Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=203832
Story Retrieval Date: 5/20/2013 8:37:14 AM CST
Human trafficking bill advocate and lobbyist Daria Mueller, at the offices of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Illinois moves to tighten laws on sex trafficking
April 05, 2012
As the second investor bailed out this week from Backpage.com, the website accused of facilitating prostitution, Illinois is poised to pass a bill that makes it easier to prosecute sex traffickers.
The bill, which passed the House unanimously last month and awaits Senate action, would address surreptitious methods such as schemes and intimidation used by pimps and traffickers to lure women, girls, and boys into prostitution.
Illinois’ current law on involuntary servitude, which was passed in 2005, has only been used against 29 defendants and in two counties, according to End Demand Illinois, a campaign working to help law enforcement arrest, charge and prosecute pimps and customers.
“The Illinois Human Trafficking Act has been more focused on the trafficker engaging in overt physical force. This [bill] gets to some of the much more coercive tactics,” said Daria Mueller, associate director of state affairs for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a partner of End Demand Illinois.
“There are a lot of individuals who look for vulnerable people. The vast majority of girls and boys lured into the sex trade start before the age of 18, and are often runaways or throwaways,” she said. “Someone might go to a family and say [their daughter] will have better business opportunities. Someone might go up to a girl on the El and say he wants to take pictures of her.”
Sixty percent of sex workers are enslaved, having been physically coerced into prostitution, according to a peer-review study conducted by Prostitution Research & Education in 2008. Thirty-eight percent engage in “survival sex” in order to pay for basic needs.
“It’s a very commonsense piece of legislation that I think most people can understand. The laws are now catching up [to the traffickers’ tactics],” Lynne Johnson, of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said. “We’re seeing a shift in understanding and awareness of what we might think is a legitimate exchange of sex for money, under the surface, actually exists a high rate of violence and traumatization.”
A possible benefit of the bill and widespread prosecution of pimps is that more individuals will be classified as trafficking victims, making them eligible for services such as rehabilitation, according to Mueller.
However, she is cautious about celebrating prematurely. Mueller, whose work requires many hours lobbying in Springfield, knows firsthand the underlying sensitivity on the subject of trafficking.
“I think [the bill] a no-brainer, but I’ve worked on legislation related to prostitution for so long. I know the things that come out of people’s mouths,” Mueller said, with a sigh. “There is a strong contingent of people who think these women are not really victims, that they are criminals, bring property prices down, are just … scum of the earth, really.”
One of the bill’s supporters, Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin), is optimistic about its passage.
“I see this as a non-controversial bill. I can’t think of any area on the criminal code where there is more broad agreement.”
Noland chairs the Senate Criminal Law Committee, which is likely to review the bill before it moves to the Senate floor. The committee could move it to a vote as is, or make changes in it.
“There have been instances where a bill has gone through the House and we’ve found unintended consequences that interfere with constitutional rights,” Noland said.
Though the reforms could build more effective prosecutions, other difficulties remain.
“It is very hard to find [pimps and traffickers],” said Jody Raphael, a researcher at the DePaul University College of Law and co-author of “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 ex-pimps in Chicago.” “And we depend on information from their victims. It can be dangerous for victims to provide that information. That is why widespread prosecution is not going to solve this problem. I believe pimps and traffickers know that.”