Executive Director Norma Hotaling founded SAGE in 1996. SAGE is organized by and for survivors of abuse, prostitution and trauma. Most of the staff have prior criminal histories, are recovering from severe drug addictions, and were formerly homeless. Within SAGE's programs, over 350 women and girls receive counseling and other services each week. The staff at SAGE includes peer counselors, drug treatment counselors, therapists, acupuncturists, social workers, therapist interns, and volunteers. The personal knowledge and experience of the staff enables them to effectively provide support and engender trust without re-traumatizing even the most fragile of clients. Through advocacy, education programs, and direct services, SAGE has raised public awareness concerning the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls, as well as many other related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the need for a comprehensive range of services for this traditionally neglected population.
The direct service programs offered by SAGE often focus on the most exploited victims who are, therefore, the highest users of the medical, social, mental health, and criminal justice systems. Since 1993, as a result of SAGE's interventions, hundreds of women and girls have received assistance in either exiting the criminal justice system, escaping prostitution, recovering from abuse, and acquiring appropriate services such as medical and mental health care, substance abuse treatment, housing, legal immigration status, case management, and educational and vocational training.
SAGE succeeds through a unique collaboration between private and public agencies, such as the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and the Department of Public Health, among others. This collaboration has shifted the local government's approach to prostitution, aided women and girls in either exiting the criminal justice system permanently, escaping prostitution and trafficking, or working more safely in the sex industry. SAGE offers a dynamic departure from the traditional practice of revolving door arrests and recidivism among prostitutes in a system that has traditionally provided little or no services for women and girls. Criminalization of these individuals does not address the root causes, and thereby contributes to continuing sexual exploitation and violence, and enormous costs to the criminal justice, public health, and social service systems.
SAGE has received many accolades for its innovative, committed work.
The First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP), a collaborative project
between SAGE, the San Francisco
District Attorney's Office, and the San Francisco Police
SAGE prides itself on providing “one-stop shopping” for its clients. At SAGE, women can receive medical care, attend individual therapy with our in-house therapist, receive acupuncture, go to dance therapy or just relax and take a nap. All the different departments come together to allow clients to meet all their needs under our roof.
The STAR Center is SAGE’s program for on-going clients, most of whom are court mandated. Clients meet with peer counselors—many are SAGE graduates—to discuss the requirements of their program and just to check in and see how things are going. Most STAR clients are required to attend six hours of programs at SAGE each week. Often clients must also attend sessions at other programs.
SAGE also has a satellite program for women in detention in jails, or those clients who come to SAGE on an ad hoc basis. For incarcerated women, SAGE provides individual and group therapy similar to our on-site groups.
In conjunction with Juvenile Hall, SAGE has a Girls’ Program for girls convicted of prostitution or drug-related offenses. Counselors work with girls individually and in groups to model healthy life skills, self-esteem and offer the first family many girls have known. As with the STAR Center, most of the counselors have experienced sexual abuse, exploitation and drug use, and act as positive peer models for the girls. SAGE’s girls’ program extends beyond the walls of juvenile hall and SAGE to reach girls’ families, schools and friends in order to ensure a stable environment for girls once they complete the program.
New to SAGE are the Men’s and Transsexual Programs. Each staffed by one employee, these programs are nonetheless reaching their target audiences through on- and off-site groups and individual sessions.
With the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and the Police Department, SAGE runs the “John School” for men picked up soliciting prostitutes as a first offense. Sessions at the “John School” involve testimony from survivors of prostitution, as well as exercises designed to encourage men to examine the effects of their johning. Statistics demonstrate a low recidivism rate among program graduates.
Executive Director Norma Hotaling and Autumn Burris oversee the executive and fundraising functions of SAGE, such as grant writing, donations and executive board meetings. Irina Katsev manages administrative tasks and SAGE’s computer systems. And as with many NGOs, everyone answers the phones.
With the aid of this grant, I devoted my summer to establishing the Legal Advocacy Project at SAGE. Since I created and implemented my project, I determined my responsibilities. I concentrated my efforts in these four areas:
i. Client Advocacy
In keeping with SAGE’s focus on clients’ needs, I wanted the Legal Advocacy Project to address clients’ legal questions. However, without a practicing attorney supervising the project, we are unable to provide legal advice or representation. In lieu of direct services, we listen to women’s problems and utilize our extensive list of local attorneys and legal aid services to match women with the services they need. (This list numbers over 200 firms, attorneys and agencies). We also attend appointments with women since many of SAGE’s clients harbor a healthy distrust of lawyers and the legal system. Over the course of the summer, we helped approximately 25 clients in this capacity.
This involved meeting with law firms, legal aid, law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s office, as well as other social services to publicize the Legal Advocacy Project, as well as forge partnerships for future collaborations. This took an enormous amount of time at the beginning of the project, probably four or five hours every day.
iii. Street Law
After talking to clients at SAGE, I found that despite clients’ extensive encounters with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, few clients had any idea of their rights and responsibilities in various situations. Street law became an empowering time for clients as they learned about landlord-tenant law, discrimination, as well as the nuts and bolts of the court system. We taught street law ninety minutes a week for six weeks. To prepare for the class, we secured materials from the University of Minnesota and Tom Nazario at San Francisco State University, as well as met one-on-one with experts in various areas of law.
iv. Anti-Trafficking Initiatives
SAGE’s extensive experience in working with victims of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and drug uses makes SAGE highly qualified to work with trafficking victims. In fact, SAGE has long worked with trafficking victims on a case-by-case basis. However, SAGE now has federal grant money to provide services to trafficking victims. This summer I worked with the grant writer to prepare a grant for outreach and aid to trafficking victims. Primarily, I gathered Memos of Understanding (MOUs) from partner organizations in Central and Eastern Europe. I also became SAGE’s representative to the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Task Force (BAATTF), on which I serve on the Policy Research Committee.
