Human trafficking is a clandestine international business, and the market for sexual exploitation is thriving in Chicago.
The Windy City’s central geographical location makes it a national “port” for prostitution and smuggling. The Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues also attributes Chicago’s airport and elaborate transportation infrastructure to the problem.
“A lot of men are purchasing sex in Chicago,” said Rachel Durchslag, the executive director and founder of the Chicago Association Against Sexual Exploitation, in an interview with Niagara.
Exactly how many men is difficult to pin down, given the nature of the underground market, but CAASE estimates that in Chicago, somewhere between 16,000-24,000 women and girls are involved in commercial sex trade annually, which includes sex trafficking and prostitution.
“And the prostitutes continue to be the ones getting blamed,” Durchslag said.
She founded CAASE in 2006 to investigate the demand for sex trafficking and eliminate the market. The organization has campaigned to hold the perpetrators, rather than the prostitutes, accountable for the crimes. Durchslag said in many cases, women turn to prostitution when they are young after leaving a violent home situation or falling in love with a man who turns out to be a pimp.
“We are shaping the way the entire country is looking to curb sexual exploitation and harm,” said Durchslag.
A more recent development in the sex trafficking business is the growing number of buyers or “Johns” who post on social media and anonymous message boards for strategies to purchase sex and evade law enforcement. CAASE investigated the online market in Illinois last year and found that “Johns” created 2,600 posts about buying sex during a three-month period.
While perpetrators are conducting their dirty business in Chicago, numerous key players, like CAASE and the International Organization for Adolescents, have established headquarters and hotlines to eradicate the market.
“This is happening here in our city,” Durchslag said. “We have an obligation to take a stand.”
Durchslag will talk more about the state of sex trafficking for a panel discussion at the Niagara Foundation on Thursday, April 11 at 11:30am. Durchslag will be joined by Gregory Wing, a Supervisory Special Agent from the FBI, and Shelby French, the Executive Director of the International Organization for Adolescents. You can register to attend the discussion here.
Cassidy Herrington is the communications director at Niagara.