion County Prosecutor's Office is trying to make changes to help sex workers get back on their feet and close a vicious cycle.

"It can happen to anyone, it changes you. There is PTSD, there's trauma, there are so many things that you're up against," Stefanie Jeffers said.

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Jeffers speaks from experience. She says three years of working in the sex industry has impacted her life forever.

"My lifestyle of sex work was working in clubs and engaging in prostitution. And along with that lifestyle comes drug addiction, abuse and sexual assault," Jeffers said.

It's a lifestyle she says so many sex workers find themselves in, and not one they necessarily choose.

"It's survival. It is to put food on the table, it is to get transportation to go somewhere, a place to sleep, a bathroom to use," she said.

But the lifestyle can often lead to more than trouble with the law — it can lead to a feeling of no self worth.

"What I experienced was degradation, humiliation and no self worth at the end of the three years, and no identity anymore outside of what I can earn in a night," Jeffers said.

It's that mindset that makes many women feel like there's no hope. It's one of the reasons Jeffers founded her non-profit Grit into Grace, to show women they don't have to live this way.

"All they want is for someone to see them. We get the opportunity to see them and and interrupt the cycle of violence, abuse and trafficking," Jeffers said.

It's a cycle the Marion County Prosecutor's Office is also helping tackle.

"We have an obligation to do something to help those individuals improve their life and their life situation," Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said.

Mears says they were finding themselves charging women with low level felonies and misdemeanors who had a history of being sexually abused.

"Individuals are victims, and the fact that they are victims is why they end up in the criminal justice system," Mears said.

So, the prosecutor's office created a new diversion program to give those women the resources they need to break the cycle.

The prosecutor's office is partnering with Grit into Grace to create a new diversion program to help women charged with lower level crimes.

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Mears says oftentimes the crimes are things like prostitution, theft and even drug charges.

"It can be life changing, it can reduce the recidivism," Jeffers said.

The women have to maintain involvement with Grit into Grace and stay out of trouble with the law.

"These women want to stay out of the justice system, they don't want to be apart of it," Mears said.

Grit into Grace offers a safe space for women who have been a victim of sex crimes.

They provide refuge and rest for survivors of sexual exploitation in Indianapolis.

"It's surreal. Because if it can happen for me, I'm not special. You know, I just surrendered," Jeffers said.

In 2023, they helped 116 women who experienced commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking.

To learn more about their work, click here.