A Growing Problem: Sheriff, Activist Weigh In On Sex Trafficking in Lake County
The direct link between pornography and human trafficking is growing as technology advancements are being made, according to a local activist and officials with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.
“Everytime I talk to a victim, it (pornography) was always used to lower their inhibitions and and served as a training tool for sex trafficking,” said Elizabeth Yore, a Lake Forest resident who spent 30 years in the legal field for child advocacy and now works as a consultant to help raise awareness of a problem she says has gotten worse and worse in recent years.
“More and more nowadays people are accessing prostitutes through the internet,” she said. “About 76 percent of the inner activity is on the internet through email or any other way of communicating electronically.
Yore – who has served as Special Counsel for Harpo, Inc. as Oprah Winfrey’s child advocate and was General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services – says the internet has essentially become “a marketplace for predators and human traffickers.”
“In the early 1990s, there was virtually no child pornography,” she said. “The adult book stores that had it were all shut down. The only way to transport it would be to send a VHS tape through the mail. Now, the internet comes and people have access to it at the click of a mouse. All the pimps can now collaborate on tactics to get these women.”
“Pornography is the cause of all of this,” Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said in agreement. “It all goes back to the movie, Risky Business – where you call from an ad you see in the newspaper and have an escort come over. Our research has shown that there’s a good chance that if you call one over, she is being trafficked.”
“I have worked human trafficking and missing persons cases all around the world and have found that some of these kids that are on the run as runaways are lured into prostitution at a high degree,” Yore said.
Some will be placed for work in strip clubs or escort services as young as age 12 or 13.
While the female victims make next to nothing for doing the work, it is the men that control them that end up profiting the most, Yore says.
“The girls often live in sleezebag hotels, sometimes with 6 or 7 other girls while the guys all have fancy jewelry, nice cars and live in mansions in the southwest suburbs,” she said, noting that with these cases piling up in communities around the world, human trafficking has ballooned into a $32 billion business.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Department has been “all over this” issue for a long time, Curran said.
“We’ve had some major stings on Johns for years now,” he said.
Ed Haras, deputy chief of the criminal investigations division, explains that the department will post female detectives at hotels and have the guys go to those locations – but will also have a male officer posted in a hotel and have a prostitute delivered.
Stings have occurred “all throughout the county,” Haras said. Usually 10 to 20 people are arrested over the course of two days, with operations recently taking place in Highland Park, Waukegan, Barrington and Lake Zurich.
Yore applauds the Sheriff’s department in Lake County and other areas where police have taken similar serious approaches to curbing the problem.
The stings help “slow down the supply and interfere with the demand side of this illegal activity,” she said.
“But we know they are all just a drop in the bucket when you think of the hundreds and thousands involved. It does, however, send a message that if you respond to these ads you may be walking in to a police sting.”
Many of those stings occur through Backpage, an internet site notorious for being a platform for illegal activity most commonly prostitution.
But it isn’t just the internet. Haras said the problem has existed long before the Internet was accessible to everyone, although it has made the issue “more mainstream” and “visible to the public.”
Yore says the old fashioned massage parlor, strip club and “gentlemen’s club” are still prime locales for trafficking.
“We look at various strip clubs, massage parlors and gentlemen’s clubs, all of which are potentially venues where this activity is ongoing under the cover of a legitimate business,” Yore said. “You’ll go in and find out prostitution is occurring and many of the victims are underage.”
Even with an increased number of stings and awareness events, like one planned by the Sheriff’s Department for the College of Lake County in April on the link between pornography and trafficking – law enforcement and activists are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to sex trafficking.
Yore points out one thing that could be done right away, however.
“We need to have more places for these women to go to escape this life,” she said, pointing out that there is only one location in the Chicago suburbs that allows for eight women to get vocational training and medical and psychological services.
“That’s only 8 beds for 16,000-25,000 women that need them,” she said. “No money is being put in to provide long-term care, and that is the real tragedy.”
As Yore points out, the industry is a lucrative one throughout the world, but it is close to home as well. This February’s ‘National Day of Johns’ prostitution sting that is usually held during the week of the Super Bowl netted 570 arrests around the nation, with 19 occurring in Lake County.
“It’s a big problem locally – though not in particular of one area,” Haras said, noting that sting numbers through the different Lake County cities, villages and towns seem to be on par with one another.
“No matter where you go, you’ll find a lot of undocumented people that are being taken advantage of and do not have the resources to get out of it,” Curran added.
‘How to Help’
“If the public sees suspicious activity – they should report it,” Curran said. “Families should also educate themselves on how to not become victims of internet crimes. Software is available on home computers to prevent predators from reaching your family.”
“If you see something that’s not right – maybe it’s a nail salon where the women are submissive and don’t speak English and all the money is being handled by one man – make a report,” she said. “Those are the kind of things that break things wide open, when the public can point out that something’s not right.”