New task force targets traffickers who force children into the sex trade
FBI, Chicago police join forces to go after pimps
By Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune reporter
May 14, 2012
Inside the Harrison Police District station, the officers sat in a semicircle to be briefed about the shift ahead in one of Chicago's most beleaguered areas.
But on this recent day, the topic was not the shootings and murders on these West Side streets, but a crime often pushed far back into the shadows — the thousands of young girls and women who are prostituted, pushed into the violence of Chicago's sex trade.
FBI Special Agent Jonathan Williamson and Chicago police Sgt. Traci Walker were there to announce a new joint effort by the FBI and Chicago police to target child traffickers in the city....
The clandestine nature of sex trafficking makes it difficult to know exactly how many young women and girls work in prostitution, said DePaul College of Law researcher Jody Raphael. She has estimated that in Chicago as many as 25,000 are involved in the commercial sex trade, including exotic dancers.
Many who work the street or are sold on the Internet started out in the business in their teens. A 2008 survey of Chicago women working in prostitution who were 25 or younger and under the control of a pimp found that they began at 16 on average.
The younger the girl or woman, Raphael believes, the more likely it is she has a pimp or trafficker, in part because she is often recruited first into a romantic relationship.
Over the past decade, advocates have pushed law enforcement to re-examine how it views the crime of prostitution — especially for the young adults caught in the trade. Today, investigators are going after traffickers on one hand while extending social services to women working in prostitution. Chicago police, Cook County and federal authorities meet monthly to target offenders for the toughest punishment.