I have always been motivated by a strong sense of justice. To me, there is no graver violation against humanity than human trafficking, and sex trafficking, in particular. Taking an innocent child or young adult, beating, raping, abusing her, and coercing her into performing sex acts for monetary gain is unfathomable to me, abhorrent.
And yet, sex trafficking occurs right here in Chicago. According to the Center for Impact Research, on any given day, an estimated 16,000 to 24,000 women and girls are engaged in prostitution-related activities in the Chicago metropolitan area. Most have been beaten, drugged, raped, intimidated, and abused into submission. The average life span of a trafficked child is a meager seven years.
Sex trafficking involves the denial of the most basic of human rights. It is our obligation as a society to protect women and children from harm, assault, rape, and abuse, and their right to choose who, how, where, when and with whom to engage in sexual activity.
I amoutraged by what I have learned though my work with local groups doing anti-trafficking work. My sense of justice is ignited in full force.
My organization, National Council of Jewish Women, is a progressive social justice organization dedicated to preserving human dignity and safeguarding individual freedoms. Combating sex trafficking is a national priority for us, as nothing poses a greater threat to basic freedom and human dignity. We can come together now, as a community, to combat sex trafficking, to protect those being violated.
It starts with holding traffickers, pimps, and the people who buy commercial sex accountable for their crimes and deterring them from future trafficking and prostitution offenses. According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, in 2011 there were 1,871 arrests for prostitution reported in Illinois, but only 146 men were charged with engaging the services of a prostitute, and only 23 pimps were arrested for promoting prostitution. Research shows that stronger accountability is, in fact, a deterrent. We prevail upon Mayor Emanuel to make the curtailment of sex trafficking a priority for Chicagoans by pressuring the Chicago Police Department to crack down on sex trafficking and in particular, arresting the traffickers and johns, instead of those being prostituted.
The best way to proactively address sexual exploitation is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Young men are exposed to a culture that stigmatizes women in prostitution, yet glamorizes pimping and patronizing the sex trade. High school curricula is available that is specifically designed to educate young men about the harms of prostitution and to enlist them as allies in the movement to end violence against women and girls. NCJW supports the curricula and will work to make sure schools are using it.
We must also educate Illinois residents, elected officials, policy makers, and opinion leaders about the realities of prostitution and trafficking so they are moved to take action against demand. As responsible citizens, we can heighten our awareness of potential harmful situations, and report them to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.
Later this year, NCJW plans to host the suburban premiereof the sequel to Shadow Town, a recent stage play about sex trafficking in Chicagoland, which received ravereviews and played to sold-out houses. Shadow Town 2: The Johns, will showcase the men that enable sex trafficking to thrive.
There is a lot we can do to achieve justice for our trafficked women and children. I hope you will join me.
Donna Fishman is Co-President of the National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore Section. She is a public health consultant specializing in adolescent health and non-profit management. She lives in Northbrook with her husband and two teenage children.