There are only 12 beds in Illinois for girls or women who have survived the commercial sex industry. None are in Chicago.
A bill passed in the Senate Wednesday that would create a fund in the Illinois Department of Human Services dole out grants with money garnered from the fines of convicted pimps and buyers of sex.
In turn, that money would help survivors with a range of services, from physical to mental to job training.
Lynne Johnson, policy director for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said Illinois lags behind the nation.
“We would like to see in Illinois, at least a starting point of $3 million to be able to set up a community-based drop-in center and a long-term safe home somewhere in the state so that we can begin to offer these services and see how well the process is,” Johnson said.
CAASE is part of End Demand Illinois, a campaign that wants law enforcement to focus on sex traffickers, not survivors. Johnson said there’s not a projected dollar amount if the bill passes, but she said a drop-in center could cost about $100,000 a year and an intensive program could run about $3 million.
There are small programs and street outreach initiatives in Chicago, but Johnson said “none of these programs are large enough or offer holistic enough services to be able to make a real impact.”
Rachel Ramirez, is an organizer with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which supports the bill. She works with a group called Sage, survivors of prostitution. When the women seek help post-sex trafficking, Ramirez said they often wonder what’s next.
“The service component is so crucially important as is the housing piece. The dream would be a facility that would house women, run by women and transgendered survivors,” Ramirez said.
The bill is expected to go to the House in a few weeks.