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Zero tolerance for sex trafficking

Updated: July 29, 2013 11:00AM

Sex trafficking is hurting our city, and it is time to take a new approach to ending this crime. We have seen evidence of it in our own wards, but it also exists in every single neighborhood in Chicago.

It’s not just happening through prostitution on the street, but in brothels and behind the façade of fake massage businesses. The more that we learn about efforts to end human trafficking, it becomes clear that there is a great intersection between exploitation and the sex trade in Chicago.

We called a hearing of the City Council in July to learn more about efforts to end human trafficking in Chicago. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez testified that her office has brought more than 77 charges against local sex traffickers. These are local people who have been forcing local women and girls into the sex trade. Over and over, investigations are showing that most people in Chicago’s sex trade are not there by choice, but because someone has forced or coerced them into it. That, by definition, is sex trafficking.

Survivors of the sex trade powerfully testified at our hearing that they had been arrested hundreds of times without being offered any meaningful help or services. They described the abuse they endured at the hands of pimps and people who buy sex. They were not in prostitution because it was their first choice, but because it had become their only option. They said that resources including housing and survivor-led, trauma-informed services would be crucial to helping people exit the sex trade.

Things are already changing in Illinois as we wait for Gov. Pat Quinn to sign a bill to stop punishing prostituted people with felonies. There is recognition from legislators that our state’s approach has been wrong-headed, and it needs to shift in Chicago as well.

Maybe you think that prostitution can’t be stopped. The truth is that the people who are fueling all of this harm are going unpunished in our city. In 2011, there were only 41 charges made against pimps, buyers or traffickers in Chicago, in comparison to the more than 2,300 prostitution-related charges. The message to buyers needs to be clear: We won’t tolerate your behavior in our city.

It’s time to take action. Chicago must create a zero tolerance policy for pimps, johns and traffickers. Our Chicago Police Department should focus on people who buy sex and create an anti-trafficking unit that targets human traffickers.

We learned that there is a lot more we could be doing to effectively reduce sex trafficking in Chicago and to support prostituted people who want services and a safe place to stay. If Chicago wants to continue to be a great city, we cannot continue to tolerate this exploitation.

Bob Fioretti is alderman of Chicago’s second ward and Toni Foulkes is alderman of Chicago’s 15th ward.

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