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IL legislators seek to remove felony prostitution

Wed, May 8, 2013

The Illinois Senate, by a vote of 53-1 approved a bill on April 11 to remove the felony prostitution upgrade, for repeated offenses and incidents occurring near a school. This bill was proposed by the End Demand Illinois (EDI) campaign and, if approved by the Illinois House, will render all prostitution offenses a class-A misdemeanor and ineligible for felony status.

The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), the lead agency for EDI, works to relieve communities from all forms of sexual exploitation through prevention, policy reform, community engagement and legal services. In a press release, the CAASE expressed its support for the removal of the felony upgrade calling the old situation “expensive and ineffective.” Illinois is one of only eight states to keep prostitution a felony, CAASE said.

Furthermore, CAASE says the felony charge is unfair because people who purchase services from prostitutes rarely receive similar charges. The felony “patronizing a prostitute” charge has had less than 10 convictions since its adoption in 2010. Last year Illinois arrested 1,875 people for prostitution and only 95 for the misdemeanor charge of solicitation. This disproportionately penalized women over men.

Many prostitutes face “chronic homelessness, mental health or substance abuse issues, and engage in prostitution for basic necessities such as food and shelter,” according to an EDI fact sheet. Human trafficking is also a large contributor to the issue so that many prostitution defendants are victims, not criminals, CAASE officials said.

Ill. Sen. William Haine (D-Alton) said that he hopes this bill will inspire state law enforcement to shift its focus from criminalizing victims of trafficking and exploitation to bringing the traffickers themselves to justice. “Evil-doers are those who exploit,” Haine said at a hearing according to CAASE prepared materials.

CAASE says that felony status is not slowing current rates of prostitution, although it does hinder a formerly incarcerated person’s chances for finding sustainable employment. Ill. Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) said he was convinced during the hearing when he heard a woman tell her story of being unable to find employment because of her felony status. Lack of alternatives can thus push women back into prostitution.

“If we want to stop the cycle of sexual exploitation in Illinois, we must offer survivors of the sex trade the support and services they need to start over,” said Ill. Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights).

The cost of the felony option was another factor in consideration of the change. In 2012, over $2 million was spent on 127 Illinois felony prosecutions and between $5.3 and $9.5 million was spent by the Cook County Department of Corrections on pretrial detention.

Only seven other states maintain felony options for prostitution convictions: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Texas.

By Ethan Ross
From Prepared Materials

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