On any given day in Chicagoland, an estimated 16,000 – 24,000 women and girls are involved in the commercial sex trade, which includes sex trafficking and prostitution. Research has found that approximately 90% of prostituted people are physically and sexually abused at the hands of traffickers and customers. Many people in prostitution also experience chronic homelessness, untreated substance and mental health abuse issues, and engage in prostitution for basic necessities such as food and shelter.
Illinois is a leader of national legal reforms that consider prostituted people as victims of human trafficking in need of services rather than criminal offenders. However, thousands of survivors of human trafficking and prostitution have no access to the specialized services that could help them find a way out. In fact, Illinois only has 12 beds for women and girls who have been exploited.
As part of the End Demand Illinois campaign, we lobbied for PA 98-1013 (SB 3558) to fund specialized services for prostituted and trafficked people through fines collected against pimps, traffickers, and people who buy sex. PA 98-1013 unanimously passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. Governor Quinn recently signed the legislation into law on August 21, 2014.
Theresa B., a survivor leader with the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, testified on behalf of the bill during the spring session. “In order to leave the sex trade, women need individually designed services to meet their specific needs. We need job readiness programs and job training. Shelters should help women get on their feet and transition into stable jobs and housing. In short, Senate Bill 3558 is important because we really need specialized, trauma-informed services for women to be able to leave prostitution,” said Theresa.
PA 98-1013 creates the Specialized Services for Survivors of Human Trafficking Fund within the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). Grants from the fund will be distributed to “non-governmental organizations to provide specialized, trauma-informed services specifically designed to address the priority service needs associated with prostitution and human trafficking.” The legislation calls for IDHS to consult with survivors, advocates, and social services providers to identify priority service needs in their community. PA 98-1013 will be effective on January 1, 2015.
For this new law to be successfully implemented, all levels of law enforcement will need to significantly shift their focus from punishing prostituted people to punishing the buyers, so the people who buy sex and fuel the sex trade pay for the harm they cause. According to one estimate, Chicago could raise upwards of $3 million in a year to fund specialized services if johns were arrested at the same rate as prostituted women. Data from the past five years shows far more local arrests have been made for prostitution than solicitation in Chicago, Naperville, Joliet and Springfield.
Your help is needed to help end demand.
Providing specialized services to prostituted people is vital to helping them escape the cycle of sexual exploitation, but as long as demand exists, vulnerable individuals will continue to be recruited and coerced into the sex trade. And, as long as people remain unaware of the root cause and extent of sexual exploitation, victims will continue to be traumatized. Put your faith into action by downloading a toolkit from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) at http://caase.org/toolkits to help raise awareness and mobilize your community to join the campaign to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
We are grateful to be part of the End Demand Illinois policy team. Thank to our End Demand Illinois policy partners who worked to pass our 5th law in 5 years: CAASE, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, Heartland Alliance, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Polaris Project and Project IRENE.
Read more about End Demand Illinois’ recent legislation in the news: