Cook County, Illinois is the population center of the state (pop. 5.1 million) and contains the city of Chicago (pop. 2.7 million), as well as numerous smaller – but still substantial – cities and small towns and unincorporated areas. The county has experienced a wide range of problems associated with commercial sex, including child sex trafficking and homicides of both those being sold for sexual access and those who purchase them. In their efforts to combat prostitution, various agencies and non-profit organizations and neighborhood associations in the county have implemented one of the most comprehensive and aggressive portfolios of initiatives focused on combating demand for commercial sex in the United States. Nearly all of the major types of tactics used to educate, sanction, and deter sex buyers are being applied in the county. There is also a wide array of collaborators across sectors of the government, as well as private and non-for-profit organizations and groups.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, often in collaboration with city police departments, conducts frequent reverse stings and publicizes the identities of the men arrested. They also may seize the vehicles of the men arrested, who are required to pay a $500 fine in order to recover them. 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 Backpage.com decoy ads attracted an average of 19 inquiries per ad during a similar prostitution crackdown in January, 2018.
In February, 2021 another reverse sting in the NW part of the county produced the arrest of sex buyers and seizure of their vehicles. Twenty-two men were issued $1,000 citations for violation of the county’s public morals nuisance ordinance, and 19 vehicles were towed under the ordinance, requiring an additional $500 to reclaim. Another web-based operation on April, 2021 in the NW part of the county produced the arrest of an additional 21 sex buyers, cited and fined $1000, and 17 vehicles were seized. In July, 2021, another 25 sex buyers were arrested, each fined $1,000, and 21 had their vehicles seized and must pay $500 to reclaim.
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: http://voicesandfaces.org/new/EDI.html. 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
In 2013 the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Women’s Justice Services 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 efficiently provide some of the content of a traditional john school, and to allow for the material to be delivered to all arrested sex buyers, rather than just those qualifying for a diversion program or ordered to attend john school classes upon conviction. The production of the video was supported in part by the Demand Abolition program (a program of Hunt Alternatives Fund). The topics covered in the 15-minute video are:
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.
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.
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 Crest, Elgin, Elmhurst, Evanston, Franklin Park, Harvey, Lansing, Leyden Township, Maywood, Schaumburg, Stickney and Stone Park.
- Cook County Sheriff’s Offfice
- End Demand Illinois
- Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE)
- Women of Power Alumni Association
- Local police departments (e.g., Leyden Township, Rockford)
- Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
- Hunt Alternatives Fund’s Demand Abolition
- National Assessment Survey, Interviews, and Site Visit
- Reverse Stings, Shaming, and Auto Seizure:
- “Leyden Prostitution Sting Nets 20 Arrests”, Chicago Sun-Times, July 5 1993.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 22 Arrests”, Chicago Tribune, October 4 1993.
- “Prostitution Sting Brings 15 Arrests”, Chicago Tribune, May 23 1994.
- “A Prostitution Sting Nets 30 in Chicago Heights”, Chicago Tribune, October 10 1994.
- “37 Are Arrested in Prostitution Sting, Cops Say”, Chicago Tribune, July 16 1995.
- “16 Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Chicago Tribune, September 2 1995.
- “Vice Squad Cops Posing As Prostitutes Arrest 12”, Chicago Tribune, September 15 1995.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 23 Arrests by Sheriff’s Police”, Chicago Tribune, October 21 1995.
- “Ten Face Charges of Soliciting Prostitution”, Daily Herald, November 4 1995.
- “Mannheim Sex Sting Nets 10 More Arrests”, Chicago Sun-Times, November 8 1995.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 35 Arrests”, Chicago Tribune, April 1 1996.
- “23 Men Face Charges in Prostitution Sting”, Chicago Tribune, August 6 1996.
- “Des Plaines Man Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Daily Herald, August 17 1996.
- “Des Plaines Man Among 39 Arrested in West Suburban Prostitution Sting”, Daily Herald, October 29 1996.
- “5 Northwest Suburban Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Daily Herald, April 19 1997.
- “115 Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Chicago Sun-Times, June 23 1997.
- “Suburban Prostitution Sweep Nets 104”, Chicago Tribune, August 25 1997.
- “Prostitution Sweep Nabs 96 Men”, Chicago Tribune, September 22 1997.
- “Prostitution Sting Targets Cicero Ave”, Chicago Tribune, May 30 1999.
- “Mannheim Sting”, Northlake Herald-Journal, August 1 2001.
- “Police Nab 41 Men in Sex Sting”, Chicago Tribune, September 1 2001.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets 106 Men”, Chicago Tribune, November 8 2003.
- “Over 250 Arrested in Countywide Prostitution Crackdown”, ABC/WLS-TV, July 25 2007.
- “New Vehicle-Impound Rule a Moneymaker, Dart Says”, Chicago Tribune, August 6 2007.
- “Police Arrest 7 in Mannheim Road Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WMAQ-TV, July 30 2008.
- “12-Year-Old Girls Lured into Prostitution”, Carmi Times, August 25 2011.
