End Demand Being Introduced in Chicago

Reform advocates push for overhaul of prostitution law

Advocates target customers, seek help for women

By Erika Slife Tribune reporter
September 17, 2009

They can be lawyers, doctors, CEOs and even police officers. They’re often somebody’s husband, boyfriend or father.

But the public may know them better as johns. And far too often, former prostitutes and their advocates say, they’re getting away with their crimes.

“I went to jail, and he didn’t,” said former prostitute LaTaunya Frazier, 39, who was caught with a john. “I never really understood that because we’re both committing the crime. If he wasn’t buying, I wouldn’t be selling. I never thought that was fair. … They get to go home to their families, their wives, and no one knows what they did.”

Johns and pimps are severely underrepresented on arrest logs, but starting Thursday, reform advocates will push for an overhaul of state law to give police departments the resources to go after leaders and customers of prostitution rings. They also want prostitutes to be eligible for protections and benefits afforded to victims of sex trafficking because many of the women suffer from the same elements of recruitment, harboring and force.

The belief is that by holding the men accountable who are fueling the demand for the sex trade — and by helping the women escape it — prostitution would plummet.

“What we’re doing right now does not work. And we don’t need a Rhodes scholar or a rocket scientist to tell us it does not work,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office presides over a special prostitution intervention team. “The general public opinion on this is not in step with everything we know about this issue, and that really needs to be challenged and changed.”

The campaign, called End Demand, is being watched by reform groups across the country. It has the backing of the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County sheriff’s office and the women’s-rights group NoVo Foundation, which invested $550,000 in the effort. NoVo is led by Warren Buffet’s son Peter and his daughter-in-law, Jennifer.

“We thought, ‘Wow, if Illinois can do this, what a model for the country, and even the rest of the world,'” said Jennifer Buffett, who will speak at a panel presentation about the campaign Thursday.

Advocates want to increase penalties for pimps and johns, create a statewide database that would track the arrests of prostitution-related offenders and encourage law-enforcement agencies to work together in prosecuting prostitution-related crimes. They also want to reflect in state law that a prostituted individual is a victim, said Samir Goswami, policy director for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

“If you treat her as a victim and offer her services and support, it’s less likely she will [return to prostitution],” he said. “And that’s the shift in our law that we are advocating for.”

According to Goswami, johns account for 25 percent of the 4,000 to 5,000 annual prostitution-related arrests in the city. Pimps represent less than 1 percent of those arrested, advocates say.

In the Chicago area alone, studies have shown that between 16,000 and 25,000 women and girls are involved in the sex trade, many of whom travel across city and county lines. Some of the women start out as runaways, while others are introduced or coerced into the lifestyle by family members or boyfriends.

One former prostitute, who called herself Ashley while working the streets on the West Side, said her 24-year-old boyfriend asked her to turn her first trick when she was 15. As a runaway, she felt she had no choice.

“I said I could do it this one time,” said the woman, now 19. “I got really sad. I started crying. That’s how it all started. I didn’t have any help, so I did it out of survival.”

Advocates say that once girls and women enter prostitution, it’s even more difficult to get out. Felony prostitution convictions on their records make it difficult to find jobs; abusive pimps scare them from leaving.

“Many of these women see the [pimps] as their intimate partners. They’re coerced, raped, and they’re sold,” said Leslie Landis, director of the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence, which oversaw a 2006 prostitution study. “Violence is sometimes used against them. Taken as a whole, it’s just an advanced stage of domestic violence.”

13 Responses

  1. Does this mean sex workers will be decriminalized in Chicago? Somehow I doubt it.

  2. “If you treat her as a victim”

    Says it all, really. Either a terrible whore or a poor helpless victim. God forbid the law should ever treat a woman as a private individual with agency over her own body as the default case.

  3. McDuff,

    Very true. Sex workers get the sharp end of everyone’s Madonna/Whore complex as well as our own special blend of Villian/Victim labeling.

    Though this IS in a society where women still have to fight for basic reproductive rights and access to a full range of reproductive care.

    XX

  4. I wouldn’t say those things are unrelated, Amanda. They both involving believing that women are people, and that’s a tough mental leap for some to make.

  5. The worst thing about this, McDuff, is that many of the people taking on this attitude nowadays call themselves “feminist”. But this attitude is the very opposite of what feminist is supposed to be about.

    Unfortunately, many establishment-feminists today have accepted a “devil’s bargain” wherein upper-middle-class and rich women who live in developed nations are “accepted” as equal to men (they can have fulfilling careers and be educated, etc.), under the condition that they do not interfere with or alleviate the oppression of poor and Third World women. These upper-middle-class or rich “special” women can be of any race, and they can now be lesbians even, although most of these women are white and heterosexual.

    Furthermore, it’s easy enough for the “special” women to accept this bargain, because they directly or indirectly benefit from the poverty and oppression of “non-special” poor and Third World women. It is the “non-special” women who make the clothing (at slave wages) that “special” women wear. It is the “non-special” women who work as maids and nannies, etc., for the “special” women. And the “special” women own stocks in companies that use the “non-special” women as sweatshop labor.

    Now, what does this have to do with prostitution? Well if the “non-special” women decide to spread their legs for a lot more money than they earn at their current crappy jobs, then this is a threat to the status of the “special” women, a status dependent on the “non-special” women working their crappy jobs.

    And this is why you have all these so-called organizations popping up to “save prostituted women”. The organizations are for the purpose of putting the “non-special” women back into crappy jobs so that they are no longer the threat described in the paragraph above. And the reason why the theme is “prostitutes are rape victims of johns so let’s end demand” is because the old methods of religious morality do not work in an age were “special” women can fuck the pool boy, the cute waiter, or any other piece of flesh they desire Sex-in-the-City style. The hypocrisy would be way, WAY too apparent. So they use the veneer of feminism instead.

    We currently live in a recession, which causes women who would not otherwise think of sex work to actually go out and participate in it. But if more and more women start becoming full or part-time sex workers, then the stigma attached to this work erodes, and the current class structure cannot abide women making more money in de-stigmatized sex work than the crappy jobs provide. So the organizations like the new one in Chicago are there to make sure that the stigma of sex work remains in place, most likely by arresting sex workers “for their own good” and trafficking them into programs. (The whole bit about punishing johns is just a smokescreen–the real target is the sex worker.)

    But these sorts of bullshit organizations will not work, ironically because we are getting to the point were they’re aren’t even crappy jobs available to ANYONE, let alone to women with prostitution arrest records.

  6. McDuff,

    I never said they weren’t unrelated. I thought the connection was obvious.

    XX

  7. Susan,

    I like your thinking. I also very much agree that the more women who get into sex work, the more the stigma disappears. It won’t be immediate but it will eventually happen.

    One of my own pet theories has long been that there is less sex work stigma among blue collar people than white collar simply because blue collar people understand working for a living.

    And yeah, ANYTIME anybody says anything about doing anything in regards to prostitution, it always comes down to arresting more prostitutes.

    XX

  8. Susan,

    I’m not so sure it’s deliberate, or at least not as mendaciously planned as all that. It’s privilege in action, but rather than the male privilege it’s class privilege. There’s always been an element of “oh you poor dear”ism to middle and upper class charity programs for the lower classes, and in many cases those have been female-run even in eras where women weren’t doing much – looking after the “disadvantaged” was very much regarded as women’s work. Because of their “natural maternal instincts”, you know? *eyeroll*. Trouble is, word roots aside, women can be just as patronising as men.

    The problem with things like this is that there are perfectly reasonable and decent laws in place to deal with women involved in prostitution who suffer abuse. Laws against things called “rape” and “child abuse” and “assault”. When projects like this are launched, they reveal the thinking of the upper classes in charge: prostitutes are a special class of people who can’t be raped or assaulted or abused as individuals, because they’re fallen women. We need to “rescue” them, rather than give them equal protection under the law, or so the reasoning goes, because surely no woman would choose such a life and, even if she did, that shows some kind of disorder or anti-social tendency, some retrograde immorality.

    If we protected the rights of 15 year old girls qua 15 year old girls, as if they were individuals with rights rather than statistics, we wouldn’t need programs to “rescue” them from abusive pimps – they would be protected under the law like every other citizen.

  9. >>And yeah, ANYTIME anybody says anything about doing anything in regards to prostitution, it always comes down to arresting more prostitutes.>>

    A good part of the reason for that is the fact that police officers have an arrest quota that they have to fill. And the cheapest way to fill the quota is to arrest sex workers. Perhaps any future decrim effort might include a provision that reduces arrest quotas for police as well.

  10. >>One of my own pet theories has long been that there is less sex work stigma among blue collar people than white collar simply because blue collar people understand working for a living.>>

    I’ve wondered about that, too.

    But I hear a lot of the words “skank” and “ho” coming from the African American and Latino populations here in New York.

    But if the girl down the block starts charging money for her time spent with the boys down the block, there’s a tendency to look the other way, especially if she has kids to support. I personally don’t know any of the local “providers” in my neighborhood, but then I don’t stick my nose everywhere, either.
    😀

  11. Susan,

    I didn’t know about arrest quotas. That’s an excellent point.

    Never said blue-collar people won’t make the same slurs everyone else does but of all the sex workers that I know who are out and accepted by their families, I think ALL are from blue collar families. Even stripping, I got the most respect in blue collar clubs because these men understood me being on my feet all night (again, NOT saying they weren’t crude or full of shit, but there was a different underlying attitude).

    XX

  12. “Even stripping, I got the most respect in blue collar clubs because these men understood me being on my feet all night ”

    Same here! I always preferred working in the lower-end clubs, for this reason, and because I felt more appreciated in them.

    People so concerned about the prostitute who suffered abuse and victimization as a child (because they ALWAYS mention that) should really be working on ending child abuse and bad home conditions for children. Trying to “save them” by arresting them (a la Rhode Island) is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

  13. Really, it’s like looking for your horse because the door was left open, and when you find it, shooting it in the head to punish it for bolting.

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