The Illinois General Assembly voted Thursday to end felony prostitution.
“The existence of the felony punishment was not changing their behavior or their attitudes or their choices because oftentimes people are engaged in prostitution because they have so few choices,” said Lynne Johnson, policy director for Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE).
Johnson said the felony punishment only served to victimize people in the sex trade even further.
“It’s only after people are able to leave the sex trade that the existence of their felony record prevents them from getting good housing or getting a good job,” Johnson said.
CAASE is part of End Demand, a campaign that wants to change how law enforcement deals with prostitution. Advocates say johns, pimps and traffickers should be held more accountable.
Illinois is just one of a handful of states that hits sex workers with a felony upgrade. Two misdemeanor charges can equal a felony in the state. According to CAASE, women released from Illinois state prison with sex offenses are likely to be rearrested more than any other group of offenders. The state Senate passed the bill 56-1 and the House passed it earlier in the week.
Johnson says because a solicitation offense for customers doesn’t have a felony upgrade, the law tends to target women. Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature is needed for the bill to become law.
Natalie Moore is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.