Wiretap Evidence Leads Chicago Pimps to Plead Guilty

Wiretap Evidence Leads Chicago Pimps to Plead Guilty

NOT for sale human trafficking by Ira Gelb

Image by Ira Gelb at Flickr Commons

10 people recently pled guilty to trafficking 16 girls in Chicago. This case broke in 2011, never went to trial, and the last of the offenders only recently pled guilty.

The pimps didn’t really see another option, considering there was video evidence against them. There was also an audio recording of one of them whipping a victim with his belt.

All this recorded evidence was due to a wiretap investigation. Actually, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez called this the first wiretap Illinois-based investigation. (I assume she means the first wiretap investigation against traffickers. I can’t imagine it’s the first time Illinois has used wiretap as evidence in general.)

It’s a new approach to taking down traffickers—one that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago due to previous laws.

In the past—up until 2010—the wiretap evidence wouldn’t have been allowed.

So in the past, the victims would have been asked to testify in court against their traffickers. It’s notoriously difficult to get victims to testify against their pimps.

Why is that? Why wouldn’t a victim want to testify against the person who sold her and abused her multiple times a day? The process of victimization entails a lot of psychological breakdown that can leave a victim fearful of her pimp, yet reliant on him for things like food and shelter. And what if she’s afraid he won’t actually wind up in prison, or won’t be there for that long? If she speaks against him, and he goes free, then he’ll come after her.

Psychological trauma and brainwashing like this has even led to cases of victims testifying FOR their pimps, in the pimps’ defense.

The girls who were trafficked ranged in age from 13 to 19.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the pimps physically and mentally abused the girls regularly, threatening them with death, beating them, tattooing them (pimps often tattoo girls with marks of ownership, like brands), and locking them in car trunks for hours to drive around Chicago. The pimps took all the money after sex encounters.

This kind of treatment sounds pretty standard, from the research I’ve done on sex trafficking. (It’s a common misconception that pimps split money with “prostitutes”—and these girls were not prostitutes, they were trafficking victims. Part of the process of psychological breakdown entails dehumanizing the girls and taking away all their resources.)

In some of the video footage, one of the girls is seen bowing to three of the men who sold her on a street in Chicago’s West Side.

Without the wiretap evidence, “We would have expected these young women to testify against these guys,” Alvarez said. “I think we can all understand why that wasn’t an easy thing to do, and why, many times, they refused to testify.”

But with the wiretap evidence, it was a different story. The pimps saw the evidence prosecutors had against them, which would be used in court, and took their best option: pleading guilty to aggravated trafficking in persons.

All of the offenders were convicted and sentenced to prison time between 6 and 20 years.

At a news conference at her downtown Chicago office, Alvarez said, “Our goal is to make these cases victim-centered rather than victim-built.”

To read more about this case, check out the Chicago Tribune article.


L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

© L. Marrick 2014. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.

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