Supporters of a bill that would allow victims of the sex trade to sue their abusers for civil damages expressed hope last week that Gov. Rod Blagojevich will sign it into law.
House Bill 1299, the Predator Accountability Act, cleared the Senate March 30 and was unanimously approved by the Illinois House of Representatives on last Wednesday. It now goes to the governor, where a spokesman said it is “under review.”
The bill was drafted by the policy department of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and was modeled after existing legislation in Florida and Minnesota.
“This is not a typical bill,” said State Sen, Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) who has been working to pass the bill for more than two years. “Our legislation is much better and stronger; we are taking current [Illinois] law and expanding on it.”
According to a statement released April 5 by the coalition, current Illinois law offers limited recourse for victims of the sex trade to sue those who profit from their victimization.
Daria Mueller, a policy specialist for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said law enforcement is overly focused on arresting and convicting prostitutes. Pimps account for less then 1 percent of prostitution-related arrests, she said.
“[Police] are looking at the prostitutes as the problem,” Mueller said. “This bill is important because it acknowledges the inherently abusive, violent, coercive nature of the sex trade.”
The legislation would require those bringing suits to only show that their resulting injuries – whether physical, emotional or financial were caused by those who exploited them.
If approved, the legislation will require plaintiffs to prove that they were the victim of prostitution, sex trafficking, and/or the sex trade in order to seek monetary compensation.
Samir Goswami, associate director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said victims in civil court will have to prove they were recruited and maintained in the sex trade, and that someone profited from them.
“There are women who are now leading productive lives,” Martinez said of victims of Illinois’ sex trade industry. “But they have emotional and sometimes physical scars from past abuse and they deserve compensation.”
Goswami said it would be hard for the victims to prove the abuse in court.
“Getting that first case will empower others to come forward and it will set a precedent,” Goswami said. “There is power in numbers so [a number of people] could go up against one person or one strip club.”
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless works with survivors of prostitution. Goswami said it is the survivors that will network and reach out to people currently being exploited, and who may be difficult to reach.
“This will send a strong message that if you engage [in the sex trade] you are going to be held accountable,” Goswami said.
Gov. Blagojevich has 60 days from the day the bill arrives on his desk to pass or veto it.
According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, between 16,000 and 25,000 women are involved in prostitution each year, in addition to 6,500 youth.