FOX 32 Investigates Sex Trafficking: The human cost

FOX 32 Investigates Sex Trafficking: The rescue

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Prostitution is a brutal business and it's closer than you think. Now, those battling sex trafficking are uncovering the real face of the crime and betting that once people know more, they'll know better.

Brenda Myers Powell is one of four former prostitutes on the sheriff's payroll. She's there when women get picked up during sex trafficking stings and offers them a chance to escape the life through the Cook County's Women's Justice Program.

One young girl was surprised to have someone offer her services.

"I mean, it was my first time getting arrested for prostitution," the girl says. "I thought they were going to end up in jail."

Women caught selling sex are lucky to end up here.

"They can clean up, they can rest, re-energize and be safe, that's the key," Baker says. "We try to re-educate them and teach them a better way. You know as far as their education, job placement and so forth."

Most of the inmates in the program have drug problems. Sex traffickers routinely get their workers hooked to control them, and if they die or go to prison, they'll just be replaced. They're disposable in a high-demand industry.

Men picked up in the sheriff's reverse sting operations are required to watch a video called "Johns School," which show real life accounts of the risks: sexually transmitted diseases, ruined lives, and exploitation.

On Manheim Road, all the undercover stings in recent years have almost dried up the once blatant sex trade. Customers are scared off to other places.

We found some of the local spots advertised online just this week, purporting to sell massages with perks like "wandering hands." Customers then post "reviews" of the services.

"We've arrested thousands of people now, off these ads," Dart says about the online postings. "Not once -- not once, have we ever had to apologize and say 'oh my God, it really is a massage, our mistake, we gotta leave.'"

But law enforcement needs the help of public outrage instead of people ignoring or avoiding the signs of sex trafficking. Some of which include the scantily clad women walking the track, the house on the block with a constant stream of men, or the thinly veiled propositions in personal service ads on the internet.

Someone has even posted a video on YouTube of a pimp beating one of his women in the middle of Madison Street. No one intervened.

It's no wonder prostituted people feel there's no way out.

"Some girls are ready for the help, and some girls are not," says Powell. "We just arrested her, she was on the street, she wasn't thinking of turning her life around at the time when she just got arrested."

When the women do accept the services, the sheriff reports a very high success rate. They're not coming back to jail time after time, doing hard time, or dying. Its' a good deal for tax payers, compared to sex trafficking, which is not.

RESOURCE LINKS:

To get help or give an anonymous tip, visit the Dream Catcher Foundation website or the Cook County Sheriff's Women's Justice Services site.

Visit the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation's site to donate to state's campaign to end sexual exploitation.

You can also donate and learn more about the state's response to prostitution and sex trafficking at END Demand Illinois' website.

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