Human trafficking. In
Chicago alone, 16,000 to 25,000 local women and girls are prostituted every day.
This multibillion-dollar industry is the equivalent of modern-day slavery,
according to Lynne Johnson, policy and Advocacy Director, Chicago Alliance
Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), which receives a grant from the Jewish
Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
On March 25, the Jewish Women’s Foundation, Jewish United Fund
Government Affairs Committee and Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)
co-sponsored the program, “The Realities of Sex Trafficking in Chicago and Our
highlighted a newly formed Jewish Coalition on Sex Trafficking in Metropolitan
Chicago that will focus on multi-faceted ways to combat sex trafficking, from
public awareness and education to community services for survivors, legislative
policy advocacy and specialized professional education opportunities.
The Coalition is a partnership of Jewish
and secular organizations, agencies and synagogues, including JUF Government
Affairs; JCRC; JWF; the National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore
Section; J-cares (part of Jewish Child& Family Services); Na’amat USA;
Greater Chicago Council; Congregation Hakafa; Congregation Judea Mitzpah; the
Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, the Dreamcatcher Foundation; Heartland
Alliance and CAASE.
Johnson was among
program presenters who included Anita Alvarez, Cook County State’s Attorney and
Brenda Myers-Powell, survivor of human trafficking and advocate with the
Not a victimless crime
often perceives prostitution as a victimless crime. The truth is that
prostituted women experience rates of post-traumatic stress similar to that of
combat war veterans, Johnson said. “Most women involved in prostitution have
experienced routine physical and emotional abuse, theft and sexual assault.
Most women involved in prostitution do not believe they will be treated fairly
by our court system and do not report the crimes against them.”
Another persistent myth is that women and girls choose
to be prostitutes. A 2008 Chicago study of 100 women up to age 25 found
their average age for entering prostitution was 15. “Girls this young often
exchange sex for clothes, shelter or food in order to survive,” Johnson said.
Many are runaways from either dysfunctional homes or foster care. “Pimps and
traffickers look for people to recruit into the sex trade who have few, if any,
meaningful choices in life.”
Another myth is
that prostitutes make a lot of money. According to the Chicago study, 53 percent
of prostituted women said they had to give all their money to a pimp. Many said
they could not leave prostitution because they feared retribution from their
“It’s an equal opportunity
oppressor,” Johnson said, noting that the sex trade may look different in urban
versus rural environments, yet happens just as frequently in both.
Twenty-five years working the streets
Brenda Myers-Powell was abused and raped,
starting at age 4, while living with her alcoholic grandmother. By age 14, she
had given birth to two children, and started working as a prostitute on Rush
Street. A pimp kidnapped her, keeping her as a slave for five months. When she
escaped and went home, she learned her grandmother never reported her as
missing. “Nobody wanted me,” Myers-Powell said.
For 25 years, she worked the streets. She was shot five times and
stabbed 13 times. She used drugs to soothe her constant physical and emotional
She received a referral by social
services through a county hospital emergency room. She finally received the help
she needed to change her life.
the Dreamcatcher Foundation, Myers-Powell helps rescue women and girls from
prostitution by offering them alternatives. “They don’t know any other way out,”
So, who’s paying for
A 2008 Chicago study of 113 johns—men who purchase
sex—revealed that they can be anyone. “These are regular folks with very diverse
backgrounds,” Johnson said. Among the subjects of the study, the average age was
39, within a range of age 20 to 71 years. The majority had attended some college
or earned a college degree. Some 62 percent identified as having a wife or
“This is the most deter-able
group of folks you’d ever want to find,” Johnson said. A majority of men in the
study said they would stop buying sex if their photos or names were in printed
the local paper, on a billboard or listed on the Internet; if a letter
documenting their arrest for soliciting a woman for prostitution was sent to
their families, they served jail time or their driver’s licenses were suspended.
“Clearly, it means (these things) are not
happening now,” Johnson said. In fact, the burden of the criminal justice
response falls on the people who need help the most—the victims—and not on the
traffickers or buyers, she noted.
changes focus on traffickers rather than victims
Anita Alvarez took office in 2008 and began evaluating
the way the courts handled human trafficking cases. In the past, a young girl
might be arrested for prostitution, charged and released—and then was expected
to testify against her pimp. “We weren’t helping her,” Alvarez said. “And
nothing happened to him.”
that we needed to change existing law.” In one legislative session, the Illinois
Safe Children Act passed. The law decriminalized juvenile prostitution and
allocated money for much-needed, victim-centered social services.
“You have to look at these minors as victims,” she
New laws made it possible for sex
trafficking victims like Myers-Powell to have their prior criminal records
expunged. “It was an extensive process,” Myers-Powell said, “but it’s worth it.”
Today, she has no criminal background.
Alvarez said the new laws allow prosecutors to build cases without
relying on victims to testify against the “bad guys.” She has seen the changes:
93 defendants were charged with sex trafficking-related offenses since 2010.
Four years earlier, that number was zero. A number of departments and agencies
have worked cooperatively on this effort, she said, from the U.S. Attorney’s
office to Chicago, Cook County and suburban police departments.
“We recognize that more work needs to be done,” Alvarez
Proposed federal, state
legislation to crack down on sex traffickers
federal bills to end sex trafficking were recently proposed— the Stop
Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act and the Justice for Victims of
Trafficking Act (S. 1738).
Mark Kirk introduced the SAVE Act
in the Senate in March. The SAVE Act would make it unlawful to sell or promote
advertisements that facilitate kidnapping; trafficking or exploitation of
children; sexual abuse or illegal sex; pimping, prostitution, child sex abuse
and trafficking. Alvarez said the legislation would allow law enforcement to
shut down advertisements on websites promoting underage sex.
The Justice for
Victims of Trafficking Act creates a domestic trafficking victims’ fund
within the U.S. Treasury to support programs for victims of human trafficking
and child pornography.
Bill 3558—Services for Survivors of Human Trafficking, introduced in
February, would impose fines for various human trafficking offenses, to be
collected and distributed through a new Specialized Services for Survivors of
Human Trafficking Fund.
For information on the
Jewish Coalition on Sex Trafficking in Metropolitan Chicago, call 847-853-8889
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.