Friday, March 18, 2016 || Originally Published: Cook County Chronicle || 3/16/16 || By Jean Lotus || Photo, left, of James Taylor
The runaway girl, age 16, was waiting in a room on the second floor of the Travel Inn in Broadview around 11:30 p.m. Jan. 8 when an undercover Cook County Sheriff’s officer entered the room.
The sheriff’s Police Vice Unit had seen an online posting on Backpage.com showing four pictures of the girl in different poses. An officer called the number listed on the ad, and a female voice told him she would agree to a “date” for $160 for a half-hour or $200 for a full hour. She texted the officer a location over the phone and asked him to text when he was close by.
“Now so much of the sex trade has been driven online,” said Marian Hatcher of the Cook County Human Trafficking Response Team. “We have to be very creative with online sex trafficking because of the anonymity behind it.”
In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the National Johns Suppression Initiative, a program spearheaded by Sheriff Tom Dart, ran a nationwide anti-prostitution sweep. Between Jan. 17-Feb. 7, law enforcement agencies in 14 states arrested 550 “johns.” Officials recovered more than 70 adults and three minors who were engaged in selling sex and they made 33 sex trafficking arrests.
Back in the hotel room, the girl agreed to perform sexual acts for $200 and stuffed bills into her left sock. When she turned to enter the bathroom, the officer opened the hallway door and fellow officers rushed in to make an arrest.
But while they were interviewing the teen, officers heard someone attempting to enter the room. Two men were trying to enter with the magnetic key card. One, James R. Taylor, 26, of Broadview was found to have rented the room and had been prostituting the girl, who had been missing from her home since Thanksgiving, sheriff’s police said.
Taylor, who the girl knew as “Lil Bae” was charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor, promoting prostitution of a minor and trafficking for benefits. Bail for Taylor was set at $250,000 and he is currently in Cook County Jail.
Hatcher said trafficking of girls and boys is not limited to the time around the Super Bowl.
“We see the demand increase around political conventions and any conventions in Chicago,” Hatcher said. “But this is going on every day.”
In Cook County during the sting, 79 men were arrested for attempting to buy sex in Broadview, Lansing and Matteson.
The sheriff’s department offers immediate services to women and men picked up for prostitution with a special twist: Three sheriff’s employees, including Hatcher, who participate in the arrests are themselves victims of human trafficking. Twenty-three women in the recent sting were rescued and offered services.
“We can talk to them from the perspective of someone who’s gone through what they’re going through,” Hatcher said. “My story shows it can happen to anyone.”
Hatcher said a violent marriage drove her to “try to escape” her corporate job and family. She said she fell in with a pimp who, “kept me high and used me to feed his own drug habit.” She said she was lured into a world of “basement sex parties” being “sold to men and women and up for weeks at a time on crack cocaine.”
“Things can spiral into hell,” she said. “I was raped, beaten and kidnapped. I was made vulnerable to the worst of the worst. The criminal justice system saved my life.” Saying she’s been sober for 12 years now, she calls the police who rescued her from prostitution “angels with handcuffs.”
There is big money to be made in prostitution and the demand is steady. Working with the Broadview police department, the sheriff’s department set up two stings in January and February at the same hotel where Taylor was arrested. A total of 25 men answered fake online ads and found themselves in handcuffs. Stings at hotels in Stickney and Dolton netted another 54 johns.
Any woman who is arrested for prostitution in Cook County is “treated as a victim,” said sheriff’s spokesman Benjamin Breit. “We offer services to them, although many won’t take us up on them until they have ‘hit bottom,’ unfortunately.”
“Prostitution is nothing short of torture,” said Hatcher. “[Sex trafficking] takes away a person’s ability to make decisions.” VFP
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