In an effort to raise awareness about human trafficking, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, along with the Commission on Women’s Issues, is sponsoring a public hearing, “Ending the Exploitation of Women & Girls.” The event takes place at 9:00 am on Thursday, September 19. It will be available to live-stream online as well.
Two featured speakers, Marian Hatcher and Brenda Myers-Powell are local survivors of the sex trafficking trade. They both overcame abuse and violence and are now leaders of anti-trafficking efforts in Cook County.
Below is a question and answer with Hatcher and Myers-Powell, along with Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, where they discuss the problem of sex trafficking, progress made over the past few years, and what we need to focus on as we continue to combat this problem.
1. What is the nature of the problem of human trafficking in Cook County?
Hatcher: Sex trafficking is a human rights issue, an illegal economy thriving on underserved and vulnerable populations in our community. It feeds upon temporary or life-long traumaticevents in an individual’s journey to acquire and maintain basic resources for survival. The intersection of supply, demand and a prime location has made Cook County a hunting ground for sex traffickers and solicitors.
Alvarez: Both sex and labor trafficking are a very real problem in Cook County. Chicago has been identified by the FBI as a hub, because we are a convention city, a transportation hub and a tourist destination. In particular, we have seen a large amount of domestic sex trafficking. However, we know labor trafficking is thriving here as well.
2. In October 2007, the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues published a report titled “The Realities of Human Trafficking in Cook County: Strategies for Ending the Exploitation of Women and Girls.” In this report, the Commission made sixteen recommendations to help end human trafficking in Cook County. How have these recommendations assisted you in your efforts to end human trafficking in Cook County?
Hatcher: The Cook County Sheriff’s Office has trained more than 200 law enforcement agencies and NGOs on our human trafficking response team law enforcement model. Specifically, we provide specialized trauma informed services for women and girls in addition to supporting legislative efforts impacting adult and juvenile victims. Most notably, the ongoing “National Day of Johns Arrests” brings together law enforcement partners in 36 jurisdictions to combat demand, with 1,473 total Johns arrests to this point.
Alvarez: In some areas, the recommendations have been achieved while there is still work to be done on others. For example, the recommendation regarding coalitions is a bit outdated, many of the coalitions that were identified no longer exist. However, the entities are working together in partnership in new ways, for example, through the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force that we began in 2010.
3. What should be our main focus as we continue to fight to end human trafficking in Cook County?
Hatcher: Combating demand should be the paramount focus. Men must hold each other accountable and communities must continue to work with law enforcement and legislators to increase criminal penalties for purchasers of sex and ensure they also receive much need services to address what drives this behavior. We need to educate our community that this is not a victimless crime and that it should be taken as seriously as domestic violence.
Alvarez: The unprecedented partnership between law enforcement and service providers continues to be an integral part of the response. Funding, of course, is always a need as is specialized training for law enforcement and the judiciary. We have made some great progress in these areas that should be built on.
4. Please share with us one of your personal experiences/connections with human trafficking.
Hatcher: As a survivor of human trafficking, I have been kidnapped, raped and beaten. The only saving grace from these experiences is that they have provided me with the ability to relate with young women going through similar experiences today. The emergency interventions we conduct allow them to emerge from their circumstances to become safe and stable through treatment, eventually returning to their families prepared to live out their potential and carry on productive lives. These profound experiences remind me that this is God’s work. I believe He saved me so that I could in turn help save others.
Myers-Powell: I am a survivor of human trafficking. At the age of fifteen I was kidnapped by two pimps, thrown in a trunk and forced to prostitute for months on the street and at truck stops. That was 39 years ago in 1973 and now in 2013 I hear the same horror stories from young girls and women with whom I work.
Alvarez: As a prosecutor, it just didn’t make sense that we were not addressing a crime that is so prevalent and so destructive to our communities, particularly women and children. As a mother, I know that children are not out there on the streets as entrepreneurs, choosing to engage in prostitution. That is why passing the Safe Children’s Act here in Illinois was so imperative. Those have been my biggest connections.
5. Looking back, what was the single most helpful thing/person/program that helped you get back on your feet and ‘Leave the life’?
Hatcher: Sheriff Tom Dart’s vision afforded me the multidisciplinary integrated treatment program at the Cook County Jail I so badly needed at that point in my life. The program addressed underlying stressors and un-addressed issues that brought me to jail (and nearly prison) in the first place. In the short term, it provided me a safe haven rather than being on the street, where I would suffer daily abuse and torment. In the long term, Sheriff Dart’s program offered me the physical and mental safety that saved me from myself. It taught me coping and life skills, allowing me to live a healthy life. I became a productive member of society again and developed the sense of family and teamwork that I had been missing for so many years.
Myers-Powell: Being afforded the privilege of working with these women has actually served as an integral part of my lifelong recovery process. I spent 39 years being victimized. I was shot five times and stabbed over 13 times, always under pimp control because I saw no way out. I connect with these women and girls because I was once them.
6. State’s Attorney Alvarez, what has been your most successful accomplishment/achievement since you have been fighting to end human trafficking in Cook County?
Alvarez: I am so proud of the work that has been done here in Cook County, not just by my office, but all of those that we partner with. For me, the biggest accomplishments have been the creation of our entire human trafficking initiative, the passage of legislation to support our efforts and that as of now, we have charged 78 defendants in Illinois with human trafficking and related charges.
Marian Hatcher has been with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) for 9 years. As Special Projects Assistant for the Sheriff’s Women’s Justice Programs, she is a member of the CCSO Human Trafficking Response Team and coordinates several CCSO’s anti-trafficking efforts such as the “National Day of Johns Arrests,” a nationwide effort with more than 36 participating law enforcement agencies (including the FBI) targeting the buyers of sex as the driving force of sex trafficking and prostitution.
Brenda Myers-Powell advocacy for women’s rights started in 1997, working with marginalized women from Chicago’s west and south sides who were trying to exit prostitution and drugs. Since this time she has been instrumental in working with special population as an advocator for marginalized women and teens. As a community organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), she has assisted in organizing, training and empowering women to speak with legislators in Springfield and encourage them to use their own voices to bring change for their communities and themselves.