The Illegal Commercial Sex Industry in Cook County
The sex trade in Cook County is a dangerous, thriving business. Though over half (57%) of commercial sex transactions are still executed indoors (bars, strip clubs, escort services, etc.), johns, pimps and other individuals that facilitate the sexual exploitation of women are increasingly resorting to selling sex over the internet; driving this harmful business further underground. CEASE Cook County supports the movement to end modern-day slavery by combating the demand for sex trafficking and commercial sex. The team is committed to catalyzing social change to reflect the dignity of all people by convening key stakeholders, conducting and disseminating research, and educating policymakers.
Cook County’s prostituted individuals are ethnically diverse (57% are black, 40% are white, and about 2% are Latinas) and tend to be low-income, marginalized women. A field study showed that 80% of them are single mothers of 3 or more children; and about two thirds of them report that they never held a job paying more than $6.50 per hour. To make matters worse, the study reported that 80% of prostituted women have been charged with non-violent offenses and now hold a criminal record.
Cook County’s Sheriff Thomas J. Dart developed the Human Trafficking Response Team (HTRT) in February 2009, which is comprised of three employees who also happen to be survivors of the sex trade. The HTRT is augmented by the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department (CCSPD) Special Operations/Vice Unit (including its Child Exploitation/Protection Investigations) and supported by a vast multidisciplinary team of corrections, clinical and case management professionals. Since the program’s implementation, more than 500 women have received interventions with a 76% overall success rate. The Sheriff’s Office of Public Policy and Women’s Justice Program, are members of CEASE Cook County’s steering committee and provides technical expertise for the implementation of strategies to end commercial sexual exploitation.
How CEASE Cook County is addressing the problem
CEASE Cook County’s strategy in law enforcement is to focus on the demand for prostitution by targeting sex buyers and traffickers, while offering services to their victims. As part of this mission, the team has engaged in multiple law enforcement and public awareness campaigns directed at sex consumers. Such campaigns may range from the distribution of educational materials to law enforcement agencies, the collection of data from high frequency buyers, creation of local advocacy campaigns, and building on john schools, to direct sting operations by law enforcement officers.