Cook County, IL

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Cook County, Illinois has experienced a wide range of problems associated with commercial sex, including child sex trafficking and homicides of both sex sellers and buyers.  In its efforts to combat prostitution, various agencies and non-profits in the county have implemented arguably the most comprehensive and aggressive portfolio of initiatives focused on combating demand in the United States. Nearly all of the major types of tactics used to educate, punish, and deter sex buyers are being applied in the county.  There is also a wide array of collaborators across sectors of the government, non-profit and activist organizations, and neighborhood groups.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, often in collaboration with city police departments, conducts reverse stings and publicizes the identities of the men arrested.  They also seize the vehicles of the men arrested, who are required to pay a $500 fine in order to recover their auto.  Men can also be ordered to perform community service, and to adhere to geographic restraining orders (SOAP Orders).  The county also has arguably the most diverse and active collection of non-governmental and community organizations that specifically focus on demand, and push for public education and awareness. Cook County’s focus on combating demand evolved through a collaboration of survivors, advocacy organizations, law enforcement and the leadership of key elected officials.  In the spring of 2002, through the Prostitution Alternatives Round Table a group of survivors began confronting the Chicago Police Department (CPD) about their practice of arresting far more women for prostitution than men who buy sex in Chicago Police District 14 (a gentrifying neighborhood in the northwest side of Chicago).

In July and August 2018, arrests of 75 sex buyers in Cook County were made as part of an ongoing crackdown on prostitution across 12 states. Two dozen law enforcement agencies were involved in the 16th National Johns Suppression Initiative. Of the 75 arrests, 10 people faced charges connected with trying to have sex with a minor, and six were charged with counts related to sex trafficking. One man was charged with child endangerment because he had a 5-month-old baby in the backseat of his car while soliciting for sex.  Arlington Heights police made two of the Cook County arrests, and police in Matteson, Maywood and Lansing also helped the sheriff’s office with sting operations.  While most of the arrests were made through street-level reverse stings, authorities also employed online “bots” as a way to deter potential johns.  The Cook County bots made contact with 241 people who were sent warning messages during the joint effort. On average, decoy ads on new, emerging escort sites attracted two potential sex buyer inquiries per ad in the Chicago area. Comparable decoy ads attracted an average of 19 inquiries per ad during a similar prostitution crackdown in January, 2018.

These organizing efforts helped to lay the foundation for survivors and other groups organizing toward the eventual passage of the Predator Accountability Act (the Act was introduced in Illinois’ General Assembly in 2003 and adopted in 2006).  The process of studying law enforcement’s response to demand began as a key focus of the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence’s report, “The Intersystem Assessment of Prostitution in Chicago” that was released in 2006. The collaborative approach of this study prioritized involving law enforcement officials and greatly contributed to the cultural shifts within the Chicago Police Department. This report resulted in a steady increase in the arrests of johns in Chicago since 2004. This historical progression toward focusing on eliminating demand as a method to combat sex trafficking and prostitution contributed to the creation of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) and served as the foundation that allowed the Justice Project Against Sexual Harm to collaborate in creating the End Demand, Illinois Campaign. These efforts were codified when Cook County Sheriff’s Office worked with Cook County Commissioners to pass significant legislation in 2008 and when he made “demand suppression” a key element of his “Human Trafficking Response Team” in 2009, thereby serving as a “living model” to law enforcement to adopt this strategy. For descriptions and a brief history of anti-demand programs and practices in Cook County, please click here.

Public Education and Awareness

There are a number of public education and awareness efforts ongoing in the Chicago/Cook County area.  A recently launched effort is “The Ugly Truth” campaign, by the Voices and Faces Project, in collaboration with End Demand Illinois. Available here:  The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation has launched a program aimed at high school boys, hoping that education can prevent boys from becoming men who believe it is acceptable to buy sex.

John School DVD

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Women’s Justice Services has produced a video version of a john school program.  It is shown to all men arrested for buying sex as they are being processes.  It is not intended to be a substitute for a more intensive, interactive “live” john school.  It is meant to be a cost-effective way to provide some of what is provided by a traditional john school, and to fill  a current gap.  The production of the video was supported in part by Hunt Alternative Fund’s Demand Abolition program.  A brief outline of the topics covered in the 15-minute video:

Legal Consequences

Focusing on the legal consequences and the graduated penalties related to subsequent offenses and addressing johns’ vulnerability to being robbed or assaulted while involved in prostitution. Features video interviews with investigator, Civil Attorneys, CAASE.

Health Consequences=Physical/Mental(Trauma)

Education, describing the elevated risk of HIV and STD infection associated with prostitution, and stressing that many STDs are asymptomatic and/or difficult to detect and have long-term negative impacts on health. Includes video interviews on substance use, medical consequences, psychological impact

Consequences to Victims

Effect of prostitution on prostituted women and girls, focusing on numerous negative consequences for women serving as prostitutes, such as vulnerability to rape and assault, health problems, drug addiction, and various forms of exploitation.  Features video interviews with survivors.

Dynamics of Pimping, Recruiting, and Trafficking

Feature discussions of how pimps and traffickers recruit, control, and exploit   women and girls for profit, and the links between local street prostitution and larger systems of human trafficking.  Includes a video interview with a former pimp.

Community/Family Effect

Prostitution on the community and domestic situations, describing the drug use, violence, health hazards and other adverse consequences that co-occur with street prostitution.  Includes video interviews about consequences for spouses/partners/children, and video footage showing collateral damage to communities from undercover cameras.

Financial and Other Consequences

Features a description of fines, auto seizure, shaming.  Includes video footage of the Leyden Billboards (“Johns Ordinance” narration provided by Sheriff Dart), and video of a vehicle seizure.

 Note: For city-level efforts and reports within the county, see Aurora, Calumet City, Chicago, Chicago Heights, Cicero, Des Plaines, East Hazel CrestElgin, Elmhurst, Evanston, Franklin Park, Harvey, Lansing, Leyden Township, Maywood, Schaumburg, Stickney and Stone Park.

Key Sources

State Illinois
Type County
Population 5271405
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