By: Joyce Lee and Yu Sun Chin
While the final country to abolish slavery did so in 1981, today the practice remains alive and well. In fact, it appears to be flourishing. There are more slaves now than there were in the transatlantic slave trade. Worldwide, up to 27 million people are victims of sex and labor trafficking, child labor and indentured servitude, according to the CNN Freedom Project. Victims of trafficking, who are often as young as 12, are seduced with promises of a better life or are simply abducted off the streets. From Bangladesh to Lebanon, Ghana to Nigeria, China to the United States, the routes, no longer resembling the triangular slave trade, indiscriminately cross every country in this world, including the United States.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another, for the purpose of exploitation.”
Even as sex-trafficking, thought to be a $9.5 billion industry, continues to boom worldwide, many associate the sex trade as an experience reserved for those not in the United States. But organizations combating slavery have found that these routes not only trace back to the U.S. but originates here as well.
Modern-day sex slavery exists in the most common places – it plagues the streets of cities during the Super Bowl, which Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott described as “the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States” in a 2011 interview with USA Today. About 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year, according to a 2007 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
The city of Chicago is a particularly fertile breeding ground for sexual slavery, as runaways from troubled or broken families are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Out of an estimated 1.6 million children who run away from their homes, nationwide, 33 percent are lured into sexual exploitation within the first 48 hours, according to Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2009.
On any given day, anywhere between 16,000 to 25,000 girls and women are involved in prostitution in the Chicago area, often by force, says Kristin Claes, the communication manager at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
“Many women in the sex trade are not there by choice but because they have no other choices,” Claes says.
On average, victims of prostitution entered the trade when they were between 12 to 14 years old after facing sexual abuse at the hands of family members, according to Shared Hope International. Others, hounded by poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse, are forced to turn to prostitution, where customers and pimps subject them to physical violence.
“Most of these young women and children are recruited and seduced into this life by experiencing predators that first prey on their vulnerabilities and then force them into a violent and demeaning ordeal,” said Anita Alvarez, the Illinois State Attorney, in a press release.
To confront Chicago’s immense issue of sex trafficking, a coalition of people on legal, governmental and artistic fronts is taking part in a modern-day abolitionist movement in the city.
End Demand Illinois, a segment of CAASE, was created in 2009 to work toward bringing legal advocacy to the forefront of the race to defeat sex trafficking in Illinois. The group has since partnered with the Cook County State Attorney’s Office. Anita Alvarez, who has held the position since 2008, prioritized combating issues at the root of Chicago’s sex trade by protecting victims of sex trafficking and targeting johns.
“Illinois had trafficking laws on the books since 2006, but it wasn’t until Anita Alvarez came into office and made this into a priority that the laws have been used to hold traffickers accountable,” Claes says.
More than five years ago, Illinois took a forward stance and signed the Illinois Predator Accountability Act of 2006 into law. The act made it easier for victims of traffickers to file civil suits against johns, suspected johns, clients of prostitutes or Website publishers profiting off the sex trade. But according to an August 2011 New York Times article, no lawsuits were brought forward under the law between 2006 and 2010.
End Demand Illinois and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, responsible for Chicago, have since been working to pass laws that take into account the methods of predators and the protection of sex trafficking survivors. In 2010, the two groups realized their first successful legal initiative when Gov. Pat Quinn passed the Illinois Safe Children Act, which defines all minors involved in prostitution as victims of sex trafficking. Authorities do not need to prove that the minors were forced into prostitution. Individuals involved in the prostitution are arrested and penalized without exception.
The Illinois Safe Children Act also allow for wire-tapping capabilities, a provision authorities used to build cases against traffickers. The wire-tapping capabilities led to success in August of 2010 when a yearlong undercover investigation culminated in a big sting in Chicago. According to a press release from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, nine street gang members were arrested and charged with trafficking girls as young as 12 for sex.
End Demand Illinois also worked to pass the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act in 2011. The law lets victims of sex trafficking convicted of prostitution clear their record of those charges.
“[The law] enables anybody who was convicted of prostitution,” says Dr. Tianne Bataille, an international attorney, at a speaker event at Northwestern University. “It’s quite common that [sex trafficking victims] already have 20, 30, 40 charges.”
Under current Illinois laws, two or more prostitution charges, initially filed as a misdemeanor, are upgraded to a felony. The Chicago Police Department files both customers and those involved in the sex trade under the same prostitution category, according to a 2012 Chicago Now article.
