Thursday, December 22, 2011

Responding to "The Misunderstood Sex Offender"

If you pick up a copy of today’s Chicago Reader and flip to page 6, you’ll see a letter from our executive director, Rachel Durchslag, in response to the story “The misunderstood sex offender.” While we thought the story tackled some important issues, it missed the mark by failing to inform readers about the larger scope of the problem: most rapists are never arrested, charged or convicted. Did you catch the article in the Reader? What did you think? 

CAASE's attorneys work with survivors of sexual assault every day. Many of these survivors were raped by acquaintances, and few of them ever see their attacker held accountable until they reach out to us. Learn more about our legal services here. 

Here’s our response to the Reader article:

Dear Editor,

Readers of “The misunderstood sex offender” (Dec. 8, 2011, by Sam Worley) might conclude that Illinois is over-punishing sex offenders when, in reality, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are never held accountable for their crimes. Within the realm of sexual violence, the men featured in Worley’s article represent a tiny minority of sex offenders; the men he featured were actually convicted. It’s estimated that fewer than 11 percent of rapists in Illinois are ever arrested, let alone charged or convicted of their crimes. Current law enforcement practices and the laws pertaining to sex offenders are clearly ineffective, and we must begin by demanding that perpetrators be arrested and charged. Reforming our response to sexual assault should never center on the needs of the offender, as Worley suggests, but instead on creating justice for crime victims.  

Rachel Durchslag
Executive Director
Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Rape Survivor Tells Her Story and Thanks CAASE's Attorneys

As CAASE wraps up 2011, we are reflecting on all that we've accomplished this year. Recently, we heard from a client about just how much CAASE's legal services really meant to her:

After Jessica’s ex-boyfriend sexually assaulted her, all she wanted was for him to stay away. Night after night, she couldn’t sleep, worrying about her own safety. “I wanted to create a barrier between him and myself. I wanted to be empowered.”

Through the Sexual Assault Justice Project, CAASE’s attorneys work with local rape crisis centers to ensure that survivors have access to free legal counsel through our office. At the YWCA, Jessica worked with an advocate who helped her navigate the criminal justice system. In the end, Jessica decided against filing a police report.  “I was not, at the time, emotionally able to press charges,” she said. Her advocate recommended that Jessica contact CAASE.

After talking to CAASE’s  Legal Director Kaethe Morris Hoffer, Jessica felt a huge sense of relief. “She was so professional, confidential and supportive,” Jessica said. “It was the first thing that made me feel like I had options.”

Kaethe wrote a letter to Jessica’s attacker, and he ended up calling the CAASE office. “Apparently he was apologetic and ashamed,” Jessica said. “He very much heard the tone of the letter and was afraid of the consequences, and I have not heard from him since.”

As a teacher who’s paying her way through grad school, Jessica wasn’t prepared for the additional costs that came after she was assaulted. Therapy and medication weren’t things she had budgeted for, so she was grateful that CAASE’s legal services were completely free, regardless of her income. “I was eating ramen noodles,” she said. “It would not have been feasible for me to pay for a lawyer.”

After raving about Kaethe’s professionalism, Jessica adds, “I would not have gotten through without this. Once the letter was sent, well, I’ve been slept through the night ever since.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chicago Pimp Convicted of Trafficking Girls as Young as 12

Today, a 32-year-old man was convicted of sex trafficking women and girls in Chicago. Some of the girls he sold were as young as 12.

This is a horrible story. But it’s really, really good news that this “pimp” has been convicted of sex trafficking here in Chicago. It's good news because trafficking happens all the time here, and this is a sign that law enforcement wants to address the problem.

It’s also good news that the public will see violence in the sex trade for what it is—the exploitation of women and girls for profit, here in Chicago.  

Kudos to the prosecutors for holding the violent criminal responsible, and thanks to Natasha Korecki for her reporting on this case for the Chicago Sun-Times. From her recent story about the trial, Korecki describes how the case reveals “A bizarre world that … began with a promise of love and a future but devolved quickly to forced sex, verbal berating and physical beatings.”

It also reveals how trafficking—the use of force to keep someone in the sex trade—happens here in our city. Our End Demand Illinois campaign advocates for resources for survivors like these, and harsher penalties for pimps, johns and traffickers.

Until last year, the victims in this case could have been treated as criminals. Thanks to the Illinois Safe Children Act, minors in our state can no longer be prosecuted for prostitution. And this is as it should be, as we hear about the trauma these girls have survived.

The testimony of a young woman in the case says it all. The defense asked why she stayed with the pimp who was abusing her: 

“He had all my information. He had my birth certificate … He knew everything about me.” The 19-year-old yelled in court. “I was only a child. I was only a child! Where else was I supposed to go?”

To learn more about how you can help end sex trafficking here at home, visit

Friday, October 28, 2011

In the News: Sex Trafficking of Girls in Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee

Two stories in the news this week shed light on the disturbing realities of sex trafficking in our city, and we wanted to share.A man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been charged with sex trafficking of children. According to a news article:

Sean Patrick recruited, sheltered, and turned prostitutes by force. He sent them to Chicago using bus transportation or drove them himself in a 1992 gold Chevrolet conversion van. The van reportedly was inscribed with the words “ho hauler” on the quarter front panel. These girls were property to him. Allegedly, if one of the young women missed the bus, he would choke them, stomp on them, and make them stand naked next to his “ho hauler.” Patrick paid the court $10,000 from the trafficking operation and gave up his van. He plead guilty to all charges and could face life in prison.

Another story broke about a couple from Tennessee has been charged with the sex trafficking of an underage girl they met on Facebook. Jessica Lidy and Jarrod Sanford were arrested after a 15-year-old girl told gas station employees in Lincoln that she was being held against her will in their truck. Lidy and Sanford had transported the teenage girl into Illinois to be prostituted. The couple claims that they brought her with them on trips to Illinois where Lidy engaged in the acts of prostitution alone. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged the couple with transportation of a minor to engage in prostitution.

Though media attention and circumstances differ, these stories share several elements. People are taking advantage of underage girls’ vulnerability. The most disturbing aspect of both stories is that men in our state are ready and willing to pay for girls. The reason Sean Patrick, Jessica Lidy, and Jarrod Sanford transported the girls they held captive to Illinois is because of the consistent demand for prostitution. As long as there are men willing to pay money in our city, these crimes will never end.

We applaud these efforts by law enforcement to go after pimps and traffickers. While these pimps are undoubtedly guilty of exploiting young women, the men who bought sex from these girls are fueling the never-ending cycle. No surprisingly, these news reports do not address the johns (men who buy sex). The first step in terminating this vicious cycle and ending demand in our city is simply awareness.

To continue your awareness of sex trafficking in Chicago, sign up for our action alerts here.

-This post was written by Allyson Matvey, a CAASE intern.

Photo by sciondriver.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Massage Parlors and Sex Trafficking: Hiding in Plain Sight

An update from the Chicago Sun-Times just came to our attention: “The lawyer who caused a mistrial after a masseuse testifying for the prosecution recognized him as a client – is officially off the case.”

You may remember that a witness in the sex trafficking case recognized the defense attorney as being one of her clients at the massage parlor. Although the attorney admitted to receiving massages from the witness and making an error by not disclosing this sooner, he said that there was never a sex act or inappropriate behavior during his visits.

Let’s take him at his word. No matter what happened, trafficking can indeed hide in plain sight. Businesses like massage parlors can easily become fronts for exploitation, which means they have a special role in preventing that sort of harm from occurring. And the men who were patrons at that massage parlor may not have realized that they were potentially supporting sex trafficking. The elements of force, fraud or coercion that define trafficking are not always apparent. But certainly, there are men in Chicagoland who do buy sex at massage parlors.

So what can we do to stop sex trafficking? CAASE believes that the answer involves addressing the customers who create demand for the commercial sex trade. According to the Polaris Project:
  • "Johns" who frequent brothels disguised as massage parlor make it a "hobby" to buy sex and to track all massage parlors nationwide.  There are more than 5,000 brothels disguised as massage parlors nationwide.
  • Standard pricing structure: Johns pay a house fee of $60 - $90 per half hour or hour plus they occasionally pay tips; the women are pressured to "please the customer" in order to receive tips.  These unpredictable tips are the women's sole source of income to pay the numerous fees and interest rates they are charged by the network.
  • Standard day for a woman in a brothel disguised as a massage parlor: 10am – 2 or 3am, 7 days a week
  • Estimated average number of men a woman must have sex with daily: 6 -10
Certainly, there are many legitimate massage businesses in Chicago. You can double check by asking if they are licensed and watching for signs of trafficking.

