I recently saw the film ‘The Whistleblower,’ a terrific story, badly told, that’s almost salvaged by Rachel Weisz’s brilliant performance. It’s nonetheless worth seeing to get a sense of how pervasive, and unchecked, the market for global sex trafficking has been. (‘The Whistleblower’ is based on Kathryn Bolkovac’s twelve-year-old story of uncovering DynCorp’s, and some U.N. officials’, complicity in prostitution and trafficking in Bosnia while providing ‘peacekeeping’ services there. Ultimately, no significant criminal charges were filed against anyone involved.)
So I’m delighted to discover that the state of Illinois is in the vanguard of creating laws that support the victims of trafficking and, hopefully, make it easier for those victims to bring their oppressors to justice. It’s a thorny legal minefield; it’s miserably difficult to hold up charges against these very sophisticated, well-camouflaged criminal networks and protect the clients they intend to help. But as the fourth most popular hub in America for sex-trafficking transactions, Illinois seems to be taking the problem far more seriously than most. Now the biggest problem is convincing victims to trust the new laws enough to actually come forward.
“In 2010, Illinois passed the Safe Children Act, making it the first state in the nation to give children under 18 immunity from prosecution for prostitution. That year the Cook County state’s attorney’s office created a unit to pursue criminal cases of human trafficking. In March, county prosecutors won their first case when a sex-ring organizer, Troy Bonaparte, 46, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
“On another front, a group of government and civic organizations is trying to breathe new life into the Illinois Predator Accountability Act. Passed in 2006, it is the nation’s strongest legislation for helping survivors of human trafficking. It goes a step beyond traditional anti-prostitution laws by allowing victims to file civil suits for punitive damages against suspected sex traffickers, those who pay for prostitutes, strip club proprietors and Web site publishers who knowingly benefit from the sex trade — even if no criminal charges have been filed against them.
“Yet in the five years since the law was passed, no lawsuits have been brought. Advocates blame the psychological and emotional difficulties that victims face in bringing such suits against often-violent traffickers, as well as the law’s requirement that all crimes must have occurred after 2006.
“I think finding those individuals who are ready to do this is going to be the greatest challenge,” said Daria Mueller, an author of the legislation and a senior policy analyst with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.”
The new Illinois laws: