Annual Meeting

Illinois Law Taking New Approach to Sex Slavery Should Be Praised, Says Cook County State's Attorney


Anita Alvarez is the Cook County State's Attorney. ©Kathy Anderson 2012

Legislation adopted in 2010 by the Illinois General Assembly points the way toward how states can become more effective in fighting the growing national problem of human trafficking, said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez today at the ABA’s 2012 Annual Meeting.

The Illinois Safe Children Act points to the need to attack the sex trade involving children and young women, along with other forms human trafficking, as a local and state problem, said Alvarez. Cook County encompasses Chicago, where this year’s Annual Meeting is being held.

“We tend to see this as a new issue and an international issue,” said Alvarez at a program sponsored by the ABA Section of International Law, “but that’s because we’re coming at it anew. It does happen here. What we see is that most of the children forced into the sex trade are local.”

Alvarez’s office drafted the Safe Children’s Act, one of only 10 state laws in the country that target human trafficking. The The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws is about a year away from producing a final version of a uniform law on human trafficking that would be recommended to the states for adoption, said Professor Anita Ramasastry, a law professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who is vice-chair of the conference’s human trafficking drafting committee.

A key provision of the Illinois act seeks to identify women and children pulled into the sex trade as victims rather than perpetrators by decriminalizing prostitution involving minors. “A 12-year-old girl isn’t a prostitute subject to prosecution, she’s a victim,” said Alvarez. “No 12-year-old girl is out there doing this on her own.”

Another key provision of the act allows law enforcement authorities to use wiretaps in human trafficking investigations. That provision was applied for the first time in Cook County a year ago in Operation Little Girl Lost. In their investigation, authorities intercepted thousands of telephone calls between offenders, their associates and customers. Some of women and girls involved in the trafficking were as young as 12, said Alvarez. Cases are proceeding against nine suspects arrested in the investigation, and their cases are pending.

All of the defendants are alleged gang members, which reflects a disturbing trend, said Alvarez. “The gangs are into this business now, and once-rival gangs have become business partners,” she said. Older gang members, especially, “are finding it an easier way to make money than pushing dope on the street.”

Incoming ABA President Laurel Bellows has made the fight against human trafficking one of her presidential priorities, and she is appointing a task force to coordinate the ABA’s work on the issue in conjunction with other groups.

Updated Aug. 8 to correctly name the Illinois Safe Children Act and The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

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