Home for sexually exploited girls, young women set to open in Chicago

By Annie Sweeney

 

A recent study into how pimps operate spelled out how they recruit with clear, chilling simplicity.

 

They sought out runaways, dropouts, drug abusers, victims of physical abuse, people who need love, attention, money.

 

"You know you can smell desperation," one unnamed pimp said in the study, prepared by researchers from DePaul University College of Law. "If she is hungry, she will go."

 

Next week, a new residential home is scheduled to open in the Chicago area to offer girls and young women a chance to escape this world.

 

Called Anne's House, it was designed with input from survivors and is just one of a handful in the country to care for youths forced into prostitution, according to officials at the Salvation Army, its operator.

 

The news was welcomed by women who are survivors of the sex trade. "I lost a lot of my life out there on those streets," said survivor Angela Warren, 39, who became addicted to drugs and started prostituting as a teen on the South Side. "I wish I could go back and get that type of help."

 

The home can house eight females ages 12 through 21.

 

While international trafficking has drawn wide attention, there is a growing understanding — including in law enforcement circles — of how child and adult prostitutes here are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade as well.

 

"It's one of those things that people think happens in another country," said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who created a human-trafficking task force a year ago. "People need to be educated (that) it's happening here."

 

Researchers caution that it's impossible to get an accurate count of victims, but one recent study estimated that on any day, there could be as many as 16,000 young people involved in the sex trade in Chicago.

 

"I had no idea how big of a problem it is with young girls,'' said Chicago police Lt. Ozzie Valdez, who moved to the vice section in January after chasing drug traffickers. "Really, they are babies. They don't know what they are doing to themselves. They don't realize they are exploited. … We take every step possible to identify who is putting them out there, and we try to provide them with social services."

 

Anne's House is privately funded except for a state's attorney's grant that pays for education and after-care.

 

The home aims to provide structure and a sense that somebody cares about the girls, officials said. A 24-hour staff of caseworkers, counselors and therapists will try to address the specific trauma the girls have experienced. Life-skills training and school or vocational training will also be part of the daily routine.

 

The girls will be referred to Anne's House through social service agencies, police and the courts.

 

The home is opening as law enforcement efforts to target traffickers have also become more aggressive.

 

A state law signed in August strengthened penalties and gave police the power to use wiretaps to investigate human traffickers.

 

"We could do a wiretap on people selling drugs, but not people selling children," Alvarez said.

 

The law also called for social services rather than criminal penalties for the children caught in the sex trade.

 

(To read original article, visit this Chicago Tribune link)

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