Posted by StreetWise in From the Streets
Legislation that would allow victims of sex trafficking an affirmative defense and hearings before a judge when they are concerned about their safety in open court has passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly and been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“Early on, End Demand Illinois listened to survivors who shared stories of how unsafe the court proceedings can be—from pimps watching the hearing to court personnel who wouldn’t listen to them,” said officials of the advocacy group in prepared material. SB1588 addresses the survivors’ concerns by establishing a safety procedure that End Demand Illinois said would be the first in the nation.
Janell Wheeler, a victim of sex trafficking after family trauma led her to seek shelter on the streets, provided testimony for Illinois House and Senate committees.
“I met this guy who was supposed to be my lover, my mama, my sister and my brother,” Wheeler said in an Illinois Senate Democrats video on You Tube.
“As time went on, he beat me when I didn’t want to go out.” Wheeler said. “He beat me when I didn’t want to have sex with him. Instead of get beat all the time, I just had to follow his needs,…I had no say-so in my own life. I was degraded. In the process of being prostituted, I have been raped, beaten. He would even beat me if someone pulled a gun on me and took the money….I was trapped in something that I wanted to get out but I had no resources of how to get out. I went to jail, to the penitentiary, but I always wind up going back to him. There was nothing else for me except to back to him….You don’t know how hard it is to want something that you want to get out so bad but you don’t have no help and don’t know where to go. Who was I going to go to? Another hooker, another pimp?”
When crimes are committed in the act of self-defense, entrapment or insanity, the affirmative defense means the defendant is not liable for them, according to the Cornell University Law School online legal dictionary.
State Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago), who originated the bill in the Illinois Senate, said that the affirmative defense acknowledges that a woman was a victim of human trafficking, so that she could say, “ ‘I had no choice, I am trapped in the situation, there was a man or men behind it,’ basically enslaving her to gain from her body, she was an object of this business.” state Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago), who originated the bill in the Senate, said of the affirmative defense. State Rep. Elgie Sims Jr. (D-Chicago) was the original sponsor in the House.
Mulroe said the affirmative defense and courtroom procedures were “a step to get them out of that world that is unimaginable to most people in the state of Illinois…a step where we can help these women get out of that situation and put them in a safer place.”
According to the text of SB1588, the court would first conduct an in camera hearing with lawyers present to discern the defendant’s safety. If the hearing found that a hearing in open court could endanger the defendant or others, the courtroom could be cleared and further in camera hearings could proceed with the affirmative defense. The record of the hearing would be kept under seal.
Rauner Press Secretary Catherine Kelly wrote in an email June 9 that “The governor will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk.”
The legislation would be the sixth law in six years for End Demand Illinois, which partnered with Heartland Alliance, Project IRENE and Cabrini Green Legal Aid. End Demand Illinois is a campaign of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) that seeks to hold pimps and buyers of commercial sex liable for trafficking and to provide comprehensive services for prostituted people. Education of Illinoisans and elected officials is yet another goal.