I established the Street law program, which is on-going. I also found a co-volunteer to oversee the project with me. She now heads up the street law program, for which she receives credit from University of California, Hastings. In addition, I researched and established standard operating procedures for the Legal Advocacy Project. These will be incorporated into a forthcoming manual on how to replicate my project that will be distributed to other direct service agencies in the US. In my trafficking work, I facilitated SAGE’s partnerships with agencies in Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, and the Balkans. Lastly, I set up a law library and informational material on various legal issues for SAGE clients.
Currently, I am writing grants to establish a court accompaniment program for girls in San Francisco County. While this program will provide invaluable services to girls and get more girls into SAGE, its importance is farther-reaching. This grant will also provide money to compile and analyze more elaborate statistics on juveniles committing prostitution or prostitution-related offenses. If successful, it will also provide an excellent model for similar court accompaniment programs for adults.
The challenges resembled those faced by anyone providing direct services. Some of the clients’ legal situations were so daunting or traumatic that it was difficult to forget their situations when I left the office. Also, working in an office as frantic as SAGE, it seemed impossible to get the information I needed from people. I would constantly have to remind people about the Legal Advocacy Project and its needs, which I did with bi-weekly memos.
I did not attend any conferences during the grant period. However, I did prepare for a conference on trafficking that SAGE will hold February 11-12, 2003.
In conjunction with the anti-trafficking program of this project, I represented SAGE in the newly formed Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Task Force (BAATTF), where I serve on the Policy and Research Sub-Committee. I also utilized my experience at SAGE when I recently returned to Russia to participate in a work group to draft anti-trafficking legislation.
1. How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?
Before beginning my project, I had low expectations. Having already worked with clients (prostituted women) in different capacities, I believed that they would be slow to come for legal advocacy. However, I underestimated their interest and capabilities. Street Law amassed a steady following of interested, intelligent attendees. Clients were also eager to have legal information and advocacy so readily accessible. My experience this summer reinforced my beliefs about providing integrated services.
2. How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?
My summer at SAGE only fortified my drive to secure justice for individuals in prostitution. First, working on a daily with clients confirmed that they have numerous legal needs that currently go largely unmet. Secondly, I learned the importance of legal advocates to productive attorney-client relationships. In this way, my experience at SAGE only strengthened my determination to expose prostitution and the sex industry as institutionalized exploitation.
However, I did become more aware of the need to become savvier and ingratiating when engaging people—clients, law enforcement, judges, the general public and sex worker activists. I found that my approach tends to be too unforgiving and abrasive. Thus, instead of wanting to listen, people would tune out. This does not further my work!
3. Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?
Without question my clients had the greatest impact on me. Their ability to survive and overcome the myriad obstacles in their lives is absolutely astounding.
4. How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/ international human rights organization?
The most drastic change in my perspective was on that of the lawyer’s role. This summer I saw how limited most lawyers’ perceptions are of their obligations vis-à-vis their clients. That is to say, their obligation does not extend beyond purely legal matters. I believe this is one reason why so many women I want to work with traditionally shun the help of lawyers.
I also saw the amazing effects of organizing locally, but then taking your message globally. SAGE has always excelled at that aspect of organizing. I think the sympathetic ears and knowledge base SAGE has as an institution enables it to excel in this area.
5. What quote would captivate “a moment” that you had during your fellowship?
“At that moment I realized it all had to change. And I realized that that change had to start with me.” Utah Philips.
6. After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?
Already I conduct trainings on prostitution and trafficking at Boalt Hall, as well as at Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland. When I finish law school in June 2004, I plan to return to Minneapolis and establish a similar organization there. I also hope to continue working with trafficking victims in Russia and in Europe. No matter where I am, I want to do public policy work on these issues. I think my experience has given me a practical base necessary to effectuate comprehensive, victim-centered policies. Lastly, I would like to help turn the spotlight on to men’s actions and responsibilities. Whether they actively commit violence or turn the other cheek on a friend’s abusive behavior, men, although not exclusively, perpetuate cycles of violence. The silence of the “boys’ club” must be broken and men must be challenged examine and change their behavior. I would like to help establish more widespread programs and centers working on this issue because no matter how many women we help escape prostitution or a battering relationship, until we work with the perpetrator, someone else will simply replace them.
Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE)
1275 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 905-5050, (415) 358-2725 – personal line
F (415) 905-5054
Executive Director: Norma Hotaling
Senior Staff: Autumn Burris, Francine Braae, Robyn Matlock, Marilyn Robinson
Full-time _20_; Part-time _10__
Number of Volunteers: around 10-20
Objectives of the Organization:
Through advocacy, education programs, peer counseling and direct services, SAGE strives to raise public awareness concerning the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls, as well as many other related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the need for a comprehensive range of services for this traditionally neglected population. Since 1993, as a result of SAGE's interventions, hundreds of women and girls have received assistance in either exiting the criminal justice system, escaping prostitution, recovering from abuse, and acquiring appropriate services such as medical and mental health care, substance abuse treatment, housing, legal immigration status, case management, and educational and vocational training.
Girls’ Program, STAR Center, Satellite Program, Men’s Program, Transsexual Program, STOP Trafficking Program, First Offenders of Prostitution Program (FOPP)
Date of Information: January 2002
Information Supplied by: Angela Bortel