Program to transform prostitutes into productive citizens

Sunday, August 8, 2004

LUMBERTON, N.C. -- The working girls in Robeson County are going to get a chance at a better life just like Eliza Doolittle does in "My Fair Lady."

County health officials have received a $30,000 grant from the state to pay for someone -- a former prostitute herself -- to educate the women about other ways of life that are open to them.

"We want to take a sex trade worker and transform her into a productive person who feels good about herself," said Bill Smith, the county health director.

The program, appropriately titled My Fair Lady, is the only one of its kind in the state, said Linda Carter with the state Department of Health and Human Services. The department's Prevention and Community Planning unit is providing $30,000 a year for three years.

Health officials hope the program will help eliminate syphilis in the county, which ranked first in the nation in 2001 with its rate of 73 cases per 100,000 people.

Health officials believe the county's syphilis rate would continue to drop if there were fewer prostitutes. About 49 percent of the women in Robeson County with syphilis said they had sex for drugs or money, according to a recent survey by state and county health officials.

-- From wire services

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