- “Area Police Agencies Take Part in Nationwide Prostitution Sting”, Chicago Tribune, October 11 2011.
- “Cook County Leads 8-State Prostitution Sting, Nets 565 Arrests”, CBS/WBBM-TV 2, February 7 2012.
- “Mannheim Prostitution Sting Nets 27 Arrests”, Franklin Park Herald-Journal, March 17 2012.
- “66 Cook Co. Arrests Part of National Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WLS-TV, August 22 2012.
- “The Prostitutes Aren’t the Problem: Targeting the Johns”, Daily Beast, May 22 2013.
- “Experts Increasingly Apply ‘Trafficking’ Label to Prostitution”, Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, September 22 2013.
- “Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Sting Nets over 500 Sex Buyers, 30 Pimps,” Press Release, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, February 9 2016.
- “Chicago’s Sexual Trafficking Machine and the Crusaders Who Fight It.” Chicago Magazine, December 2017.
- https://chicago.suntimes.com/22-men-arrested-cook-county-prostitution-sting (2021)
- https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/21-arrested-in-cook-county-prostitution-sting (2021)
- https://www.fox32chicago.com/news/prostitution-sting-results-in-the-arrest-of-25-johns-in-cook-county (2021)
- Web Stings:
- “Craigslist Prostitution by Sheriff’s Police Nets 76 Arrests”, E-News Park Forest, June 15 2008.
- “Experts Increasingly Apply ‘Trafficking’ Label to Prostitution”, Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, September 22 2013.
- https://patch.com/illinois/chicago/75-sex-buyers-cook-co-arrested-prostitution-crackdown (2018)
- https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/2021/4/9/22376531/21-arrested-cook-county-prostitution-sting (2021)
- https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/21-arrested-in-cook-county-prostitution-sting/2482850/ (2021)
- “Cops Warn Johns in Writing”, Chicago Tribune, August 30 2010.
- “Anti-Prostitution Signs Near O’Hare”, Chicago Tribune, August 30 2010.
- “Cook Co. Cracking Down on Prostitution Clientele”, ABC/KGO-TV, August 30 2010.
- Public Education Program for Boys:
- Public Morals Nuisance Ordinance:
- Community Service:
- Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “A Child of the Streets Finds Better Road”, Chicago Tribune, May 22 1985.
- “Woman Lured Girl for Prostitution”, Chicago Tribune, June 22 2006.
- “Internet Escort Bust Nets 3 Girls; Cops Cracking Down on Web Get Surprise– Youngest Suspect 14”, Chicago Tribune, January 12 2007.
- “Cops Uncover Global Trafficking of Women”, Chicago Tribune, October 17 2009.
- “State Awaits New Sex Trafficking Law”, Chicago Tribune, June 24 2010.
- “Children Rescued from Alleged Prostitution Ring”, ABC/KGO-TV 7, November 8 2010.
- “CHICAGO”, Chicago Tribune, July 13 2011.
- “9 Accused of Pimping Girls”, Chicago Tribune, August 25 2011.
- “Chicago Police Officer Were Part of Human Traffic on the Streets”, Chicago Tribune, August 27 2011.
- “Women Accused of Pimping Teen”, Chicago Tribune, September 12 2011.
- “Tips Offered to Help ID Human Trafficking”, Chicago Tribune, February 23 2012.
- “Illinois Legislation Takes on Sex Trafficking, But Dangers Remain”, Chicago Reporter, April 6 2012.
- “Task Force Targets Child Traffickers”, Chicago Tribune, May 14 2012.
- “Bonds Set in Prostitution Arrests of Wisconsin Women”, Chicago Tribune, April 13 2013.
- “Suburban Man Accused of Forcing Girl into Prostitution”, CW/WGN-TV 9, June 2 2013.
- “Cook County Court Clears Sex Trafficking Victim of Prostitution Record”, Chicago Tribune, August 23 2013.
- “Three Plead Guilty to Forcing Women into Prostitution; Trio Targeted Poor or Homeless Women, Hooked Them on Drugs”, NBC/WMAQ-TV 5, July 18 2014.
- “Man Accused of Promoting Prostitution of a Minor after Undercover Sting,” Chicago Tribune, January 10 2016.
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Program Seeks to Help City’s Prostitutes”, Chicago Tribune, August 7 2003.
- “Prostitution Arrests Jump 4.5 Percent”, Chicago Tribune, March 20 2009.
- “Prostitution Law Overhaul Pushed; Advocates Target Customers, Seek Help From Women”, Chicago Tribune, September 17 2009.
- “Cook Co. Cracking Down on Prostitution Clientele”, ABC/KGO-TV 7, August 30 2010.
- “Who’s a Victim? More Law Enforcers Treating Homegrown Prostitution as Human Sex Trafficking”, Washington Post, September 2 2013.
- “Cook County Establishes Diversion Program for Prostitution Defendants,” Chicago Daily Herald, May 29 2015.
- “West Side Man Charged with Promoting Prostitution at Schiller Park Hotel,” Chicago Tribune, February 21 2016.
- Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Research on Demand in the Area: