By Danielle Morales-Klima
To use a popular understatement, sex sells.
In 2002, police in Oakland, California investigated a case involving 218 minors between the ages of 11 to 15 under the control of 155 pimps. The girls were forced to meet a minimum quota of $500 a day, which was then taken from them by the pimps. Researchers estimate that the amount made by the pimps that year was $32,700,000. It’s a staggering amount, but not entirely surprising considering that some global estimates for the annual revenue of sex trafficking are as high as $99,000,000,000.
Sex sells, and business is booming. It is nearly impossible to track the illegal exchange of money, but what I wanted to find out was, for any one of the 25,000 prostituted women and children in Chicago, what happens if and when she manages to escape an exploitative situation? Is there ever any financial restitution for the millions of dollars that exchanged hands between her abusers?
My research lead me to the Illinois Predator Accountability Act, which allows for sexually trafficked and coerced people to sue their abusers and purchasers for money that was received as a result of their exploitation. The act targets exploitation and coercion at every level — not only the pimps and johns, but those who post ads attempting to lure women into the sex trade.
Businesses who knowingly receive additional compensation for turning a blind eye toward illegal activities can be sued. Women and children who are forced to appear in pornography can sue. As an added benefit, the exploited person’s past criminal record cannot be held against them, their marriage or familial relationship with the abuser cannot be held against them, nor can the argument be used in court that the plaintiff stayed with the defendant as they were being exploited.
The plaintiff must only prove that they were caused long-term physical or emotional harm due to being forced into the sex trade. While they must detail their injuries, showing long-term abuse or a pattern isn’t necessary. The exploited person has up to ten years from the last sex act performed in which to bring her abuser to court. For survivors who choose to seek financial compensation, they are able to bring to court any number of people who took part in their exploitation.
Surprisingly, in the 10 years since its inception, the act has never been used in court. Certain I was missing something, I reached out to a woman I know whose life’s work is the legal protection of sexually exploited people. I asked her if it was true that the act hadn’t been used and, if so, why?
As she explained it to me, it wasn’t necessarily a failing of the law, but a failing of the culture.
She likened it to rape cases and how difficult life becomes for those survivors who come forward and often how fruitless their efforts turn out to be. She then went on to tell me that in all her years of work, not a single prostituted woman has wanted to take on the colossal battle of suing for damages.
This year, another illegal $99,000,000,000 circles the globe, made off of the bodies, minds and dignity of the sexually exploited, most of whom will never receive damages for what’s been done to them.
By not confronting a culture that applauds the objectification of women and children, and by failing to defend the integrity of those who are enslaved, we as a society are all responsible for allowing those who are sexually exploited to be treated as though they are valueless.
In order for the culture to change, we must change the culture. Survivors must be given the resources and support that they need in order to continue to survive and to thrive on their own terms. Because going forward with legal measures often involves scrutiny from the public as well as the very real psychological trauma that can come from relived experiences, many survivors do not feel empowered enough to be the first to come forward to make use of this act.
From Traffick Free and from all of us who devote our time to seeing a world free from exploitation, we would like you to know that although the road ahead may be long and hard from start to finish, you will never walk it alone.
For more information on free legal services available to survivors, please visit our partners at Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
Traffick Free is a faith-motivated organization that seeks to provide the greater metropolitan area of Chicago with tools and sustainable programs to combat human trafficking and transform the lives of victims and communities.