If you suspect that prostitution is happening at a nail spa, massage parlor, strip club or other business, you can report the exploitation by calling the National Human Trafficking hotline:1-888-3737-888. CAASE encourages responses that address customers, pimps and traffickers.

We are interested to see what happens with this sex trafficking case as it unfolds, and we hope that discussion about this issue will ALWAYS include the johns who drive demand for trafficked people.

Want to stay informed about the End Demand Illinois campaign? Sign up for our action alerts here. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Woman escapes trafficking in the Congo, Belgium, finds asylum in Chicago

Last month, a judge in Chicago granted asylum to a Congolese woman who was a survivor of sex trafficking. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the young woman’s parents died when she was 18. With no other options, she was forced into prostitution by a friend of the family in exchange for shelter. Later, a man took her as his sex slave and trafficked her to Belgium. After enduring rape, being tattooed with his name and brainwashed, she eventually escaped to the United States.

Her story is more important than ever as we gather on Monday, Sept. 19 here in Chicago for the Town Hall Meeting to raise awareness about human trafficking. Ultimately, the goal of the meeting is to raise support for the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA). The protections from the TVPA are cited as part of the decision:

In the instant case, the Court finds that the respondent has established through her credible testimony that she is a victim of a "severe form" of sex trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which defines sex trafficking as "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act" and lists "sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion" as a severe form of sex trafficking.

Another important facet of the judge’s decision is the recognition that because the young woman had been prostituted in the Congo, the woman faced potential persecution and trafficking if she were to return to her country. We applaud this acknowledgment that her gender, history with prostitution and trafficking would indeed put her further at risk.  

It’s worth reading the whole decision if you have time. Many kudos to the judge, Virginia Perez-Guzman, the National Immigrant Justice Center and pro bono attorneys from the Chicago office of McDermott Will & Emery LLP who all worked on this case. We found out about this through Bender’s Immigration Bulletin.

Please join us for this event to help others who rely on the protections of this law to seek justice.  To learn more about Monday’s Town Hall event, click here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Busts This Weekend in Chicago

 Two news stories broke over the weekend about charges related to sex trafficking and prostitution here in Chicagoland.

A 27-year-old Chicago woman was charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor and human trafficking for forced labor. She had allegedly forced a 16-year-old girl to have sex with strangers for money. The Chicago Police Department saw ads for the girl posted on the internet and discovered her during a sting. The girl was taken to a nearby hospital to be treated. (Story in the Chicago Tribune here).

A sting in Lansing, Illinois led to the arrest of four women, including one who was allegedly keeping a house of prostitution. The spa where they worked was found to be a front for a house of prostitution. The women in this case were offered services from the Cook County Sheriff’s Women’s Justice Programs. (Story in the Northwest Times here).

We applaud local law enforcement for their leadership in holding pimps and traffickers accountable, while also offering supportive services to survivors of the trade. While we don’t know the exact details of these cases, women in the sex trade sometimes turn to pimping and trafficking as a means of survival. This is the sad reality in a cycle of exploitation. By proposing an infrastructure of services and viable alternatives for women engaged in the sex trade, our End Demand Illinois campaign is working to address these issues.

You can stand up by asking your community to address demand in these situations. Who were the men buying sex in that spa? Who was purchasing a 16 –year-old girl for sex? These are the unmentioned aspects of these stories that must be talked about.

Learn how to take action by signing up for our End Demand action alerts here.

While the campaign is Illinois-specific, it has national influence and resources that can be used anywhere.
To see the new End Demand Illinois campaign website, visit 

(Photo Creative Commons by roger g1)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Whistleblower Reveals Root Cause of Trafficking

Rachel Durchslag, executive director and founder of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, reacts to a new film on human trafficking.
I recently saw The Whistleblower, which portrays the horrors of human trafficking and highlights the root cause of the trafficking industry: the johns and traffickers who profit from the existence of the sex trade.  The film is based on the real-life story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a former law enforcement official who was hired by a private contract firm to help with a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. As the film unfolds, Bolkovac is confronted with the wide-scale human trafficking of vulnerable women and girls into the country.

