I recently wrote this in-depth article on the Rockford sex trade for Rockford Advocate. Prostitution is one of the city’s many social problems, but one which doesn’t get a lot of press.
Their faces are tired, aged, and embarrassed–evidence of a hard life on the streets. Mugshots of men and women caught in high profile prostitution stings are a common sight in the Rockford news. For most residents, these stories are as close as they will come to the illegal sex trade.
Yet at street corners and motels in south Rockford, prostitution has become a way of life for dozens of women. Men travel from around the stateline to pay for sex with women as young as 14, to as old as 54. News stories, arrest records, and anecdotal evidence shows Rockford has become a popular Midwestern destination for sex tourism.
Law enforcement has grappled with this problem for decades, but in a city with some of the highest violent crime rates in Illinois, prostitution often takes a backseat. Many believe it is a victimless crime enjoyed between consenting adults. Others believe it is a humanitarian tragedy. Sorting through the myths and assumptions about prostitution to uncover this murky underworld can be difficult. Little by little, however, a picture emerges of a multimillion-dollar sex industry, right in our own backyard.
Communities typically view the sex trade as a problem for law enforcement. Police respond to prostitution complaints by conducting stings and arresting prostitutes to take them off the streets. Recently, however, law enforcement agencies have increasingly focused on combating human trafficking and cracking down on demand for sexual services. Technology, including smartphone apps and advertisements for sexual services on websites like Craigslist and Backpage.com, is presenting new challenges for law enforcement.
Illinois defines prostitution-related offenses under 720 ILCS 5/Art. 11 Subdiv. 15. These crimes include prostitution, solicitation of a sexual act, promoting prostitution, promoting juvenile prostitution, patronizing a prostitute, and patronizing a minor engaged in prostitution. [Read More…]