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Ending Demand Is a Common-Sense Approach That Works

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On Sunday, the New York Times ran an opinion piece that mischaracterizes the national movement to end demand for the sex trade as a "moral crusade" that is solely focused on arresting johns. Speaking locally, the End Demand Illinois campaign advocates for a variety of strategies, including some of the very solutions that reporter Noy Thrupkaew puts forward, such as better accountability for traffickers, and social services for survivors of the sex trade.

Ms. Thrupkaew falsely claims that those of us working to end demand are narrowly focused on helping "an abused teenage girl..." forced into prostitution "by an older man" and that we "disregard" the diverse needs of others who have entered the sex trade under different circumstances. This is untrue, as End Demand Illinois works with survivors and community allies of different backgrounds, ages and genders to help shape new policies and laws to address conditions that impact most people in the sex trade. In doing so, we consider research that consistently shows that the majority of people in the sex trade were recruited as minors by pimps and have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Last year, Ms. Thrupkaew spent time with us, and we shared with her End Demand Illinois' multi-dimensional, survivor-informed approach to the issue. By omitting this information from her piece, Ms. Thrupkaew has left readers with a distorted view of demand-suppression efforts. Here are a few ways that the End Demand Illinois campaign and our allies have worked to end exploitation against all people in the sex trade:

End Demand Illinois is changing laws to hold more traffickers accountable and help survivors of the trade:
Rather than discounting the views of people impacted by the sex trade, we have worked with survivors to create and lobby for stronger human trafficking laws.

  • We passed the Illinois Safe Children Act in 2010, the most progressive state law of its kind to decriminalize all young people in prostitution. The law also allowed for wiretapping in trafficking investigations, and as a result, prosecutors in Illinois have used the statute to begin charging and convicting violent pimps.
  • In 2011, we passed a law to help survivors of sex trafficking petition to have prostitution convictions overturned that were a result of trafficking.
  • Just this year, we strengthened Illinois' human trafficking code so it now covers more tactics commonly used by traffickers, such as schemes and plans. Leeanna Majors, a survivor of sex trafficking in Chicago, advocates with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and testified on behalf of the bill. "The bill is important so that women can be empowered to make a change in their lives, and the traffickers can be held accountable," Majors said. "Survivors won't need to show bruises to prove they were trafficked," she added.
End Demand Illinois advocates for specialized services for all people impacted by the sex trade, including adults, youth and transgender people: Over the past two years, End Demand Illinois has interviewed survivors and advocates throughout the United States to discover best practices for empowering survivors of the sex trade. Just this summer, we released a proposal for drop-in centers and safe homes that would be survivor-led and survivor-centered, and we are starting to seek legislative champions who can help us turn the proposal into a reality.

Going after the demand side of the sex trade makes sense, just ask the johns: Johns themselves say being arrested and charged would deter them from buying sex. Unfortunately, law enforcement is not focusing on arresting johns. In a Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation study of 113 johns in Chicago, only seven percent of men interviewed had been arrested for solicitation. In forthcoming research from CAASE's Lara Janson, johns in online message boards take note of stings that target customers and warn each other to stay away from those communities. One john said, "I would never pick any one up [in this town] because there have been too many busts." Traditionally, law enforcement has arrested and rearrested prostituted people and let johns go -- and efforts to change this response in the United States, like those led by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, are really just beginning to gain momentum.

Spread the word about what ending demand really means: You can show your support for the End Demand approach by sharing this article with your networks and learning more about the End Demand Illinois campaign. Please sign up for our occasional email action alerts to stay informed about the campaign.

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