As we dove further into our topic, not only did we find ourselves wondering about the practice of sex trafficking in Chicago and what is being done to end it, we also became very interested in how much people actually know about Sex Trafficking. To gauge this in a small scale, we conducted a survey of 50 random people on campus.
In a one-on-one interview with Gang Investigation Unit Police Officer, Charles Six, I received an insider scoop into the innermost workings of the sex trafficking industry in Chicago. What I discovered was shocking in terms of what the law is surrounding sex trafficking and how the law is enforced…and it may not be what you expected.
I found out pretty quickly that it is nearly impossible to interview a sex trafficked survivor.
I sent out emails, offers to volunteer, called people…no luck. But I finally caught a break when I remembered that a roommate had a connection to someone interested in this subversive industry.
After some emailing back and forth, I was fortunate to conduct a phone interview with her on the Chicago sex trafficking trade. She also answered my follow-up questions by email and gave me both sources and information to work with. For personal and privacy reasons, she chooses to remain anonymous.
I wanted to focus on not only the local and present reality of the trade in Chicago, but also what organizations in the area were doing about it. Besides the laws in place (and those still being written), there had to be at least one underground movement of aware and active citizens.
Combining research of several top organizations and my interview material, I was able to get a clearer picture of the cyclical process of sex trafficking. Websites including usasexguide.com and Backpage also helped me determine some of the “hotspots” of Chicago’s sex trafficking industry.
It became clear that this problem was a lot closer to home than most people realize and I was able to collect a significant number of addresses and locations. This evidence, along with several true-to-life stories from my source, revealed a very present and real problem in our city.
Sex trafficking is not just in brothels and on the streets of some Hollywood movie.
It’s right here in your neighborhood.
It’s in not just in Lawndale, Humbolt Park and Garfield Park, it’s in Lincoln Square and Logan Square, Bucktown and Printer’s Row.
It’s in suburbs like Cicero, Maywood and Naperville, Norridge, Palatine and Melrose Park.
It’s in hotels, at conventions and sports events; at truck stops and bus stops and outside of gas stations.
It’s in massage parlors in Chinatown and on the North Side and on a street corner ten minutes from my house.
You can find it in strip clubs and gentlemen’s clubs and burlesque shows.
You can’t separate prostitution, escort businesses or legally-running clubs from sex trafficking because there is simply no way of knowing whether the girl (or guy) on stage is twenty-one, or seventeen and not getting paid.
Sex trafficking is far more subversive and subtle than the kind you see on the news about people being brought over from small European countries.
This may not be reality…
…but this is.
Here are just a few of the locations that forum users on usasexguide.com, Backpage and other sites use as pick-up spots for sex workers:
16th and Kostner and near 290
Cicero and Roosevelt
Madison between 19th and 5th
Madison and Kenton
Lawrence and Kimball (massage parlor)
West Expressway to Damen
Washington to 290
Lake to Grand
Cicero and Diversey
Addison and Kimball
Cicero past North
Archer at Pulaski
Belmont, north on Cicero
51st and Cicero
South of Tinley
…the list goes on.
How many of these are in YOUR neighborhood?
“Where you see traffick[ing]…but don’t realize it:
On the internet, in ads, video chats, porn sites…
Mannheim Road, North Ave,
Elston Ave, Michigan Ave (north & south),
In suburban and urban hotel lobbies, high end bars, near sporting events,
Motels (dates procured on the internet), apartment buildings in the suburbs, city [and] small towns,
Frat parties, bachelor parties,
Corporate events, gentlemen’s clubs, older men with much younger women out on a date…
O’Hare airport, hotels around Midway…Greyhound bus station, Union station,
High schools, colleges (girls who want to pay their way through school start out with a ‘sugar daddy’ and end up being trafficked.)
…[And] girls who have a number of bruises or burn marks on their body, a tattoo put their by a man with a dollar sign or name.”
–Anonymous (Email interview)
“[Sex trafficking] is not just about a place,” my source said.
The problem doesn’t really lie in locations or under-the-table deals. The real danger in sex trafficking is the people that run the industry. They aren’t just criminals, gang members, corrupt businessmen or drive-by consumers; predators can often be the nearest person looking for a little extra cash.
One girl was targeted after she transferred to a new school. A classmate noticed her, got close to her and started building a relationship. When they were at a party, he drugged her and gang raped her with some of his friends. Afterwards, they threatened her family, so she agreed to make money for them.
She would sneak out of her house at night so they could sell her off.
This went on for over two years.
The average American citizen tends to feel safe in their own neighborhood, their own school or home. But crime doesn’t limit itself to geography or socio-economic status. Wherever there is a demand, there will be a supply. It doesn’t have to be a middle or high school in the South Side. It can be Northwestern, it can be DePaul and it can be UIC.
(paraphrased from phone interview with anonymous source)