The sex trafficking industry in Chicago is closely tied to gang activity and the fact that Chicago serves as a transportation hub for the country. Unexpectedly, most of the women and children trafficked come from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, not overseas, and are either homeless, foster children, or runaways.
In 2003 an article in the New York Times labeled Chicago as a national hub for human trafficking. Throughout 2011 there were 98 potential cases of human trafficking reported in Illinois and 30 confirmed cases of sex trafficking, the majority of which occurred in Chicago, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. In the Chicago area between 16,000 and 25,000 women and girls are involved in prostitution each year.
As the industry is closely tied to gangs in Chicago there seem to be several networks operating independently: Asian networks, Latino networks, and domestic networks.
The Asian networks are mainly run under the guise of legitimate massage parlors, karaoke bars, or as online escort services. The “Johns” (clients) that this network caters to is primarily middle to upper class businessmen.
The Latino Networks are primarily run through residential brothels, clubs, and some massage parlors. In contrast to the Asian Networks, the Latino networks are closed off and serve only Latino males, and also control the women and children through abuse and violence as opposed to isolation, language barriers, or psychological control.
Finally, the Domestic networks, which comprise the majority of Chicago’s sex trafficking industry are run on the street, in strip clubs, via the internet, and at truck stops. This network is composed mostly of under 18 year old girls who are controlled via physical abuse, rape, assault, and threats towards family members. Nightly Quotas of $200-$1,000 dollars are imposed upon the women, and if they do not hit their quota they are beaten. Pimps generally control multiple women at the same time, earning upwards of $600,000 per year.
A study conducted by Rachel Durchslag, AM and Samir Goswami surveyed over 100 men who had previously purchased services from prostitutes in Chicago. There was no strong correlation between the education level, age, family income, or number of sexual partners the men had and their buying habits. Many of the men (34%) find women via websites such as Craigslist, Eros, Chicagoescorts, Chicagoreader, and Adultfriendfinder. Others found women indoors, most commonly in bars, strip clubs, or escort agencies. Most men first engaged in the sexual services upon the urging of family members, friends, or peers. The average age when men first purchased sexual favors was a staggeringly low 21 years of age. An interesting statistic also collected in this survey found that 30% of the male buyers firs hired a prostitute as a means to lose their virginity, or as a right of passage to become a man.
The following image shows the most active sex trade venues in the Chicagoland area:
Source: Domestic sex trafficking of Chicago women and girls (Jody Raphael, Depaul University)