When Bolkovac begins to investigate the trafficking crimes, she quickly discovers the involvement of both corrupt local law enforcement officials as well as UN peace keepers- individuals whose job it is to help rebuild Bosnia from the tragedies of wars but who instead ruin the lives of trafficked women for their own sexual gain.  Some of the most emotionally challenging moments of the film are the images of the peace keepers degrading and abusing trafficked women. Some perpetrators even post pictures of their violent acts on the internet to both publicize their exploits and also to normalize their harm.

It is important when viewing a movie such as The Whistleblower to remember that these crimes are not solely committed against international victims.  Domestic victims of prostitution are often inflicted with the same type of violence and sexual trauma.  And as CAASE’s research with men who purchase sex shows, johns do not care to know if a woman is being trafficked- all they care about is finding a body to rent for the evening.
This film reminds us how important it is to address the root cause of an issue to bring about impactful change. If peace-keepers had not trafficked and purchased women, then human trafficking would not have existed in Bosnia (where it barely did exist before the end of the war). If we can stop johns, pimps and traffickers from perpetuating the sex trade in the United States, exploitation in the sex trade would simply cease to exist.  This movie is an excellent call to action for all of us to continue working to end the demand for victims in order to end sexual exploitation.

Learn more about actions you can take on our toolkit page at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Breaking: Gang Members to be Charged with Trafficking Young Women

This morning it was announced that a group of gang members in Chicago would be charged with the sex trafficking of young girls. The collaborative effort by law enforcement utilized the Illinois Safe Children Act, a new law our End Demand Illinois campaign created last year in partnership with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

We are thrilled that the law is being used to take down traffickers. The Illinois Safe Children Act gives law enforcement new tools like wiretapping to build a case against perpetrators. Kudos to the Cook County Sheriff's office and the Chicago Police Department for their work on this case.

The Illinois Safe Children Act also gives all minors in our state immunity from prosecution for prostitution. We applaud this latest effort and urge the community to show their support for efforts like these that go after traffickers, pimps and johns.

A disturbing but important aspect to this story is the fact that men in Chicago are purchasing sex from young girls. The majority of men who buy sex face few consequences for their crimes, and yet they are fueling the sex trade. Efforts like today’s to dismantle organized crime address one important facet of the problem. Another is to hold johns accountable for the harm they cause when they purchase women. To learn more about men who buy sex in Illinois, read our fact sheet.

To learn more about ending demand, visit

Monday, August 15, 2011

Police help 15-year-old girl who was trafficked in Chicago

Recently in Chicago, local law enforcement discovered a 15-year-old girl who had been lured into prostitution by two adults. The story is terrifying but had a just outcome: After the couple recruited the girl on the street, initiated her and tried to pimp her out, a police officer recognized that the girl was a minor. She was treated as a crime victim worthy of services and even helped identify her traffickers. It was discovered that the offender was already out on bond for involuntary servitude of a minor.

The Illinois Safe Children Act, passed last year, ensures that all minors are immune from prosecution for prostitution in our state. We send kudos to law enforcement for looking beneath the surface to recognize that this young woman needed help and that there were others behind the scenes seeking to profit. The Chicago Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Force along with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Salvation Army’s STOP-IT program and DCFS all helped with this sting—many thanks to them for their collaborative response to human trafficking in our community.

The End Demand Illinois campaign seeks to hold pimps, traffickers and johns accountable for the harm they cause. The people who profit from the commercial sex trade are creating a demand for young women like the one in this story. Stand up against demand for the sex trade—visit and sign up for our action alerts.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ask the Senate to Support This Resolution

Our allies at the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation are leading an initiative to ask the U.S. Senate to recognize December 2 as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The resolution recognizes that the fight to end slavery continues today as we work to end human trafficking.

The resolution is in support of the United Nations General Assembly of the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. It commends the efforts of modern-day abolitionists, including students, following in the tradition of Frederick Douglass.

