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‘Shadow Town II’: the demand side of sex trade

Mon, Jul 21, 2014

Actors portraying trafficked girls -- the supply -- in Shadow Town, lauded as Best Top Ten Production of the Year by Chicago Theater Beat. Shadow Town II: The Johns will focus on demand.

Actors portraying trafficked girls — the supply — in Shadow Town, lauded as Best Top Ten Production of the Year by Chicago Theater Beat. Shadow Town II: The Johns will focus on demand.

The business of sex trafficking is just that, a business. It depends on the clients, or “Johns,” demanding a steady supply of vulnerable girls. As any activist (or economics professor) will tell you, the way to stop sex trafficking once and for all is to target the demand. It is the Johns who perpetuate the sex industry, not the women who are coerced into “modern day slavery.”

This is the message of “Shadow Town II: The Johns” (a sequel to “Shadow Town,” a production about trafficked girls from the Chicagoland area). According to writer/director Mary Bonnett, trafficking is also “a man’s problem although it’s masked as purely a woman’s issue.”

“Sex trafficking is widely decried, but few look at or think about its root cause: the men who purchase sex,” said Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. “[CAASE] is tremendously excited about Mary Bonnett’s new play because, unlike the typical narrative, it explores the lives of those involved in prostitution from the demand side.”

The multi-layered play focuses on a wealthy family and its interactions with a sex trafficked victim, “Baby Girl.” The men in the family include an entitled businessman patriarch, an emotionally stunted frat boy son, and an artistically minded son-in-law.

It is an exploration in secrets: the shadowed sides of our lives and their effect on loved ones. “That’s the journey the audience takes. They see how the girl is impacted, how the family is impacted, because no one walks away from this untouched,” Bonnett said.

Bonnett researched the play by interviewing Chicagoland trafficked victims and Johns. The Johns were diverse, financially and otherwise. Some were old, some young. Some had families, others didn’t.
The one thing they had in common? Denial.

“Most of these Johns perceive these girls as wanting to be there,” Bonnett said. Few would admit that the girls they bought were underage despite perhaps knowing otherwise. As Bonnett said, “you know the difference between an 11-year-old and a 23- year-old.”

Bonnett’s findings reinforced the need for a play of this nature. “Never once in all those conversations with the Johns did they acknowledge their actions as potentially harmful,” she said.
“We particularly want men’s groups attending this play to start understanding the issue and how they can be part of the solution to this new modern-day slavery, to see how our current culture impacts our young men and women,” she added. Once awareness is raised, re- form will follow.

In May, the Illinois General Assembly passed SB 3558, a bill that allocates funding to specialized services like counseling for human trafficking victims with revenue from fines on Johns. The bill, which awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature, resulted from advocacy by CAASE and its End Demand Illinois campaign.

According to Hoffer, “art and theater have a proven ability to facilitate social change, and CAASE thinks that “The Johns” may be a game-changer.”

Shadow Town II will have a post- show discussion with a rotating panel of sex trafficking experts including Hoffer and Federal Judge Virginia Kendall, who wrote a book on international child exploitation and trafficking.

Proceeds from the play will benefit the Dreamcatcher Foundation, a not-for-profit that rescues trafficked girls from the street and aids in their rehabilitation.

“Shadow Town II: The Johns” will run October 16 through November 23, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Mary Kaplan Theater in Skokie. Call 1-800- 838-3006 to reserve tickets.

Emma Peters
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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