On ‘Choosing’ Prostitution and a New View of Human Trafficking
Religion & Liberty Online

On ‘Choosing’ Prostitution and a New View of Human Trafficking

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is infamous for its open prostitution. Now, though, it’s being used to raise awareness that what you see may not be what you believe it to be.

In Chicago, police are working to help victims of human trafficking who may have traditionally been viewed simply as prostitutes and arrested as such. It’s a new mindset, says Michael Anton, commander of the Cook County Sheriff’s vice unit.

It’s almost similar to a domestic violence issue…A lot of (people) say, ‘Well, they can just get out.’ Well, it’s not that easy.”

First, the police are focusing on arresting “johns”, and the fines run high: over $2000. That money is then used to help women who want to work towards a normal life. If the women successfully complete the program, they are not charged with prostitution, and may receive lesser charges for crimes like drug possession.

Tiffany Schipitz, a 35-year-old inmate, said she eventually escaped from a pimp who threatened to kill her if she didn’t work for him.

“I’d never been put out on the street. I’m a white suburbanite girl.. That was unheard of growing up,” Schipitz says, describing how she fled the car of the first man who came to pick her up for sex. Eventually, though, she ended up back on the street, high, looking to earn more money for drugs.

“The next thing I know, I’m out on that corner, taking cars – one, two, three – like it’s nothing,” she says.

Another city trying a similar program is Anaheim, Calif. where Sgt. Craig Friesen works as head of the vice squad.

I never met any prostitute who said, ‘This was my ultimate goal in life,'” Friesen says. “They’ve all been brought into this life by someone. They’ve been exploited by someone.”

When determining who’s a victim of trafficking, though, his officers are trained to look for signs of coercion. They might ask a hotel clerk if the prostitute was not allowed to speak, or seemed frightened, when checking into a room. They look for bruises and other signs of abuse and bring in former prostitutes to do the interviews.

“You can dig more deeply and ask specific questions,” say Friesen, whose department began working with a local social service agency in 2010 in hopes of getting help for prostitutes and cutting the number of repeat offenders.

Those who work with the women (and men) say that the success of leaving prostitution behind, along with the relationships – twisted as they may be – with pimps and others responsible for trafficking is largely dependent on the prostitutes themselves. While there still are not many programs like the ones highlighted here, organizations like the Salvation Army are beginning to offer services to those who want to remove themselves from prostitution. However, “[v]ictims assistance is the weakest link in the chain,” says Mark Ensalaco, a trafficking expert who’s director of the human rights studies program at the University of Dayton.

Also, there is much education to be done in the field of law enforcement, since changing the view of prostitution as a crime to a state of victimhood is a tough sell, according to Bridgette Carr, a trafficking expert and clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan. She says that “the people who are supposed to enforce these new laws – still have a difficult time seeing prostitutes as victims, even when they’re young.”

Prostitution is often jokingly referred to as the world’s oldest profession, and prostitutes are seen as people who’ve chosen an unseemly life in order to gain drugs and/or money. But to reiterate the words of Sgt. Friesen, “I never met any prostitute who said, ‘This was my ultimate goal in life.'” Human trafficking, in the sex trades and otherwise, degrades the human spirit and utilizes people as “things” rather than ensouled creations made in the image and likeness of God.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.