The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

September 3, 2013

Who's a victim of human sex trafficking?

(Continued)

Cook County Sheriff's police also run regular sting operations to ticket customers who proposition undercover female police officers, or who use popular escort websites. The johns must pay a fine. Police also impound their cars.

"Dear John," read billboards the department has posted near various tracks: "If You're Here To Solicit Sex, It Could Cost You $2,150. We're Teaming Up To Bust You."

The money funds a rehabilitation program for prostitutes, and Anton says his vice unit officers have never arrested the same customer twice.

"I'm not saying we've stopped it," he says. "They might be going to other areas. But we haven't seen them again."

Elsewhere, a law passed in New York state in 2010 allows women who can prove they were coerced to have prostitution convictions wiped from their records — a move that advocates say allows them more options for housing and employment.

And in California, voters recently passed Proposition 35, which increases prison terms for human traffickers, as well as fines, which also are to be used to pay for services for victims.

It's progress, experts say. Yet a question often persists: Who is really a victim?

"We've got this idea of an ideal victim — someone who is physically locked in a room, chained up . and who makes no money," says Catherine Longkumer, a Chicago attorney who works with victims of trafficking to help them get their lives back together.

Certainly that classic example of the locked-up trafficking victim exists on our shores, too.

But others, she says, are forced into prostitution with more subtle, yet equally paralyzing coercion. While it's not always obvious to the outside world, intimidation and drug addiction become tools for control.

"The reality is that traffickers are very smart," Longkumer says. "You can use a lot of psychological coercion to keep a person bonded, things like threats, or 'If you try to leave, you'll be deported, or your family will be harmed.'"

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