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Films shed light on city’s gritty side

Updated: November 3, 2011 10:12AM

With the release of two documentaries that feature former hell raisers, Chicago’s dirty underbelly is on display.

That’s a good thing.

“The Interrupters,” follows ex-convicts who work for the anti-violence initiative known as CeaseFire, and opens at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Wednesday.

On Thursday at 8 p.m., OWN presents “Prostitution: Leaving the Life.” The documentary features three former prostitutes who work for the Cook County Sheriff Department trying to persuade women to leave the sex trade.

A lot has been written about CeaseFire, so much so that attempts to reduce funding for this program always meet fierce opposition from legislators whose districts are struggling to reduce gang- and drug-related crimes.

But the sex trade is often perceived as a victimless crime, and prostitutes are viewed as deserving whatever hard knocks they get because of their low morals and even lower self-esteem. That perception makes it harder for law enforcement to justify spending the resources needed to crack down on sex trafficking.

In fact, the call to legalize prostitution periodically resurfaces.

Hopefully, “Leaving the Life” will give Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart the evidence he needs to make a case for his aggressive campaign against prostitution at a time when county government is swimming in debt.

Marian Hatcher, one of the former prostitutes featured in the documentary tells a compelling story about how she got caught up in the sex trade.

“What I personally would hope people will take away is the perception that women make a choice to become prostitutes,” said Hatcher during a telephone interview.

“Or that first and foremost, these are non-violent offenders who have for some reason chosen prostitution,” she said.

“In some instances, there is an extreme amount of coercion from another person. Many of the women are born to the street and they have no choice,” she said.

Hatcher’s own background doesn’t fit the stereotype of a prostitute.

She had a supportive family. She graduated from Loyola University with a degree in finance. She worked in the private sector for 17 years.

But she made an unhealthy choice when it came to romance.

“I married a gang member who happened to be a handsome man,” she said. “He was so good looking, I just allowed that to get in the way and I ended up pregnant,” Hatcher said.

“I thought the baby would make everything alright and ended up marrying him and he put me on the street.”

Increasingly, gangs are getting into sex trafficking,

Hatcher said she was unable to leave the marriage because she was afraid.

“When I was on the street, I was raped, beaten and kidnapped by my husband,” she said.

“You end up abusing some substance in order to allow yourself to be treated that way. I needed substance abuse treatment because you have to numb yourself.”

She tells the women who are on the street that she went from the “boardroom to the smoke house; from county management to prostitution; from River Forest to abandoned buildings; from having two cars in the driveway to getting in and out of people’s cars.”

Hatcher didn’t go to prison, but she spent 120 days in a residential rehabilitation program in lieu of serving a three-seven year prison term.

“I was released on a Friday, Nov. 19, 2004 and I came back Monday to volunteer,” Hatcher said. “I volunteered for 10 months and became a peer coordinator. In May, 2008, the sheriff hired me.”

Dart defends his decision to use former prostitutes to help get prostitutes off the street.

“The human side of why we’re doing this is obvious, But you can also look at the amount of money we save the taxpayers,” Dart said in an e-mail.

“We’re talking about working with people so they are no longer in the system,..whose children are not in jeopardy of going into the child welfare system.”

Too bad these documentaries aren’t as available as “Jersey Shore” or “Real Basketball Wives” because these are the stories that could change lives.

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