Off the Streets, into the Workforce

Off the Streets, into the Workforce

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More than 230 women have been arrested for prostitution in Hamilton County in 2008, according to Cincinnati’s crime statistics. Carol Thornton wants to speak to them all.


An addict and former prostitute herself, Thornton was out there “in the life” for 13 years before her probation officer told her of a job opportunity with a start-up group called Off the Streets (OTS).


Thornton joined the planning committee, and today she absolutely loves her job as their outreach and intake coordinator, using her experiences to help prostitutes create new lives for themselves.


Today, Thornton spends her days on the streets in a completely different way. She goes to the jail, walks Washington Park, and visits social service centers to talk to the women there about OTS. She’s armed with brochures and a story that nearly always matches theirs: addiction, homelessness, desperation. She speaks of choices, empowerment and letting them know change won’t be easy, but can be done. She’s living proof.


Thornton then manages the initial intake of the women into the OTS program, which includes housing, trauma recovery, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, education and more. Each woman receives services that are unique to her needs and are designed to foster self esteem. A woman who once sold her body may find herself, instead, baring her soul in journaling and creative writing classes. A knitting circle helps create a sense of community, and employment and life coaching in a peer-driven environment help guide recovering prostitutes in a new direction.


Thornton also provides continuing care to the ladies she brings into OTS. She loves watching them progress through the program, and she believes a large factor in their more than 90 percent success rate has to do with continuity. “A lot of these women have abandonment issues. Staying involved with the same people from start to finish really helps them move on,” she explains.


 And move on, they do. Thornton recalls one woman who entered the program and discovered she was HIV positive. “The shock kept her stuck for awhile,” says Thornton. “But by the time she left, she had her own place and was in school.” Thornton speaks with pride about all the women she’s seen who’ve entered sobriety and gotten legitimate work, thanks to OTS. “I know I’m here to walk the walk; I lived through what I did so I can help these ladies!”


Although she admits with a laugh that she keeps herself always on call to help get one more prostitute into OTS, Thornton spends her free time with family. She cares for her 97-year-old aunt while finding time to study Addiction at University of Cincinnati. (She already has certificates in domestic violence and child abuse.)


Thornton works hard to stay abreast of everything that can be helpful in assisting others at OTS. Yet, she doesn’t feel overwhelmed. “I’m doing what I want to do, what I’m supposed to be doing. So, I don’t think I’m working all that hard.” We think the ladies at OTS would disagree.


Photo: Neysa Ruhl Photography

Location: The McAlpin
Makeup Artistry: Trina Paul