Some might say that this year’s legislative session was a difficult one… and they’d most certainly be right! When it came to passing bills or programs that required any kind of new revenue – we faced an uphill battle. Our work for a fair budget continues to be particularly challenging, and often discouraging. This might be enough to leave a normal person feeling a bit down; but thankfully, we can share with you at least one significant success story on a piece of legislation that will do quite a bit of good.
HB6462 – the “Safe Children’s Act,” which passed both chambers overwhelmingly, will require Illinois to remove juveniles (under the age of 18) arrested for prostitution from the purview of the criminal courts and into child protection services under the Department of Child and Family Services. It increases penalties for those who traffic and solicit juveniles, and it removes references to “juvenile prostitution” from the criminal code, recognizing that juveniles are victims and not offenders.
Protestants for the Common Good played an important role in the passage of this legislation, working closely with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), Project IRENE, and a number of other organizations belonging to the End Demand, IL campaign. End Demand, Illinois is a coalition of over 20 organizations dedicated to transforming Illinois’ response to prostitution and sex trafficking through advocacy for new policies to prosecute pimps, traffickers, and those who profit from prostitution; and through the creation of social networks and services for trafficked and prostituted individuals. The Illinois Safe Children’s Act was the first legislative attempt at changing the mindset of Illinois to see prostitutes, specifically juveniles, as victims. We are heartened by the reception this issue received in the General Assembly, but we know there is much work to be done.
Sex trafficking is a new issue for PCG, but one that fits in well with our Common Good Agenda. For years, PCG has focused on issues of criminal justice – reintegration of ex-offenders back into society, treatment as an alternative to incarceration, and the elimination of disparities in drug sentencing. Now, we are working on behalf of a group of women and men who are viewed, not as victims in our society, but as criminals. They instead move in and out of a deadly cycle of poverty, violence, and disease. They have limited options to enable them to get off the streets and into safe, healthy environments. Members of End Demand are working together across the state to change the laws and educate the people of Illinois about the victimization of prostituted individuals.
In Chicago alone, 16,000 women and girls are regularly involved in prostitution on any given day. Many of these women were coerced into the sex trade before the age of 18 (the average age of first being exploited ranges between 12 and 14 years old). Many of them are homeless, enter the system out of economic necessity, or are coerced by older individuals, i.e., pimps. Their experiences, once in the sex trade, are violent and psychologically devastating. It is clear that regardless of the reason for entry, these women and girls are among society’s most vulnerable individuals.
Current practices toward women and men being victimized by the sex trade are immoral and unjust. PCG is committed to working for stronger laws for sex trade victims, better resources for survivors, and a change in society’s understanding of this troubling problem. For the time being, we are thrilled with the passage of HB4642, and gratified to know that juveniles engaged in prostitution will no longer be treated as criminals. Rather, they will be given the care, services, and assistance they need to build healthier and more productive futures.
As we continue to work on this important issue, we hope to involve clergy and laypeople from congregations across Illinois. If this issue is of interest to you or your congregation, please contact Courtney Eccles at Courtney@thecommongood.org.