On Friday night, 75 volunteers stood on multiple corners in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood to take a physical stand against domestic sex trafficking in the area.
“When black girls are exploited, they’re usually called fast. ... They’re (called) highly sexual. And so I want them to know that we’re not looking at them like that,” said organizer Kisha Roberts-Tabb, a Cook County human trafficking specialist and juvenile probation officer. “We’re looking at them as victims because that’s what they are. They’re not fast girls or loose girls.”
Through her work, Roberts-Tabb said Roseland girls consistently showed up in her caseload — some as young as 12.
Roberts-Tabb says these underaged girls are sold for sex. The girls are manipulated and likely know their pimps, maybe someone they trust. Sometimes traffickers lure their victims via social media.
“Human trafficking is connected to poverty, violence, gangs, and drugs. All of that is going on in Roseland,” she said. “If we know that these are pathways for our girls, we need somebody willing to stand up and say: not tonight, not for sale, not this girl. We want to be a representation for the ladies that feel they are voiceless.”
Volunteers assembled “love bags” with toiletries, resource material, and biblical scriptures. According to the Chicago Police Department, there was only one arrest for human trafficking in 2017.
“We know based on the law that girls cannot be arrested for prostitution, if they’re under the age of 18. They’re coming in for other crimes like robberies and the majority of the girls are coming in for juvenile arrests warrants because they go missing,” Roberts-Tabb said.
It’s hard to prove human trafficking because exploited girls don’t see themselves as victims, she said. The girls may know their traffickers.
Chenitha Coleman is a graduate student at Concordia University studying clinical mental health counseling. The #MeToo movement and sexual abuse cases in the media brought her out.
“With women feeling so, I guess, disempowering and not feeling a priority with everything going on, I think it’s important (to be here),” Coleman said.