How you can help: The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation has met with Senator Mark Kirk's office and now needs support from Illinois residents to encourage Kirk to move forward. You can help by reaching out to Senator Kirk using this letter, emailing him here or calling 312-886-3506.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Buying sex makes you a john, not a sugar daddy

We heard about national media coverage (on the Huffington Post and the Today Show) of websites that cater to older men who want to make “arrangements” to pay for sex with younger women. The stories have focused on college students who are turning to prostitution to pay down their loan debt.

What are the real implications of men using their money and power to exploit women? Although they use the euphemism “sugar daddy," let’s be clear. These men are johns. These sugar daddy websites are fueled by men who buy subscriptions and create a system that facilitates the selling of young women’s bodies.

CAASE’s study of 113 johns in Chicago showed that men purchase sex because they face very few barriers or consequences. It’s disturbing to think that some of these “sugar babies” are on the site out of desperation and, instead of proposing that we reach out to help them, the media is treating this as simply another side effect of the bad economy.

It’s unacceptable for our society to ever, ever be ok with a woman being pressured into prostitution. That seems to be the crux of the story—women with tremendous debt who feel they will be of more value to society if they could pay off their loans. As one woman interviewed in the HuffPost article said:

"I just wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible," recalls Taylor, forcing out a nervous smile. "I just wanted to get out of that situation as safely as possible, pay off my debt, and move on."

Let’s be clear, prostitution is dangerous. One study showed that the rates of violence were similar for women who were prostituted on the street as those in indoor venues. The average life expectancy for a woman who enters prostitution is seven years from the date she enters the trade.

It’s time to stand up against men who are fueling a system that exploits young women. End the demand for prostitution by asking law enforcement to hold “sugar daddies” accountable and call them what they are: men who are buying other human beings.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sun-Times Tells the Story of Cynthia Barnes

Cynthia Barnes, a prostituted woman who died violently at the hands of a john, is the subject of a series of columns from Mark Brown at the Chicago Sun-Times. All too often, the stories of prostituted people are ignored in the media. We are heartened that Brown is delving into the complexities of this subject.

Barnes's death is deeply disturbing. According to her boyfriend, Barnes wanted to exit the sex trade but faced few options. She was homeless, didn’t have anywhere else to go, and grappled with addiction. On a rainy night, she went on a “date” with a john to get out of the rain. The john apparently pushed her from a third-story window, and she fell to her death.

Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Women and children in Chicago suffer tremendous violence at the hands of pimps, johns and traffickers. Many women in the trade say that they would like to leave, but they fear violence from a pimp or simply don’t know where to turn. Read our "Myths about women in prostitution" fact sheet to learn more.

Our End Demand Illinois campaign seeks to refocus law enforcement’s attention toward those who profit from the sex trade (johns, pimps and traffickers).  We envision a community that offers a network of support for people who want to leave the sex trade. To learn more about the campaign, visit

Friday, July 29, 2011

Looking beneath the surface only takes a minute.

We’ve all seen the mug shots lining the margins of online news sites. Women are charged with prostitution. Sometimes they are in the city, but more often than not, they’re in the suburbs. Not on the street, but busted in a sting in a massage parlor or spa. And our gut reaction at CAASE is to wonder “Did anyone look beneath the surface? Did anyone ask that woman if she was there by choice?”

When you see these stories, do a short screening for yourself. Does the reporter ask the police about the potential of trafficking in the case? Were the sting efforts targeting purchasers (johns) and traffickers (pimps) or only the prostituted women? Is there a plan for holding the business accountable, or figuring out who was really profiting? Or might the arrested women soon be replaced with others? Why are there only photos of prostituted women, but no photos of the johns? Were there efforts to arrest johns?

If not, they’re ignoring demand—the people who perpetrate harm and profit from the sex trade.

If you don’t see reporters and law enforcement looking beneath the surface to address demand, it’s up to you to call them out. Leave a comment. Write a letter. Ask your local law enforcement and elected officials to address demand for the sex trade. Join our campaign and tell Illinois that we must end demand. Visit

Sample letters and other information can also be found in our media response guide.