End Demand Illinois also focuses on precisely what its name suggests — ending demand for the sex trade. According to a study of 130 johns (customers) in Chicago conducted by Rachel Durchslag, the president of CAASE, the average john first bought sex before completing college. Claes says Durchslag realized the need to reach young men earlier in order to prevent them from buying sex.
“We’ve reached more than a thousand students since 2010 and we’ve talked to them about the realities of the sex trade,” Claes says. “We believe that without demand for paid sex, there would be no prostitution and no sex trafficking.”
But Anne K. Ream, the president of the Voices and Faces Project, says the issue won’t be solved until the general attitude toward the victims of sexual assault charges.
The Voices and Faces Project, based in Chicago, works toward bringing the stories of survivors of sex trafficking and sexual violence to the public consciousness. The project collects and shares the testimonies of survivors through its website and films. It also holds workshops to teach people on how to give their own testimonies and listen to the stories of survivors.
“There are huge incentives for the women to remain silent and to remain visible, and those are sometimes driven by the survivor’s own desire to remain private,” Ream says. “We often send out the message that we don’t want to hear their stories or when we do encounter their stories, we see it as sensationalist.”
“You can’t change people’s attitudes without bringing to their attention the very real women, children and men affected by these issues,” Ream says. “So we take the position that too often when these crimes of women exist, they exist as invisible crimes.”
The Voices and Faces Project also collaborates with CAASE to lobby for gaps in sex trafficking policies, asking a survivor to become the name and face of the initiative. “You create the space for people to share testimonies, but then you have to create a space for people to take action,” Ream says. “If it’s just the former, it may make everybody feel good just by listening but, in the end, words have to [be polished] into action.”
The Salvation Army PROMISE Program (Partnership to Rescue Our Minors from Sexual Exploitation), which combats the sex trafficking of children, has also fought hard on the front lines of the abolitionist movement. The program has trained community leaders in the Pullman and Roseland communities, areas with a high risk of human trafficking, in reporting suspicious activities. With a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice, its curriculum on human trafficking has trained over 10,000 first responders in five major cities across the country, as well as over 125 students in high-risk secondary schools in Chicago.
“You have to reach out to all avenues of community and train them and make them aware of it,” says Frank, the director of PROMISE, who asked to conceal his full name for security purposes. “If you’re a teacher and you have a student with a tattoo on her neck, you need to be able to identify that that might be trafficking.”
PROMISE also runs Anne’s House, the first residential home for victims of sex trafficking in Illinois. The home provides services such as individual and group therapy, medical care, educational and vocational planning, and nurturing spiritual guidance for women who often are trapped in a “trauma bond,” according to Frank.
“The bad guy becomes the good guy, the perpetrator becomes your friend in your own mind’s eye because you’re traumatized,” says Frank. “… The whole game is to [get the victims to] respect and like you as a staff more than they think they love the pimp they’re with.”
Buy Art Not People fights slavery through a more alternative avenue: art. Formed by artists who realized the need for a “visual voice” for slavery, the group raises funds for anti-slavery non-governmental organizations through a series of art auctions, which receive submissions from students of the Art Institute of Chicago, local Chicago artists, and even international artisans. Its art exhibit in May, which focused on themes of recovery and transformation, displayed artwork by the 13- to 18-year-old victims from Anne’s House.
“I really believe when people encounter that artwork, it will have a different effect on them,” says Elizabeth Grace Andrews, the director of Buy Art Not People, “to be connected hopefully with survivors, with girls that have experienced this travesty.”
Andrews also pointed out that grassroots organizations like BANP play a pivotal role in empowering people on the “fringes of society” to become abolitionists.
“They’re the people that end up being the ones to really create change and make people stop and think… they’re able to connect people on a more basic level,” Andrews says.
And the last pivotal puzzle piece of the abolitionist movement? Students, according to Claes.
“Challenging your peers when they’re talking about going to the strip club, when they’re making light of a situation that involves the sex trade, to be able to have the resources to challenge them,” Claes says. “That, college students can do.”
Related content: http://www.chicago-bureau.org/?p=92
Joyce Sohyun Lee is a student at the Medill School of Journalism and is a double major in International Studies. While at Northwestern, she reported for the Protest and NUIntel. She is interested in human trafficking and writes for a local online publication in her hometown ofFairfax,Va.
Yu Sun Chin is a sophomore atNorthwesternUniversity’sMedillSchool. She is also studying international studies and is interested in human rights issues. At Northwestern, she reported for The Protest magazine and worked for The Korea Times in her hometown,Seoul