FOX 32 Investigates Sex Trafficking: Targeting the `johns` - KMSP-TV

FOX 32 Investigates Sex Trafficking: Targeting the `johns`

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Women who are caught selling sex are usually arrested, but what about the men? FOX 32 is taking an in-depth look at the fight against sex trafficking, with what many say should have started decades ago: targeting the johns.

Undercover sheriff's officers posing as prostitutes say they attracted men taking a quick break from work, hoping to purchase a quickie from a working girl. They were caught up in a reverse sting.

Our cameras made their very bad day even worse. Accused would-be johns like to remain John Doe's, but now, they're no longer anonymous. The Cook County sheriff has their names, their vehicles and soon, lots of their money. Then, they have to go home.

"I think it's hard to justify the thousand, $1,500 plus your car being gone, to the family," an undercover officer says.

In the sordid world of sex for sale, getting arrested is not the worst that can happen.

"They can be robbed, they can be beaten up," explains johns sting commander Michael Anton. "On occasions, we've had people that have been shot."

Buyers, though, often claim police should not be coming after them. One man told our cameras, he believes he himself is the victim, not the prostitutes.

In fact, most of the people working in the sex trade have been brutalized and exploited since childhood. Patricia is one survivor.

"From the ages of 8 to 12, I had been molested," Patricia explains. "And then when I decided to tell my mother, she didn't really believe me, so she put me out."

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is leading a national movement to push law enforcement out of the dark ages on sex trafficking. Dart says they usually always arrest the person being prostituted and let the johns go.

"Then someone put their claws in them, feeds them full of heroin and basically feeds them a little bit as long as they service five to twenty guys a day, and then they don't get beat," Dart says.

"Pretty much it was seen as a pure victimless crime," he continues. "A nuisance. Let's get the prostitute off the street because the neighbors are complaining, but other than that, who cares?"

People who battle sexual exploitation welcome the shift to treating the customers like criminals - and they say johns are feeling the heat.

"Law enforcement is finally saying, ‘we've been arresting and re-arresting women for years, nothings changing!' Maybe it's time to shift our tactic," says Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitations' Rachel Durchslag. "And so you stop the demand, and the sex trade dissolves because there's no reason for it to exist."

Researcher Lara Janson just spent two years immersed in the web chat of sex buyers. The internet has given them a place to gather,

"They don't want their family to find out," Janson explains. "They don't want their workplace to find out, and so it starts to work, they report that they are going to stop their hobby, that the hobby isn't worth it, if it means that it jeopardizes other parts of their life. For whatever reason that men get into purchasing sex, they become a tight community, a brotherhood."

One site alone has 300,000 registered users, and even more visitors, offering tips on buying sex in every community. Most of them claim to be happily married or partnered and just looking for the kind of sex only money can buy.

"There's an active fantasy that the men on these forums construct about an ideal sexual experience," Janson adds.

Sheriff Tom Dart believes that the sites are "clearly being manipulated and used by people for carrying out crimes."

The sheriff says the internet is fueling an explosion in sex trafficking, but it's also a tool that law enforcement can use. Guys may find the hotspot they read about online turned into the worst date of their lives.

If you're caught paying for a prostitute as a first offender, you'll pay at least $1,100 between the impound and citation for violating the public morals ordinance. The fine doubles after that, but the commander says they don't get many repeats because men don't usually want to take that risk again.

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