Weather Updates

Playwright Mary Bonnett sheds light on sex trafficking in Chicago

Genesis SalamancKeneshReed Lindsey Scalise Hisako SugetDanielle Nicholas star “Shadow Town”

Genesis Salamanca, Kenesha Reed, Lindsey Scalise, Hisako Sugeta and Danielle Nicholas star in “Shadow Town”

storyidforme: 56700545
tmspicid: 20740933
fileheaderid: 9671362

Updated: November 13, 2013 10:57AM

Sex trafficking has exploded in Chicago over the last seven years, in part because of the Internet, smart phones and the declining economy. Young girls and boys are held captive and sold like products — the average age of entry is 11 years old, and the average life span once in “the life” is seven years. Globally, it’s just as big of a problem: It’s a $32 billion business, beating weapons out as the second largest illegal enterprise.

I learned of these statistics several years ago, after reading research by Jody Raphael, a DePaul professor of law. Immediately, I knew that as the artistic director of Her Story Theater, I needed to do something. Her Story Theater’s mission is to shine bright lights in dark places on women and children in need of social justice and community support — and sex trafficking is one of those very dark places that needed stage lights.

In searching for a partner to accomplish this with, I found Anne’s House, which provides a home for sex-trafficked girls between the ages of 12 and 17, and The Dreamcatcher Foundation, a hands-on rescue and recovery organization. I immediately began working with both, as well as interviewing dozens of people involved with sex trafficking in our city.

I’ll never forget the story of one particular girl I met at Anne’s House. She was 13 when she arrived, and had been beaten and hospitalized by her pimp (sadly, a common practice). She had been trafficked since the age of 10, and was unable to communicate — she used her fists to speak for her. It took a team of therapists, social and healthcare workers several years to put her back together again.

Now, at age 15, she is going to school, succeeding in her classes and moving toward becoming an honor student. She runs track and speaks of going to college. But the journey isn’t over. The team at Anne’s House knows the power of the trauma bond — the ease with which a trafficker can lure the child back into “the life.” This bond is the biggest issue for those trying to rescue these girls; they’ve all been conditioned to attach to their trafficker at an early age. But for now, as she thrives at Anne’s House, there is hope. And with hope, anything is possible.

I’m hoping to raise awareness about what children have endured through my play, “Shadow Town.” It’s an honest piece of theater based on my interviews and experiences at Anne’s House. Proceeds benefit both Dreamcatcher Foundation and Anne’s House. I hope you’ll join us in eliminating this form of slavery in our city.

Shadow Town runs through Nov. 17 at The Den Theatre (1333 N. Milwaukee). For tickets, visit

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.